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What War Does To Children: Searching Trash Bins To Survive

A boy searches in a pile of garbage for something to eat in Aleppo.
A boy searches in a pile of garbage for something to eat in Aleppo.
Alia Ahmad

DAMASCUS — Maher knows more about trash than a nine-year-old should know.

"Some of it stinks more than others," he says, chuckling at his own remarks. "At first I used to feel like I was about to faint before I finished my job, but I got used to it."

It’s not unusual in different areas in and around Damascus to see children and sometimes older men or women climbing into garbage cans, foraging for scraps of food. Passersby often turn their faces away from the scene. The young children who collect goods from the garbage can are often insulted or beaten by their peers, who ridicule their digging and the mess they create around the garbage cans.

Raef, also nine, digs into the trash with his brother. They work as a team – they call it a gang – and manage to pick out the best pieces of trash on offer. “If I alone don’t bring useful stuff to sell, my father will hit me,” Raef said.

What do they do with this garbage? “Sometimes we find something to eat," said Maher.

He explains how they separate and categorize each item: bread, plastics, clothes, shoes, and even vegetables, leftovers, and food materials that only sheep would eat. " We collect all of these and sell them to people that could make use of them by selling them to other people or by using them.”

He says the people who buy the items usually recycle them, for example, plastic and iron cans are fused to make other objects. Although he refused to join the conversation at first, Maher's brother Zuhair later commented with anger: “Most of those buyers are exploiters. They buy things from us for very cheap prices, but we have to sell to them because we want to live.”

As for Raef, who came with his family from al-Hussienia to al-Barde too, he says: “I quit school from the second grade, I was lazy he laughs, and I don’t like school anyway, and I don’t like this job either, but I had to work after my father’s car was stolen. My father was a taxi driver, and his car was our source of living, and he was once beaten by the police before us because they accused him of joining the Free Army, and they then found out that he was innocent of this charge.”

Too many to control

Raef adds: “My father became too afraid to leave home, he feared that if he did, he might be accused again or get taken at army checkpoints. I must work so we can eat."

Raef's father has a drinking problem and gets rough with his mother and younger brothers. But he rarely beats Raef, because his foraging brings the family a trickle of income. The family lives in a small room in an unfinished building; they can’t afford more space.

The children foraging through dumpsters rarely get to study or play. Also, they live in fear of a stronger scavenger assaulting and robbing them. "They live by the laws of the streets, the strongest among them rules," explains Manal, a Syrian social worker based in Damascus. "Often there is a "tax" to pay, and normally it’s an amount of money, or a gift offered regularly to someone who protects them in one way or another."

One Damascus attorney, who didn't want to give his full name, recalls the ‘anti-begging and unemployment’ patrols of the past. "They used to catch these children and investigate their parents or whoever encouraged them to perform this job," said the lawyer. "But now with the current crisis, there are too many."

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

The fate of the West Bank is inevitably linked to the conflict in Gaza; and indeed Israeli crackdowns and settler expansion and violence in the West Bank is a sign of an explicit strategy.

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

Israeli soldiers take their positions during a military operation in the Balata refugee camp, West Bank.

Riham Al Maqdama


CAIRO — Since “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” began on October 7, the question has been asked: What will happen in the West Bank?

A review of Israel’s positions and rhetoric since 1967 has always referred to the Gaza Strip as a “problem,” while the West Bank was the “opportunity,” so that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005 was even referred to as an attempt to invest state resources in Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

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This separation between Gaza and the West Bank in the military and political doctrine of the occupation creates major challenges, repercussions of which have intensified over the last three years.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank and the continued restrictions of the occupation there constitute the “land” and Gaza is the “siege” of the challenge Palestinians face. The opposition to the West Bank expansion is inseparable from the resistance in Gaza, including those who are in Israeli prisons, and some who have turned to take up arms through new resistance groups.

“What happened in Gaza is never separated from the West Bank, but is related to it in cause and effect,” said Ahmed Azem, professor of international relations at Qatar University. “The name of the October 7 operation is the Al-Aqsa Flood, referring to what is happening in Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank.”

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