Life Amid The Ruins: Gazans Still Feel Under Siege Ruled by the militant Islamists of Hamas, the Gaza Strip is home to almost 2 million Palestinians, most of whom are unable to leave. Recently, Israel has partially eased its economic blockade. But 18 months since Israel's war in Gaza, there has been only limited reconstruction.
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Life Amid The Ruins: Gazans Still Feel Under Siege

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Life Amid The Ruins: Gazans Still Feel Under Siege

Life Amid The Ruins: Gazans Still Feel Under Siege

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

SIEGEL: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro recently spent several weeks in this coastal Palestinian territory and today, we hear her report on the impact of a partial easing of the blockade - or what Palestinians call the siege of Gaza.

LOURDES GARCIA: Anwar Abu al-Qays's corner shop is bulging with Israeli goods not seen on the shelves here for three years. Items are stacked up to the roof, some precariously, like mini towers of Pisa made out of packages covered with Hebrew script. Chocolate, diet soft drinks, diapers - he says the goods coming in from Israel are cheap and good quality.

BLOCK: (Through Translator) Before, we only got very limited things from Israel. Now, in terms of foodstuffs and household goods, everything is coming in.

GARCIA: But he adds that the siege of Gaza by Israel is far from over.

BLOCK: (Through Translator) Laborers are our main customers, and no one has work or money. So however much I'm selling, it's still not as much as if people had jobs here.

GARCIA: Just a 45-minute drive from the city of Tel Aviv with its skyscrapers and resorts, Gaza is a ramshackle collection of villages and cities embraced by the sea like a toothless smile. It's only 25 miles long, about seven miles wide, and it's really crowded.

SIEGEL: Brightly packaged cookies are put together on this assembly line. This cavernous factory had been practically shuttered but now, owner Iyad Telbani has actually hired more people.

BLOCK: (Through Translator) During the siege, it was about 150 employees, and they were only working a few shifts a month. Now, there are 250 workers.

GARCIA: He says he needs to be able to sell his goods outside of Gaza.

BLOCK: (Through Translator) The fact is, the situation in Gaza won't improve unless they allow factories to export. I used to export 60 percent of my products to the West Bank.

GARCIA: But this summer, Israel came under heavy international pressure to ease the blockade, after an Israeli military raid on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

BLOCK: Actions like a flotilla certainly is trying to put Israel in a no-win situation.

GARCIA: Danny Ayalon is Israel's deputy foreign minister. He says Israel has to keep weapons and items that could be used for military fortifications out of Gaza, which is why it retains such tight restrictions on the land and sea borders. But he acknowledged in an interview with NPR that the punishing, three-year ban on most foodstuffs and other commodities was a mistake.

BLOCK: Denying different items or products into Gaza was not that effective. Hence, now we have changed the policy altogether.

GARCIA: But people would say that you're - that what you're saying now is disingenuous, that this is only in reaction to pressure put on you after the Turkish flotilla incident.

BLOCK: It certainly expedited this decision, but I believe this decision would have come up anyway.

GARCIA: The partial opening up of the crossings between Israel and Gaza has also had some unanticipated consequences.

GARCIA: Is that it?

GARCIA: Aye.

GARCIA: Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

GARCIA: So I am slowly being lowered down into one of the smuggling tunnels that crisscross the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. I'm sitting in a swing, being winched all the way to the bottom. Stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

GARCIA: It's very lonely at the bottom. Like some 60 percent of the tunnels, this one has shut down.

SIEGEL: cars, food, even animals.

BLOCK: (Through Translator) Now, we bring in cement, paint, flooring material - things to build with.

GARCIA: Many Gazans are still living amid the ruins, like the Abed Rabbo family.

GARCIA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA: Her house was leveled in the fighting, and only the floor remained. Now, she and her family occupy what's left. Shelter and privacy come from a tent strung up over the house foundation. Soad says the fact that Israeli goods are coming into Gaza is irrelevant to her.

BLOCK: (Through Translator) What they have brought into Gaza is luxury items. I can't afford that. Ice cream? Chocolate? I don't need that.

GARCIA: But this summer, he says he's finally decided he wants to leave Gaza for good, and take his children somewhere else. Banging his hand on the table as he speaks, he says despite the array of new foodstuffs on the shelves here, the Israeli siege continues.

BLOCK: Why you deal with us like animals? I'm in a prison, regardless to the quality of the food you provide to me, whether Movenpick or Sheraton provide me the food.

GARCIA: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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