December 14, 2008
The Sunday Times
As a convoy of blue-and-white United Nations trucks loaded with food waited last night for Israeli permission to enter Gaza, Jindiya Abu Amra and her 12-year-old daughter went scrounging for the wild grass their family now lives on.
“We had one meal today – khobbeizeh,” said Abu Amra, 43, showing the leaves of a plant that grows along the streets of Gaza. “Every day, I wake up and start looking for wood and plastic to burn for fuel and I beg. When I find nothing, we eat this grass.”
Abu Amra and her unemployed husband have seven daughters and a son. Their tiny breeze-block house has had no furniture since they burnt the last cupboard for heat.
“I can’t remember seeing a fruit,” said Rabab, 12, who goes with her mother most mornings to scavenge. She is dressed in a tracksuit top and holed jeans, and her feet are bare.
Conditions for most of the 1.5m Gazans have deteriorated dramatically in the past month, since a truce between Israel and Hamas, the ruling Islamist party, broke down.
Israel says it will open the borders again when Hamas stops launching rockets at southern Israel. Hamas says it will crack down on the rocket launchers when Israel opens the borders.
The fragile truce technically ends this Thursday, and there have been few signs it will be renewed. Nobody knows how to resolve the stalemate. Secret talks are under way through Egyptian intermediaries, although both sides deny any contact.
Israel controls the borders and allows in humanitarian supplies only sporadically. Families had electricity for six hours a day last week. Cooking gas was available only through the illegal tunnels that run into Egypt, and by last week had jumped in price from 80 shekels per canister (£14) to 380 shekels (£66).
The UN, which has responsibility for 1m refugees in Gaza, is in despair. “The economy has been crushed and there are no imports or exports,” said John Ging, director of its relief and works agency.
“Two weeks ago, for the first time in 60 years, we ran out of food,” he said. “We used to get 70 to 80 trucks per day, now we are getting 15 trucks a day, and only when the border opens. We’re living hand to mouth.”
He has four days of food in stock for distribution to the most desperate – and no idea whether Israel will reopen the border. The Abu Amra family may have to eat wild grass for the foreseeable future.