Hope Turns to Despair for Palestinian Family in Gaza

The Hasoona family returned to Gaza from Libya in the mid-1990s with hope for their eight children. But today, the family is jobless and dependent on U.N. handouts. Israeli artillery fire that shakes their tiny cinderblock house daily has only added to their woes.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The new Hamas-led Palestinian government appears increasingly isolated following this week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

It was the deadliest attack in Israel in nearly two years. The bombing was carried out by Islamic Jihad, after which Hamas officials endorsed the attack, which, in turn, unleashed a wave of international criticism.

Already looking at a loss of nearly $1 billion in western aid, the Hamas government and many ordinary Palestinians face an increasingly desperate situation, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

NPR's Eric Westervelt has one family's story.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Hamdullah Hasoona returned home to Gaza from Libya in the mid-90s, during the heavy, early days of the Oslo Peace Accords. But hope for a good future for his eight children soon faltered amid renewed violence as the peace process fell apart.

After Israel's withdrawals from Gaza last summer, the Hasoona family once again tried to be hopeful. Today, 50-year-old Hamdullah is unemployed, broke, his family dependent on U.N. handouts. His home life is unraveling. Daily stress over money and food leads to fights with his kids and his wife.

Mr. HAMDULLAH HASOONA: I fight with her every day. (Through translator) Just this morning we fought. She asked me to bring breakfast, and we fought because I cannot. I have no money. What can she do? What can I do?

WESTERVELT: The Hasoonas' live in a small, rented, cinderblock house in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, overlooking the Mediterranean. A view of the trash-strewn beach is about the only nice thing about their cramped home.

Hamdullah lost his job at a metal workshop more than four years ago. He spends much of his day sitting around smoking, waiting for night to come.

(Soundbite of voice through bullhorn)

A little kid with a megaphone rides by on a horse-pulled wooden cart, the back crammed with crates of vegetables. You see? Hamdullah says. Just four shekels, less than a dollar a box. He's calling and calling, but no one's buying. Who can?

Gaza farmers haven't been able to export their produce because Israel has closed the main freight crossing in and out of Gaza most of this year, citing security threats. That's led to a glut of produce and falling vegetable prices in Gaza, but prices for other basic goods, such as imported flour and sugar, are up substantially as supplies have dwindled.

Mr. HASOONA: (Through translator) All these frustrations. A man used to bring food, fruits to the family. Now he can't provide even the basic things. I wouldn't say we're dying of hunger now, but it's very minimized. Look what he's eating; my son, he's eating bread with tea.

WESTERVELT: These days bread with tea is a regular meal for this family.

A long-time supporter of Fatah, Hamas' rival, Hamdullah says it's wrong that ordinary families are being punished because Hamas won January's parliamentary election.

His wife, 45-year-old Wasphea Hasoona(ph), works at a job creation program run by a group of Palestinian unions. But the program recently had to lay off staff. Wasphea hasn't been paid in three months. When she does get a paycheck, she makes about 900 shekels, or $200 a month. Rent is $100. That leaves just $100 for food, clothes, and everything else for this family of ten

Compounding that stress is the regular heavy artillery fire into Gaza from Israeli forces in response to near daily rocket fire from Palestinian militants here.

(Soundbite of explosions)

That thud of artillery has become an unnerving backdrop to the Hasoonas' already pressure-filled life. The family had to move last year after their house was badly damaged in an Israeli air strike intended for a militant leader who lived nearby. Now, Wasphea says the house-rattling artillery has reawakened anxieties her young children have struggled with since the air strike.

Ms. WASPHEA HASOONA: (Through translator) Two of my kids are having bed wets since this shelling. Many of them are waking panicked at night. We don't sleep.

WESTERVELT: John Ging directs the United Nations Relief Agency here. The U.N. veteran of Kosovo and Rwanda says quality of life in Gaza this year has steadily declined in every respect.

Ging says the chronic closure of the Gaza border has forced the U.N. to regularly dig deep into its reserves to keep up with its monthly food giveaways to families such as the Hasoonas and 735,000 other Gaza refugees. The U.N. is calling on Israelis and Palestinians, he says, to work out an operational solution to the security concerns that doesn't involve closing the main freight crossing.

Director JOHN GING (Director, United Nations Relief Agency, Gaza Field Office): It's not a solution to create a humanitarian crisis, and that's precisely what you're doing.

WESTERVELT: Back at the Hasoonas small house, Wesphea says they face a new worry. Their teenage son is bored, angry, and spends more and more time at the local mosque. Every day he says he wants to be a martyr, Wasphea says, adding, he's bringing our life more hell.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza.

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