‘Light of Hope’ Helps Girls Enjoy Nights Again

Maram

First Published at Rebuilding Alliance

I was not prepared for what I found when I visited the al-Malalha family in Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip.

Their street was lightless, but the dim glow of the moon helped me see so I could walk without tripping. It was lined with farmland and greenhouses. Nothing could be heard but the sound of crickets.

Then my companion pointed at the house we were going to visit. I saw nothing other than a barn seemingly constructed from tin plates that looked like it was for goats and chickens. I was shocked when he told me it was a family’s home.

The yard was tiny and crowded. It’s where the family—a husband and wife and their four children—hang laundry, play and scoop water from a large barrel for drinking and washing. A dung-like smell emanated from the house and was hard to stomach. But I hid my reaction so I would not offend the residents, al-Abed, 34, and Mona, 32, who came out to greet us. I shook al-Abed’s hands and waved at Mona.

Al-Abed’s face showed his weariness, with deep, vertical lines carved into his cheeks. Like most of the men in Gaza, which has the highest unemployment rate in the world, El-Abed is jobless. Mona, a housewife, has anxious, brown eyes that tell a story by themselves.

“As you see, this place is unlivable,” Mona apologized. “I have four kids, including my 9-year old daughter who suffers from poor vision.”

Her husband interrupted, saying, “We’re sorry; we didn’t bring you chairs to rest on! Our home is small and we don’t have a guest room.”

The Malalha family’s home has only one bedroom for all six members, as well as a small kitchen. But there is not much they can cook due to the lack of income; they can only afford to feed their children meat—an important source of protein—twice a month.

To try to improve their situation, Mona has started a small business selling biscuits and chocolates for kids. Her little booth is made of tin plates and helps them buy bread and rice, which are what they primarily eat for their daily meals.

Al-Abed hurriedly brought us chairs and we sat to chat about the two solar lights (Nur al-Amal, or Light of Hope) they recently received from the Women’s Program Center in Rafah, thanks to a donation from the American NGO Rebuilding Alliance. The two organizations collaborate on the It’s Time for Light campaign to relieve the hardships caused by the severe shortage of electricity in Gaza.

“When Maram was born, we didn’t know she had nyctalopia (lack of night vision),” recalled al-Abed. “But when she began crawling, we realized that she suffers from blindness during the night. She can’t see at all unless there is some light. But as you know, we only get a few hours of electricity per day and that makes it so hard for Maram to play or do her homework and other chores.”

Due to the shortage of fuel and lack of power-plant equipment imposed by the Israeli blockade, the Malhalla family gets only three hours of electricity per day. The solar lights are “a gift from Allah,” Mona said.

Asked if she tried to take her daughter to medical centers for help, Mona said her husband had taken the girl to various vision specialists in Gaza, “but no one knew how to diagnose her condition, so we were advised to take her to Jordan for treatment.”

However, the crossing into Egypt is closed most of the time and it is very difficult to obtain a permit to leave through Israel. In 2017, 54 Gaza patients died while awaiting Israeli permits. International organizations report that the number of medical permits given by Israeli authorities last year decreased to the lowest number since 2008.

Nights are Maram’s enemies, since she can’t see well enough to study or to go to bathroom at night,” sighed Mona. “But the solar lights helped her function the same as other kids.”

Al-Abed added, “The light has become her daily companion. She sleeps while it’s beside her. She wakes up holding it. She doesn’t feel that blind anymore!”

I asked Maram, who looked normal and happy, about how the light helped her, and she said she isn’t scared anymore when she wakes up in the pitch dark.

“If I wake up finding no light beside me, I cry and scream!” said the blond-haired girl. “During the night, my mom always stayed with me when I had no light. But after getting this gift, I began to depend on myself.”

Before ending the interview, Maram and her parents had a message they wanted to send to the donors who made the Nur al-Amal possible:

“They lightened our life!” Mona smiled. “These lights helped the whole family, not only my daughter. We know these solar lights didn’t solve all of our problems, but we now can have light, while thousands don’t.”

 

Mohammed Arafat

18-04-2018

 

 

 

 

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Cutting our salaries is a crime, Gaza PA employees say

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This article is also published at We Are Not Numbers and The New Arab

Ahmed Kahlout is one of approximately 55,000 Gaza-based employees of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority who did not receive their pay this month.

“I’ve become a beggar. The supermarket, the baker and the grocery need money from me, and I haven’t been able to pay them for days now,” he lamented. “I have no other source of income. I will die along with my six kids without any way to support my family.”

When, in 2007, Hamas routed Fatah from the Gaza Strip in internecine fighting a year after the Islamist movement’s victory in elections, the Fatah-dominated PA ordered its employees to stay home rather than work for the new government.

But to retain their loyalty, it continued to pay their salaries. At least, until recently.

In April 2017, the PA cut their salaries by 30 percent as it began ratcheting up a campaign to stir unrest against its rival Hamas. And this month, they didn’t receive their pay at all. Payments were only received by retired military personnel.

On March 19, Abbas announced he would take legal and financial measures to further tighten the screws against the population of the Gaza Strip as a way of forcing Hamas to give up control of the coastal enclave, but Egyptian authorities reportedly stopped him from declaring it a renegade territory.

Abbas claims the lack of payment this month was due to “technical problems“. Still, speculation among disenfranchised PA employees is that Abbas is trying to strangle the population to punish Hamas.

Waiting at the bank is fruitless when your salary hasn’t been paid [ICRC]

“Salaries were paid into banks in the West Bank – but not in Gaza,” said Arif Abu Jarad, head of the union representing PA employees in the Gaza Strip. “There is a state of anger among staff in the Strip.”

Will the salaries be restored? And if not, why would PA President Mahmoud Abbas destroy the loyalty of his – until now – dedicated employees?

“We have families and we buy goods,” speculated Gaza PA employee Abdul Majeed Watfa. “If we can’t buy food and clothes, the economy is hurt and ultimately that hurts the Hamas government. It also produces a lot more angry people.”

Sumaya Majed, another PA employee, agreed. “Abbas is trying to put pressure on Hamas, so it will hand over the Strip. But he’s not really punishing Hamas; we’re the ones who are punished.”

The PA employees in Gaza now are as angry at Abbas as they are at Hamas

If cultivating a backlash against Hamas is indeed Abbas’ goal, it’s not achieving the desired effect. The PA employees in Gaza now are as angry at Abbas as they are at Hamas.

“Why would the president cut our wages when we are the only ones supporting him in Gaza? He shouldn’t touch our salaries because they are our rights,” stormed PA employee Mohammed Abu Namous.

“The big ass is punishing us because of the failure to reach an agreement with the terrorist Hamas,” said Mohamed Hassan, bluntly. He is a longtime PA employee who was born in Lebanon but moved to Gaza just after the signing of the Oslo Accords, for what he thought would be a more peaceful period.

“I ran out of food, gas and money over two weeks ago and I have five children to feed. Abbas and Hamas are both destroying our life.”

Jamal El-Khodary, head of the Popular Committee against the Siege and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called the salary cuts illegal. “Differentiating between PA employees based on residency or loyalty is dangerous. It’s discrimination and tears apart the social fabric,” he warned.

PA employees had been paid despite the blockade against Gaza, until this month [ICRC]

The non-payment of salaries is just the latest in a series of sanctions imposed by the PA since last summer, including reducing financing for electricity supplied by Israel to Gaza and reducing the number of exit permits for residents needing medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank.

There still are a few PA employees who support Abbas because they say drastic actions are needed to topple Hamas – even if it hurts the people too.

Mona Elyan insisted Abbas should have taken these steps years ago. “They will solve the whole Palestinian-Palestinian division,” she said. “Gaza needs a big change, and I believe cutting salaries is such a big change that will put an end to every problem in the Strip.”

But Elyan is unusual. Once their own salaries were cut, most PA employees no longer supported Abbas. In fact, a group of PA employees gathered for a protest recently in Gaza City’s Al-Nasser Street, closing it down. Mohammed Saa’d, also a PA employee, said cutting salaries altogether would destroy his life completely, since he supports three children in university and others in secondary school.

My son and two daughters in university will surely be forced to stay at home if I don’t get my salary next month

“My son and two daughters in university will surely be forced to stay at home if I don’t get my salary next month. Their future depends on my salary. I have no one to complain but to God,” Saa’d said, angrily.

Sumaya Khalil, who waited in vain at the Palestine Bank in hopes of receiving her salary, agreed, saying a total cut of her pay would be the “end of my damned life”.

“Cutting it by a third already meant I didn’t have enough for me and my family.”

Mohammed Arafat

20-04-2018