In a region where cooking gas is either non-existent or exorbitantly-priced, where firewood is scarce and burnables becoming scarcer, where electricity cuts occur regularly, and where bread is a staple food, people strive to find practical solutions to the bread crisis.
During Israel’s 3 weeks of brutal attacks on Gaza’s civilians, the bread crisis was heightened by 16 hour blackouts in the cities, complete blackouts in the majority of the Strip, and depleted wheat stocks. Those with flour handouts convoyed to the few places with electricity, including hospitals, to bake bread via a small, electric griddle.
While the attacks have ceased on the large scale (but continue daily with bombings on the Rafah tunnels, Israeli gunboats shelling at fishermen and residential areas along Gaza’s coast, sporadic tank shelling from Israel’s border, and still more drone missiles being dropped on civilian areas, as well as the on-going shooting at farmers and residents –in the Israeli-imposed (thus illegal), now 1 km wide (was already a 300m bite into Palestinian land along the length of the Green Line) ‘buffer zone’ –which has killed at least 3 farmers since 18 January when Israel proclaimed a cessation of the bombing of Gaza), the siege on Gaza continues in full force. A ravaged economy and health care system, and the denial to Palestinians in Gaza of every basic right –due to Israel’s western-backed strangle-hold on Gaza –meant that even before the onslaught of Israeli attacks Gaza was a politically-engineered humanitarian catastrophe.
Before the first day of attacks on 27 December, there were soaring poverty, child malnutrition, and food aid-dependency levels (80%, 65%, and 60% respectively), and over 270 medical patients had died due to closed borders and the denial of medical access. The UN, and other aid groups, had even had to shut down aid distribution for a number of days as a direct result of closed borders, thus denying 1.1 million people of food aid.
It is worse now. The hospital machinery remains un-repaired and inadequate (dialysis machines, CT scanning); water and sanitation facilities are worse than before, with further infrastructural damage following the massive bombing campaign –parts of Gaza still don’t have electricity or running water, nearly one month after the ‘cease-fire’ –and with the bomb-shattered windows, houses are colder, many without the means for heating or even keeping out frigid night air. Nothing has changed with the borders, and whereas prior to the Israeli attacks there was, by conservative estimates, a need of 700 trucks of aid/day (in actuality, an average of 16 trucks were getting in as of mid-December), the need is much, much higher…and the amount of trucks entering is much, much lower. Egypt remains shamefully culpable, with hundreds of trucks of aid waiting at Egypt’s closed Rafah crossing, food wasting, blankets unused.
In southeastern Gaza’s Al Faraheen village a few residents took positive steps to counter the immoral siege on Gaza and improve life in their community.
Drawing on the knowledge of a 70 year old craftsman from nearby Khan Younis, Mohammed Abu Dagga had constructed an earthen oven operating on conventional diesel, stores of which had been br rather than the unavailable cooking gas. The mud oven, lined with the few available sturdy bricks, took one week to construct; the technique of mixing and packing a sand, straw and earth mixture meant that Israel’s ban on construction materials did not hamper this one project. Thousands of destroyed houses throughout Gaza remain rubble, reliant on Israel’s benevolence to open borders to concrete and building materials (a benevolence which has yet to materialize), items long-since on the banned list.
On the day we visited, Al Faraheen’s new communal oven had queues past the entrance. These were not the dismal lines of hopeful Gazans waiting for hours to find the last of the bread had been sold. The mood in Faraheen was jovial, an air of relief, if but for one small reason to be thankful. For the many villagers who can’t afford, or can’t find, cooking gas and who are exhausting firewood supplies (although the Israeli military’s bulldozing and tank-ravaging of olive and fruit trees provides a depressing new source of wood), one shekel can bake 10 rounds of bread. Given that Abu Dagga’s investment in the oven was $2,000 (roughly 8,000 shekels), the price is fair, and more within the reach of a largely agriculture-based community than the nearly 400 shekels a canister of cooking gas goes for.
With much of the wheat locally-ground, the bread tends to be a heartier, delectable whole wheat loaf.
For an area which has long-suffered Israeli tank and bulldozer invasions, has lost much of its agricultural land to the blades of the dozers, has had chicken farms destroyed (and livelihoods with them), and in which most houses show evidence of the wanton shooting of Israeli soldiers, it was nice to see a bit of good news, if only a little.
*ready to bake
*fresh and amazing
*Al Faraheen resident