‘What more is there for a parent to be afraid of?’

12 Jun

Children of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, June 2012. Photo credit: Hone Fowler

 

by Tali Williams

Kia Ora Gaza convoyer

12 June 2012

We took lunch yesterday with Gaza’s prime minister, but this was no pompous affair. As the saying goes around here when anything seems unusual to an outsider: “Welcome to Gaza.”

The prime minister, Ismail Haniya, is a seemingly humble man with a kind face that emanates sincere respect for whoever he is speaking with. His modest home is based in one of the refugee camps. I meet his wife and children.

Lunch consists of a spicy lamb and rice dish plus salad. The food is good and the conversation relaxed.

Outside, the refugee children orphaned by war are on the streets. They ask us for money and practice any English they know on us, which makes them laugh.

We drive away past kids flying homemade kites, women selling watermelons on the roadside, donkeys pulling carts and houses on the beach made of plastic sheets and scrap wire.

We visit Jibaliya, just north of Gaza City. Jibaliya borders Israel and is an area often worst hit during bombardments. We are told that, earlier this year, eight people were killed in one such barrage. Buildings are either rubble or pockmarked with bullet holes.

Overcrowding is a serious problem. Some of the homes we visited contained up to 25 people living in two rooms. Power blackouts, caused by Israel not allowing enough electricity into Gaza, mean these two rooms after sunset are often pitch black. Even for those few moments, I feel scared and vulnerable. I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend so much time in pure darkness.

The poverty is intense. A woman approaches me with her baby, pleading and crying for money.

Everywhere we go, curious children follow us. They take great joy in asking us questions and welcoming us to Gaza.

Parents here are not concerned about their children wandering the streets as they please. We are asked: “After what these children have seen, what more is there for a parent to be afraid of?’

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