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Voices from Gaza

New America Media, Audio, Sandip Roy Posted: Jan 10, 2009

Editor's Note: NAM editor Sandip Roy spoke with an aid worker and two residents of Gaza on Wednesday night. Listen to his interviews with international relief agency Oxfam worker Michael Bailey in Jerusalem, business developer Haitham W. Abu Shabaan in Gaza City, and retired doctor Mousa al-Haddad in Gaza City.


The crisis in Gaza will obviously have geopolitical consequences for the future of the Middle East. But what does it mean to the people on the ground caught in the crossfire? On Jan. 7, we reached Michael Bailey, who works for the aid agency, Oxfam.

Michael, can you tell us where you are now?

I'm currently in Jerusalem. I can't get into Gaza and haven't been able to since the beginning of November when the Israeli stopped international NGOs {nongovernmental organization], workers, journalists and diplomats from getting into Gaza.

What are you hearing from your sources in Gaza in terms of the humanitarian needs?

We hear different things. We have staff in Gaza. Four of the staff and their families are displaced from their homes because they have been damaged or destroyed, or because they are too unsafe. Most of our staff are finding it difficult to get adequate supplies of food and water.

Israel this week halted military operations for about three hours to allow humanitarian supplies to get in. Were you all able to take advantage of that?

One of our staff took advantage of the three-hour lull to go and see if his parents were still alive. It's that sort of concern that has dominated peoples thinking. Other people spend the time getting out to try and buy some food. But that's very difficult because stocks are scarce and there is almost no money in circulation in Gaza. The banks have run out of money.

Are you concerned there might be a health epidemic if drinking water is scarce?

That has always been a concern of ours since the blockage started 19 months ago and the government of Israel stopped spare parts for repair and maintenance getting into Gaza for the water utility that is responsible for drinking water supplies and sewage removal and treatment for 1.5 million people.

Before this started, were you, as Oxfam and an NGO, able to work with the Hamas government in Gaza?

As an NGO working on the ground, we worked with the local authority. Hamas is in charge of the public services in Gaza. We, and everybody else in Gaza, are obliged to work with them.

What are you telling your staff in Gaza right now in terms of what precautions they should take in order to try and stay safe?

Oxfam has suspended all of its work in Gaza, apart from the work our partners are doing directly related to the health services. Everybody else is told to stay at home, to stay safe, to move into the safest room in their house.

Haitham W. Abu Shabaan, business developer, Gaza City.

Where are you Haitham?

I'm currently in Gaza city, Gaza strip, and I work as a business development manager for a local bank here. And I'm also a partner at several investment projects in Gaza.

Since this attack started, can you describe for us a little bit what is a typical day for you like?

We start off by planning the hours of [running] the power generator in our building because we haven't had electricity in town for over a week now. We try to manage with the least food we have. Our kids have not been going to school since the beginning of the war.

Do you live in an apartment building?

We live in a family-owned apartment building that consists of five floors. Each floor has two apartments.

How are your neighbors reacting? Do you gather together with your neighbors in order to maintain some semblance of normal life?

That's right. And it's even easier because we're a family-owned building. Our cousins and uncles live in the building, so it's easier to communicate with each other. Every day after sunset until midnight, we gather in one of the apartments and exchange news and tea and sweets just to spend time together.

There was a three-hour lull in the fighting. Were you able to take advantage of that to stock up in any way?

It started today and I overused it by five minutes because we didn't have Pampers for my little kid here and we were lacking a lot of supplies for food and other things.

Is the Hamas government there sending any messages to the people of Gaza?

Not at all. Minimum communication through radio channels, and there is an electronic wall on websites.

How do you think Hamas is going to come out of this politically? Is their support decreasing?

I personally think Hamas is bearing the test now. They have to prove that they are mature for the sake of the people. Gaza is occupied even though Israelis have pulled out. Our best bet right now is to reunite Fatah and Hamas and then form one government so both sides can come up with something better for Palestinians.

How old are your children?

My eldest is seven-and-a-half years old and is in third grade. The second is six years old and in second grade. And the youngest, he's two years old. We tell him this is a wedding and every time he hears a boom, he asks, 'Is the wedding over?' So I don't think he will ever get married.

And how are the other two coping with being cooped up in the house?

I tell them straightforward because I don't want them to hear other news from the TV or from anywhere else. I tell them there is a war going on. Israel is attacking Gaza because Fatah and Hamas have already been fighting for the past year and a half.

Mousa al-Haddad, a retired doctor living in Gaza city.

How are you coping?

Well, now it's day 12, approaching day 13. Since the attacks started, there is no electricity and hardly any drinking water. There is no cooking gas, people and families are living a miserable life. And you can see this is one of the [most densely] populated areas in the world. This area was bombarded from the sea, from the air and from the land. Most of these casualties, over 90 percent, are innocent civilians.

What has this meant for you in your daily life? What are you doing about food? How are you coping?

Well, I'm one of the lucky people. Me and my wife, who is also a physician, we can survive on a little amount of food. But what about those families who have children, and usually the average [size] of families in Gaza is between 7 and 10 people.

Are you able to go out at all and meet with your neighbors, for example?

Well, it's extremely risky to leave your home. Even your home is not safe either because there are hundreds of houses that have been bombarded. More than 15 mosques have been targeted and bombarded. One mosque was targeted while people were praying. Sixteen people were killed instantly.

Are you taking precautions to stay safe, such as moving your bed away from the window?

Yes. I just moved the mattress from the bed and put it in a safe area in the house. I'm hoping that at least if the glass gets shattered, I will be more or less safe. We know that God is there and God will not leave us.

Related Articles:

In Gaza, Shortage of Basic Necessities Worse Than Threat of Death

Hamas Leader: 'We Will Not Surrender'

Israeli Loses War on Middle East Airways

Al Jazeera Breaks the Israeli Media Blockade

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