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Gaza: ripped apart by violence and in need of help

A combination of inter-factional violence and Israeli airstrikes have killed scores of people in Gaza over the past ten days. WFP spokesperson Kirstie Campbell looks at the impact of the conflict on the Palestinians who live there.

A combination of inter-factional violence and Israeli airstrikes have killed scores of people in Gaza over the past ten days. WFP spokesperson Kirstie Campbell looks at the impact of the conflict on the Palestinians who try to continue a normal life amid the chaos and uncertainty.

Only three years ago, I could go to the market and run along the beach in the early morning before work without a second thought.

In this tense and uncertain environment, normal life seems lost and replaced by a basic existence of bitter survival
At the weekends, we would spend afternoons with friends watching life buzzing around us -- kids playing and laughing and men selling sweet potatoes or corn on the beach from donkey carts and families out to lunch in the local restaurants with their children dressed up in their best new outfits.

But my most recent visit to Gaza was heart-rending. While a few children play in the streets, women hide at home, scared to go out, and men sit around with little to do.

Squeezed dry

Garbage lines the streets as a result of collectors being on strike. It seems as if all the joy there ever was has been squeezed out of this dry strip of land only to be replaced by despair.

Copyright: 2007 WFP/Kirstie Campbell

Poverty in Gaza is so deep it feels insurmountable. Even the once relatively well-off classes are now shamefully lining up for aid from the UN, one of the few providers still able to function in the growing security vacuum.

This transformation has brought a growing sense of despair because Palestinians are proud hard-working people.

Hand-to-mouth

They long to work and provide for their families, to feed and clothe them, to send them to school and occasionally to share small family luxuries like a meal out.

Instead, almost eighty percent of the population is now living hand-to-mouth. Many women have sold their dowries and almost every family suffers from debt and has absent or sick relatives linked to the conflict.

Few elements of life as people knew it remain. Recreational activities for children are largely a thing of the past; moreover, children are often expected to help their parents to earn money.

"Bitter survival"

In this tense and uncertain environment, normal life seems lost and replaced by a basic existence of bitter survival.

Criminality is on the rise and society is regressing to fragmented tribalism. It seems that anyone with a gun can now grab power and war is becoming the staple alternative to their former work of farming or manual jobs.

Thanks to generous donor support, the United Nations is able to keep the poorest people alive with food assistance and to keep some momentum and productivity through retraining. But aid cannot replace the much needed dignity and hope of real paid work.

On the edge

Gaza is teetering on the edge of the unknown. A return to normality would be possible but seems increasingly unlikely. Infighting among factions is intensifying.

Unless there is an opening of markets and borders to bring jobs and an improvement in the economy the security situation will continue to deteriorate.

As the shadow of war advances and crushes hope, the poor and unemployed will have little choice other than to join the ranks of the conflict.