February 1, 2024
From The Real News Network

This story originally appeared in Mondoweiss on Jan. 30, 2024. It is shared here with permission.

“She screamed cries of life for the first time.”

That’s how Arwa Oweis described the birth of her daughter, Malak, and the first moment she was pulled out of her mother’s womb in Al-Shifa’ Hospital in northern Gaza. The second scream, coming a few short seconds after the first, was one of fear.

Arwa, 20, and her husband Sameh Jindiyya, 25, didn’t leave Gaza City for the south, as they could not afford to be cut off from their extended family. Sameh is unemployed, living with his family alongside his father’s household in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood. His father and brother are both employees of the Palestinian Authority, and their incomes support the entire household, including Sameh’s family, comprised of himself, his wife Arwa, and his daughter, who is nine days old.

Sameh knew that fleeing south and living in a tent would mean a slow death, especially given the total lack of income for his new family, so he opted to keep them in Gaza City and brave the full force of the Israeli ground invasion. 

On the roof of his partially destroyed home, Sameh set up traps for catching birds, using a few grains of bird feed as bait — Sameh was a bird enthusiast before the war and occasionally raised chickens as a hobby in the backyard. He set up the traps with practiced hands, often retreating and taking cover behind a sheet of corrugated steel since birds wouldn’t alight on the roof when he was visible. He occasionally moved the trap with an elongated stick so that the Israeli drone hovering overhead didn’t see him. It was risky since many people have been summarily shot down by these drones on several occasions, but he was determined to secure a nutritious meal for his wife, who would have to nurse their newborn.

Sameh and Arwa fled from one shelter to another shortly before she gave birth, settling at Al-Shifa’ Hospital before the ground invasion commenced. But then Al-Shifa’ was also invaded, emptied of patients, medical staff, and the displaced. Sameh and Arwa returned to Al-Shifa’ after the army withdrew from it and eventually returned to their home after the Israeli army withdrew from their part of al-Shuja’iyya.

‘We are born with death hovering over us’

Arwa gave birth to Malak at Al-Shifa’ Hospital in these circumstances. The problem now is that Arwa requires proper nutrition to be able to nurse her daughter, which would include fruits, vegetables, and meat. These are virtually nonexistent in Gaza, especially in the north. Options are fatally limited to rice and dried macaroni, which has nearly been the sole staple in Gaza for months, Sameh says.

Sameh’s only choice is to try to catch birds, but his attempts have not worked every day. On one day, he might bring her a pigeon or a small bird, and on other days, he might not be able to catch anything. The first pigeon he managed to catch was like a lifeline for Arwa, who said she was finally able to nurse her daughter without her milk running dry.

“This is how we’re born in the Gaza Strip,” Sameh Jindiyya told Mondoweiss. “We are born with death hovering over us. My daughter is only a few days old, and she has already heard more bombardment, armed clashes, and screams of death than what elderly people in other parts of the world will hear in their entire lives, and all of this took place in Al-Shifa’ Hospital.”

Arwa says that Malak is always crying and that the milk isn’t enough, probably because Arwa herself barely eats more than a single meal a day.

The moment Sameh wakes up in the morning, he attempts to find anything halfway healthy and nutritious that he could bring for Arwa. By midday, he sometimes finds something.

“This is how we’re born in the Gaza Strip,” Sameh told Mondoweiss. “We are born with death hovering over us. My daughter is only a few days old, and she has already heard more bombardment, armed clashes, and screams of death than what elderly people in other parts of the world will hear in their entire lives, and all of this took place in Al-Shifa’ Hospital.”

“We are born under death, and then we spend the rest of our lives fighting not to die of starvation,” he continued. “Then, in the end, we die under the rubble, or are flattened beneath tanks, or die in the streets and get eaten by dogs.”

“What has my daughter Malak done to deserve this?” he asks. “That she would cry out for nothing simpler than her mother’s breast milk and not be able to get it.”

Forgotten in Gaza City and left to die

Various media reports have claimed that humanitarian aid from UNRWA and the international community has been arriving in northern Gaza, including Gaza City, Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, and Jabalia. But the situation on the ground is completely different when gathering testimonies from people still living in Gaza City. Most are still struggling to secure enough food for their families, whom I spoke with over the phone after the lifting of a protracted telecommunications blackout in Gaza. 

Sameh Jindiyya, who I have known for some time and can attest through firsthand experience to his utter devotion to his family, says that the aid that arrives in Gaza City is thrown in the street from moving trucks in a specific location, with no one to distribute it among the population or to order the throngs of people that come rushing in fits of desperation to claim whatever arrives. They end up carrying the aid, usually sacks of flour, and walk long distances to bring it to their families.

The first humanitarian aid that arrived weeks ago was just dumped off the trucks at Al-Nabulsi Circle near the shore. This part of Gaza’s coast on al-Rashid Street is located near Gaza City’s southernmost edge, three kilometers away from nearby shelters, al-Shati, or even al-Shuja’iyya, al-Daraj, and al-Zaytoun. As Sameh described the situation, he mentioned that Israeli drones have also targeted crowds of people in Gaza City waiting for the arrival of these trucks. 

The second time humanitarian aid arrived, it wasn’t dropped off in Gaza City like last time, but at the Kuwaiti Circle, which separates northern and southern Gaza and is a few dozen meters away from an encampment of the Israeli army and the infamous Salah al-Din checkpoint

“Whoever tries to reach that location goes back home covered in blood,” Sameh said, saying that a large group of people was targeted with drone missiles and artillery shells at the Kuwaiti Cricle as they waited for humanitarian trucks that never arrived. Many were killed.

Everything in Gaza has run out. There aren’t any markets that sell any food items. People have resorted to bartering for their food, and some scavenge in the rubble of bombed-out buildings. What people are doing to survive is itself catastrophic.

‘Please forgive us’

Ahmad Zaki, 33, and his wife Dina, 28, have five children. Their eldest is 12, while the youngest girl is 6. She was injured by missile shrapnel that entered her ear and punctured it. Still, she was lucky because the shrapnel could just have easily penetrated her skull and killed her. This family — which was displaced from al-Shuja’iyya to al-Daraj, then from al-Daraj to al-Rimal, from al-Rimal to Al-Shifa’ Hospital, and finally from Al-Shifa’ back to al-Shuja’iyya — tells horrific details of their hunger and how they attempted to find food.

Flour, which is virtually unavailable, is so rare that a sack of it can cost 1,500 shekels (around $400). Families like Ahmad and Dina’s have resorted to methods of survival that are dehumanizing, grinding down hay and animal feed into flour and using for bread. Even finding animal feed, which Ahmad managed to grind at a flour mill that belonged to a friend, was incredibly difficult.

Talk of aid arriving in northern Gaza is one thing. The reality is much different.

“I don’t have many options,” he said. “My children are starving. Nothing makes them feel satisfied. I can’t find anything anywhere.”

One day, after a great deal of effort, he found a few small discs of pita bread, which he gifted to his children.

“I risk my life every day,” he said. “We go through unsafe areas, and all we can find in limited quantity is rice and sometimes dried pasta.”

His wife, Dina, describes what they eat throughout the day. “We ate plain pasta. Then we ate plain pasta again, and that’s all we ate for the rest of the day,” she said. When asked about what she ate the day before, she simply replied, “We had rice and nothing else. One small pot for the family. Thank God that we can find even this.”

“We look at our neighbors in other places, and some of them can’t find anything, and they scream in the streets begging for food,” she continued. “In all of Gaza City, the only vegetables that can be found are onions and tomatoes, and the prices are beyond the means of any family.”

She says that a kilogram of onions that used to be sold for one shekel before the war is now sold for 50 shekels. Tomatoes that used to be sold for one and a half or two shekels before the war are now sold for 65 shekels per kilo. They are only sold by the kilo, and people can’t buy them by the piece. 

“A hundred shekels used to be enough to live on for an entire week before the war,” Dina continues. “A few days ago, my husband arrived home with a bag of chicken breasts.”

These arrived through humanitarian aid on large refrigerator trucks that came through Rafah. 

“But the trucks that arrived in Gaza City had a rotting smell,” Dina said. She told her husband that the meat had gone bad, but Ahmad insisted that she clean it and cook it, since this was the first meat they had been able to find in months. Dina did as he asked, cleaning and cooking it. It made all of them sick.

That this food aid had gone rotten can easily be explained by how it arrived in Gaza, dumped by the side of the road, and left to sit under the sun for hours before being claimed.

Talk of aid arriving in northern Gaza is one thing. The reality is much different. Areas where humanitarian aid has been dumped are dangerous and difficult to reach, and the people who do risk the journey end up going back with very little to show for their trouble. Many others don’t risk the trek and are now suffering from hunger.

Eyewitnesses I spoke with over the phone are saying that people are searching homes that were abandoned by families in northern Gaza during the start of the war, scavenging for anything they could find that might save them from starving to death. When they find food, they take what they can, but write their names, addresses, and phone numbers on the walls of the house, so that they may pay back the owners of the house when the war is over. Many also leave notes begging the house’s owners for forgiveness.

 “Forgive us. When you return to your homes, we will compensate you. We are not thieves. Please forgive us.”

These are the sorts of messages they leave. But the only ones who should be begging for forgiveness are the international community who abandoned Gaza and let it starve.

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Source: Therealnews.com