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December 18th, 2014

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From Egypt, Amr Diab sings "Habibi ya nor el Ayn"

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Umar Al-Khayyam (d. 1130) mathematician and poet of the ‘Rubaiyat,” advanced algebra extensively and developed a calendar more accurate than the Gregorian.


What Does Normal Mean in Gaza?

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Recently the UN humanitarian coordinator told Gaza media outlets that 2013 was one of the worst in terms of the humanitarian situation.

The World Food Program representative in Gaza added that food insecurity rates for the year jumped from 48% to 57%. Both acknowledged that these worrying facts have mostly been overlooked in the media as world attention was focused on the Syrian conflict and other disturbing developments around the region.

Unfortunately, Gaza residents can hardly focus on anything else. These days, it’s all about survival. When the power cuts are suddenly shorter than the usual 12-16 hours, or a key medicine is found again in a pharmacy, we consider it a welcome exception to what sadly has become normality in Gaza.

The Israeli blockade and Egypt’s closure of our southern border have exacerbated Gaza’s poverty, with few supplies getting into Gaza to help us build and develop a normal future.

What does normal look like in Gaza? The power supply is still limited to eight hours a day and is sporadic at best. We often have to wake up in the middle of the night if the electricity comes back in order to do cook meals, do the laundry and other chores that require power.

Shopping is another exhausting challenge as families try to find affordable produce in the local markets. What fruits and vegetables are there, more often than not, are priced beyond the limited budget of out-of-work parents.

Powdered milk often is not available and when it is, the price is exorbitant. Affordable clothes and shoes from Egypt are no longer available since the tunnels were destroyed and the border remains closed.

The closure of the Rafah border crossing also means patients in need of medical treatment can’t get out of Gaza to get it. In fact, very few Gazans can get out. It’s become a cliché but it’s true, it’s like living in an open air prison.

With borders closed, cement and other construction materials are not entering Gaza. No construction means no jobs for thousands.

In spite of all our misery, there are some glimmers of hope to hold in our hearts. One young mother I met recently in southern Gaza showed me her greenhouse, which had been set up by the organization I work for. It was filled with tomatoes that Ameena El Masri says will supply 75% of her family’s needs. With her husband out of work, she can’t afford to buy the vegetables she needs for her family. “Thanks to my home garden, I am confident and relieved to know I can feed my family.”

My uncle recently opened a shop to sell nuts and other snacks. But, each time I pass by the shop, it’s empty. I asked him why he keeps the shop open. “This may be described as the worst year,” he told me, “but there is always an opportunity to find some light even in a dark cave.”

I was overwhelmed and humbled by his resilience and his optimism—a worthy lesson for us all.

Rania Elhilou, ANERA* Gaza communications officer

For more than 45 years, the US non-profit ANERA has provided humanitarian assistance in the areas of health, education and economic development to Palestinian refugees and impoverished communities in the Middle East.

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