In Gaza, So Much Lost And So Little Gained

Children in Gaza's Shejaia neighborhood on Sept. 1
Children in Gaza's Shejaia neighborhood on Sept. 1
Hélène Jaffiol

RAFAHWhen the wound eases, the real pain begins ... This Arab proverb expresses well the profound disillusionment of the inhabitants of Gaza, a week since an open-ended ceasefire came into force.

The end of fighting presented by Hamas as a "victory" after 51 days of conflict with Israel has up to now brought no major changes to the daily life of locals. The blockade has not been loosened and crossing borders is largely out of bounds for inhabitants of the narrow Palestinian enclave.

Leaning against the fence at the southern border crossing of Rafah, Abed vents his exasperation. "We haven’t really won anything," he says.

Wearing a suit, the professor is carrying an attaché case and an elegant blue suitcase. This is the fourth time this year that he has tried to cross the border between Gaza and Egypt, in an attempt to get to Germany. "I have a valid Egyptian visa. I’m not asking for the impossible. I thought this time it would work. They told us that the ceasefire would make it possible to open the border crossings or at least those with Egypt. But the fact is we’re back to square one."

Seated in the small cafeteria several meters from the crossing, Rami, 30, is also discouraged. "We’re back to business as usual, I’m going to have to start greasing the palms of the Egyptians again to get through."

He lives east of Khan Yunis where major battles took place. "After the heavy price we paid I was hoping the Egyptians would make an effort." The 51 days of fighting caused the death of at least 2,140 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Six days after the "victory" celebrations of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad factions, many Palestinians see nothing but neighborhoods in ruin around them. Nearly 10% of Gaza’s population still doesn’t have access to running water more than once a day, and the enclave is still subject to electricity cuts for up to 20 hours a day.

In Beit Hanoun, a devastated town in the northern part of the strip, Ashraf Al-Masri’s family, with more than 60 members, survives on the lower floors of a partially collapsed house without water or electricity. A taxi driver, this 40-year-old Palestinian is the only wage earner in the family. Even if he earns more thanks to business from the foreign journalists since the war started, it amounts to very little to support so many. "Buying bread every day eats up a fourth of my salary," he says.

Aid supply is power

Desperate, his family has set up a rotating system: To benefit from food aid some of the members go sleep every week in the schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Since the ceasefire was announced, it is here that most of the emergency distribution takes place.

On Aug. 27, the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) brought in, via the border with Egypt, basic food products for five days destined for 150,000 Gaza locals. Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman sent in nearly 200 tons of material for Gaza hospitals. Trucks transporting mattresses and hygiene products come in every day via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

But Gaza locals, frustrated by a ceasefire that has yet to yield concrete progress, criticize the slow pace and insufficiency of the humanitarian aid that often gives priority to families linked to the armed factions. "In our neighborhood, people close to Hamas have already received blankets, mattresses, gas cylinders and clothes. We’re still waiting," says Ashraf Al-Masri.

Most of the international organizations have to apply to the old Hamas Ministry of Social Affairs to get a list of beneficiaries for aid. The national unity government of Fatah and Hamas hadn't had the time to set up an administration in Gaza before the conflict began.

In this devastated area, having control over humanitarian aid has become a political challenge in a context of power games between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, heightened by the difficult task of functioning as a unified delegation at negotiations due to take place within several weeks in Cairo.

In Rafah, independent Palestinian organizations decry police visits to their redistribution offices to seize their lists of beneficiaries in southern Gaza. "Hamas doesn’t want any competitors in distributing aid because they want to preserve their popularity with locals. There’s no room for independent aid," says Nafez Ghoneim, a member of the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), which is part of the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

These criticisms are widely shared by other local NGOs that denounce increased Hamas control: "We try to organize distribution without telling the authorities, to avoid having it be controlled and directed by Hamas," says an activist who deplores uncoordinated distribution of humanitarian aid. "Only the involvement of the unity government could ensure better coordination."

Seated on the seashore near Gaza City, Nabila says she decided to leave her home in the ruined city of Beit Lahia, in the northern part of the strip. She takes a deep breath. "The ceasefire makes it easier to breathe. It’s the end of the bombs, of that terrible anxiety that twists your guts," says the young professor, who lost several relatives in the bombings. "But now it’s like a hangover after drinking too much. Bottom line, what have we won? Nothing. For this result we could have stopped at the first truce, when there were fewer than 100 deaths."

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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