World, Middle East

Without work, landless Gazans have nowhere to turn

In deprived corner of Gaza City, landless families find few job opportunities – or relief from frequent power cuts

Without work, landless Gazans have nowhere to turn

By Kaamil Ahmed

GAZA CITY, Palestine

Rodents rattle around among pots and pans in the shadows of Akram and Naeema Abu Shwayshe's makeshift kitchen.

They live in a tin-roofed assembly of brick and mortar, even more neglected than most of Gaza, the coastal enclave that has gone through repeated wars and blockade, where their children sleep sprawled on two mattresses.

The landless Bedouin community in Gaza City's working-class Zeitoun neighborhood are accustomed to hardships, but their problems have mounted during the past eight months of crippling electricity shortages.

While most of Gaza functions on four hours of power a day, they say they get even less in their ramshackle rooms built on government land -- and have learnt to live without electricity.

Without money for gas, they bake their own bread on a wood fire in a kitchen that consists of a single piece of cloth mounted overhead. Pans sit in one corner and piles of clothes in need of washing in another.

"I have to accept this. What should I do? Should I steal?" asks Akram Abu Shwaysheh. "I can't. I'm a Muslim."

Work, he says, would help, but Gaza's already struggling economy has been crippled by the electricity crisis, which has forced factories to reduce operating hours or shut down altogether.

Abu Shwaysheh recently did a short stint as a guard for people who wanted to help him, paying 250 shekels (roughly $70) for a week's work.

In the past, he had used a horse donated to him to work ferrying building materials and rubble -- a job in demand after Gaza's recent wars -- but he passed it down to his two eldest sons (of his 16 children) before it died almost two years ago.

Getting help is difficult, he says, because most rely on private donations by people they know. Even mosque committees have denied him money on the basis of his lack of political allegiance.

Fuel shortages caused by an argument over fuel dues between Hamas, who has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) triggered the electricity crisis in March, but the problem has become more acute since the PA also reduced its payments for Israeli-supplied power.

In his attempt to squeeze Hamas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also cut supplies of medicine to Gaza, which has faced an Israel- and Egypt-imposed blockade for a decade.

Those shortages have affected Abu Shwaysheh and his wife Naeema's youngest son, who suffers from asthma.

The sides have made public commitments to a reconciliation process over the past two months, but the punitive measures have not yet been removed.

"I took him to the hospital but because they don't have the medicine, they said I have to stay with him for a month," says Naaema, 34, between the one-year-old's rasping coughs.

"How can I do that, with all these children here?" she asked. "I feel like I am dying, watching my baby suffer."

On the other side of a short wire fence, Rami Radaween, 35, lives with his own family in a shelter made of tin sheets.

They once had a simple brick-walled room, built with the help of a donor, but had to move when it was decided the government-owned land would be put to some other use.

The only fan he has works for only an hour a day. The tin shelter absorbs heat, so the family spend their time in a makeshift tent outside.

"Half of our life is spent out here. Every morning, we make our food, we make our tea, we do everything here," he tells Anadolu Agency.

A fatigued donkey loitering outside his home is his livelihood. It would pull a cart used to collect plastic waste from surrounding areas until the animal one day was startled by a sudden power outage. It threw Radaween off, injuring his hip and leaving him unable to work in the meantime.

"All I need is work; with work this would be better. All I hope in this life is to have somewhere to live, not like this one. I need only 300 shekels a month," he says.

Radaween's family were Bedouin refugees from Tel as-Saba' in the Negev desert, leaving him with no land in Gaza.

His children should be eligible for schooling with the UN refugee agency UNRWA, but they go to the local government school, where he has to find money for materials and uniforms, because it would cost him five shekels per child to transport them to UNRWA schools.

Other than the limited shelter donated by a Jordanian charity, Radaween gets little to no assistance from aid agencies or authorities. He has asked for housing, but in the crowded enclave of roughly two million people, the housing department says there are no free apartments.

"No politician visits here," he says. "No one cares about us. But thanks to Allah, I am fine. I have my health."

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