First Published: 2006-03-22

Gaza bakeries feel brunt of territory closure

Israel’s prolonged closure of territory leaves backers unable to lay their hands on enough flour to meet demand.


Middle East Online

By Mehdi Lebouachera - GAZA CITY

Anger not bread rising in Gaza bakeries

In Fayiz Habub's bakery in Gaza, the ovens lie empty after what little flour they had left ran out. "It's the first time we've had a crisis like this," says Habub, cursing the Israelis for their prolonged closure of the territory.

Men in overalls stand at long tables bearing the last trays of buns to come out of the ovens, their faces covered in sweat from the heat.

"They're all empty," Habub complains, pointing to the Hessian flour sacks discarded on the floor.

"For the past five days we've received no deliveries. Before we used to get 10 tonnes a day, but recently we've been down to barely half a tonne and now it's gone."

Habub's bakery is one of the largest in Gaza. Other smaller concerns have downed their shutters altogether, unable to lay their hands on enough flour to justify firing up their ovens.

Gaza's only trade route with the outside world - the Karni crossing with Israel - has been closed for most of this year.

Israel has kept it shut virtually continuously since February 21, citing security reasons, prompting UN warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis.

"Every day they tell us today's the day, they're reopening Karni. But it stays shut," Fayiz says to nods of agreement from his staff.

"The Israelis are punishing us for voting for Hamas," he says referring to the Islamic militant group which is poised to lead the Palestinian government after an upset victory in January elections.

Behind the counter at another of Gaza's main bakeries, Haitham Badra apologises to the desperate customers queuing outside. "No, we haven't got any more. We've run out too, I'm afraid."

It's not just bread that is running out in Gaza following the prolonged Israeli closures of the territory's main trade route.

Cooking oil, sugar and rice are also increasingly scarce and the prices of the remaining goods available on grocers' shelves are rising inexorably with law of supply and demand, putting them beyond the meagre purchasing power of many in this impoverished territory.

"I am obliged to ration each customer to a single pack of sugar," says Khalil Shuraf, who runs a corner shop in the Rimal neighbourood of the city.

"A kilo of rice sold for two shekels (40 cents) three months ago, now it's three shekels (60 cents). Everything is getting more expensive," he says.

"I've lived through the wars of '67 and '73, and both intifadas (1987-93 and 2000 to date) and I've never seen a situation like this," the 57-year-old says ruefully.

He gets out a dog-eared ledger still bearing a picture of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the front, in which he keeps a tally of his customers' debts.

"There's hundreds of people in here who owe me money. It this goes on, I'll have to shut down."

At Karni, there was little sign of a swift end to the food shortages following its reopening Tuesday with goods flowing at a snail's pace.

Truck drivers lay asleep in their cabs after an interminable wait to pick up goods discharged on the Israeli side.

During the morning, barely 20 trucks were loaded up with goods carried across, said Hassan El Wali, a security official on the Palestinian side.

Most of it was flour but some of it was consignments of crisps or soft drinks that happened to be ahead in the queue.

"The Israelis are using Karni as a means of political pressure," said El Wali. "There are no security problems - that's just propaganda.

"If they carry on like this, they are going to turn Gaza into a new Somalia."


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