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In Gaza refugee camp, you would need a wizard’s wand to have a New Year’s celebration

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“I have not worn lipstick  since my wedding ten years ago. So feeling happy in a Gaza refugee camp, you need a wizard’s wand to change this misery. What new year are you talking about bro?” said Samar Al-Atrash, 33, a mother of seven children living in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Khan Younis, on December 31, 2018.

As she moves through a 130-square-foot space in a dark tent, among dozens of ragged clothes and dented cooking pots, Samar does not even have the capability to celebrate the new year. She and her husband Esmaeel, 33, moved to the camp after they lost their house in the 2014 war on Gaza.

Samar Al-Atrash in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

Samar feels “little happiness.” She does not have a dressing table mirror to reflect her exhausted face and she is still unaware of President Trump’s last August announcement that his administration would no longer fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

I asked Samar how her family and she might celebrate the new year. “Once I might be able to save some flour and vegetable oil from UNRWA aids to bake a pound cake, then I would invite the neighbors,” she replied as she cooked sorrel outside the tent.

And speaking of the UNRWA cut, she says: “If that really happens, it means real death.”

Samar Al-Atrash in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

The 69-year-old agency provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of people who were driven out of their homes or fled the fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.

A few yards behind Samar’s tent, Nesreen Zourob, 28, was preparing spaghetti for her six children. Her husband Mahroos is stuck in Morocco. He sold his donkey cart for 1200 US dollars, but his money ran out before he could complete his plan to immigrate to Belgium, according to his wife.

Nesreen Zourob in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad

Both Nesreen and Samar’s families are originally from the village of al-Muharraqa, five kilometers east of the fence that separates Gaza and Israel.

Nesreen moved to the camp in 2008 when she lost the ability to pay rent on an apartment in the adjacent city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

Nesreen Zourob with a picture of her husband Mahroos. In al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad

“2017, 2018 or even tomorrow [2019] are just days eating more health from us,” she says. “Getting out of this damned camp or reuniting with Mahroos, then I can say we can celebrate. But it seems one day I might hear he drowned in the sea dreaming of a good life in Europe instead being a refugee forever.”

Environs of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

Gaza has always been poor, though conditions for the 2 million people who live in the crowded seaside territory have worsened as the numbers of unemployed laborers there reached 250,000 and poverty has reached 60 per cent of the population, according to local reports.

As for the upcoming general election in Israel in April, Nesreen says that it is merely “counting more wars and death to Gaza”. Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, and Ariel Sharon are all “dumps from the same mentality,” she says. “No one will give us roses, they just compete to kill.”

Abdulazeez Abu Sitta in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad

While Abdulazeez Abu Sitta, 29, unemployed, felt compelled to spend the new year with his friends in the camp. He said he has no coins for a taxi fare to join the celebrations of the 54th anniversary of the founding of Fatah in conjunction with the new year, when a torch was to be ignited in the center of Gaza city.

Abdulazeez think the entire world is moving towards war. “I think we will miss the stable situations after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. That was just what Israel needs to get the green light, to eliminate the Palestinian issue,” he said.

Jehad Abu Muhsen, a 49-year-old mother of two, had just ended her daily routine by carrying crushed stones on a horse-drawn cart to a nearby stone crushing workshop, for $1.50 US for each load.

Cart that brought stones to a quarry for crushing, in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad

“There is no beautiful or happy years here in the camp nor the whole Gaza,” Abu Muhsen told Mondoweiss. “This man [Trump] is going to spoil the world, while the biggest losers are us the Palestinians.”

Jehad Abu Muhsen in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Gaza, Dec. 31, 2018. Photo by Mohammed Asad

The Abu Muhsen family once owned a palace in Jaffa, with 40 dunums of lemon and orange orchards.

“Today I have a 140-square-foot space tent surrounded by high walls of waste and car wrecks,” she said. “Don’t forget to visit us in 2020, son, you might find us vanished. Or at least bring some flour for pound cake for the next new year.”

About Ahmad Kabariti

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.

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10 Responses

  1. Misterioso
    Misterioso on January 2, 2019, 10:07 am

    Must watch just released video re Gaza Strip:

    “Gaza. Una mirada a los ojos de la barbarie” with English subtitles

    El Retorno Producciones

    Published on Dec 28, 2018

    “GAZA,a short documentary, nominated for the Goya 2019. It tells the human rights violations suffered by the Gaza Strip after Israel’s latest attack Awards.”

    Directed by Carles Bover and Julio Pérez.
    Produced by El Retorno Producciones

  2. Abe Bird
    Abe Bird on January 2, 2019, 11:42 am

    It is very upsetting that Hamas disparages and oppresses the citizens living under its protection. Why is Hamas elected if it chooses to invest most of Gaza’s budget in creat rockets and digging tunnels?

       Samar Al-Atrash and the others, could have lived much better if they had not voted for Hamas, or if Hamas would have functioned as a legal government that cares for the quality of life of its citizens.

    But the citizens of Gaza must understand that if they choose a terrorist organization to lead them, they will have to invest all their money and their future in their terror upgrading process. Therefore, it is good to hear that many young Gazans choose not to play this crazy game and prefer to emigrate to Europe via Egypt. Thanks to Egypt for easing the passage of Gazans at their border crossing in the last year.

    • Talkback
      Talkback on January 2, 2019, 12:41 pm

      Abe Bird: “It is very upsetting that Hamas disparages and oppresses the citizens living under its protection.”

      Yeah. Imagine how much more they would suffer and be oppressed if they would live under half a centuroy of Israeli occupation.

      Abe Bird: “Why is Hamas elected if it chooses to invest most of Gaza’s budget in creat rockets and digging tunnels?”

      Good question. But is it most of Gaza’s budget? And they don’t dig tunnels only to infiltrate Israel. A lot of them serve defensive purposes and to smuggle in goods that are prevented from entering Gaza, because of Israel’s illegal blockade which is a collective punishment and therefore a war crime on Nazi level.

      Why is any Israeli goverment elected, if they invest 20 billion dollar in defense when it has the 4th-highest child poverty rate in developed world?

      Abe Bird: “Samar Al-Atrash and the others, could have lived much better if they had not voted for Hamas, or if Hamas would have functioned as a legal government that cares for the quality of life of its citizens.”

      Well, we all know that Hamas is the child of Israel’s brutal occupation.

      Abe Bird: “But the citizens of Gaza must understand that if they choose a terrorist organization to lead them, they will have to invest all their money and their future in their terror upgrading process.”

      Same goes for the state terrorist called Israel. But all their money?

      Abe Bird: “Therefore, it is good to hear that many young Gazans choose not to play this crazy game and prefer to emigrate to Europe via Egypt.”

      Yep. Good to hear that many Israelis leave Israel for the same reason.

      • Citizen
        Citizen on January 4, 2019, 10:25 am

        Precise talk back, kudos!

    • Talkback
      Talkback on January 2, 2019, 1:30 pm

      Addendum

      Hamas’s Khalid Mishal on the Gaza War, Tunnels, and ISIS
      https://www.vanityfair.com/news/politics/2014/10/khalid-mishal-hamas-interview

      Very interesting.

      • Citizen
        Citizen on January 4, 2019, 10:25 am

        Thanks.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso on January 2, 2019, 2:58 pm

      @Abe Bird

      Sigh

      Reality:

      The entity known as “Israel” has ignored repeated peace overtures from Hamas:

      On 16 June 2009, after meeting with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Ismail Haniya, prime minister of Hamas’s Gaza Strip government, announced that “If there is a real plan to resolve the Palestinian question on the basis of the creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967 [i.e. 22% of historic Palestine] and with full sovereignty, we are in favour of it.” “Israel” ignored the offer.

      “‘We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees,’ Haniyeh said, referring to the year of Middle East war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.” (Haaretz, December 1, 2010) No response from “Israel.” (By calling for a “resolution of the issue of refugees,” Haniyeh was in accordance with UNGA Res. 194, the 1947 Partition Plan, which calls for financial compensation as an option for the Palestinian refugees rather than their inalienable “Right of Return.”)

      In its revised Charter, April, 2017, Hamas again agreed to a Palestinian state based on the 4 June 1967 borders. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, “Israel” promptly rejected the Hamas overture instead of using it to open a dialogue.

      “Senior Hamas Official: ‘I Think We Can All Live Here in This Land – Muslims, Christians and Jews.’” (By Nir Gontarz. March 28, 2018, Haaretz.) No response from “Israel.”

      As for Netanyahu and the Likud party, here’s a brief summation of their positions that are contrary to international law and explain why the conflict continues:
      The Likud Party Platform:
      a. “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State [sic] of Israel.”
      b. “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State [sic] of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem”
      c. “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”
      d. “…. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State [sic] of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”

      Furthermore:
      Video re the Gaza Strip: “Obliterated families.”
      http://obliteratedfamilies.com/en/story/shuheibar/

      Human Rights Watch, 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

      The International Committee of the Red Cross: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.”

      “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015 correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

      To quote Dov Weisglass, PM Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser:
      “‘The significance of the [then proposed] disengagement plan [implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda….’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

      GET EDUCATED OR SHUT UP!!

      • mondonut
        mondonut on January 2, 2019, 3:20 pm

        @Misterioso, GET EDUCATED OR SHUT UP!!

        Shut up indeed. Not once, anywhere in your massive and oft-repeated cut and paste job, does Hamas accept the existence of Israel. Or offer peace with Israel, or offer an end to claims with Israel.

        Sure, they will accept a state, and Israel’s capital as their own, and a massive influx of Palestinians into Israel – but that will change nothing at all. They will remain in conflict and from their improved position, still seek the end of Israel.

        And you would have to be willingly ignorant to dismiss the hundreds of statements from Hamas that differ from what is peddled to the Western media and useful idiots.

  3. bcg
    bcg on January 2, 2019, 9:45 pm

    @Mondonut: “Israel has vastly increased its illegal settlement activity since US President Donald Trump took office, with settlement planning reaching its highest level since 2013…
    According to newly-released data compiled by left-wing NGO Peace Now – which monitors Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank through its Settlement Watch program – in 2018 Israel advanced plans for an additional 5,618 settlement units.”

    https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190102-huge-increase-in-israel-settlement-activity-in-trump-era/

    What’s the end game? To me it looks like 4-5 million people living in an open air prison.

    • Talkback
      Talkback on January 3, 2019, 3:24 am

      The endgame has always been a Jewish Commonwealth in all of Palestine with as less Nonjews as possible.

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