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Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 12:05 UK

Voices: Gaza's two-year blockade

In June 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, and Israel tightened its blockade of the territory. Israel said it wanted to weaken Hamas, which supports violence against Israel, and end Palestinian rocket attacks on its towns.

Only humanitarian basics are allowed into Gaza, and no exports are allowed out. The economy has ground to a virtual halt and the water, sewage and power systems are ailing.

Two years and an intensive three-week Israeli military operation later, a farmer, a student, a businessman and a health worker describe how the blockade has affected their lives.

Nasser el-Helo, businessman, Gaza City

Nasser el-Helo

For 22 years I have run a business supplying steel security doors, locks, safes and security products. I imported the goods mainly from Israel.

When Israel imposed its blockade two years ago, we were able to manage for a few months because we had a relatively big stock. When that ran out we waited and waited, hoping things would return to normal.

But they didn't, so I have fired 27 out of my 32 employees. I have stopped being able to import goods from Israeli companies.

GAZA UNDER BLOCKADE: June 2009
40% unemployed
750,000 receive Unrwa food aid
No petrol or diesel since Nov 2008 (except UN)
Half required cooking gas allowed
Recently blocked items: light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, tea, coffee, chocolate, nuts
Virtually no building materials allowed in
Source: Unrwa and World Bank

I come from a relatively rich family so my life hasn't changed as much as some. I am not in debt, but I have lost most of my capital. The last two years have erased 20 years of business activity. Of my former employees, some have joined the Hamas police force, some have found taxis to drive. Others live on charity from Unrwa and other organisations.

The people who are making lots of money now are the tunnellers, they are not businessmen, but they have become millionaires. This siege is killing the real businessmen.

Even when politicians across the border couldn't speak to each other, we businessmen could. But now this relationship of 30 years' standing is being destroyed.

To be fair, I have to mention the positives as well - Hamas has brought security to Gaza. Economically it's gone from bad to worse, but now theft and robbery is almost non-existent.

Ghada al-Najjar, public health officer, Gaza City

Ghada al-Najjar

We have just finished a programme educating kindergarten children about personal hygiene and water safety.

All the children we selected suffered from poor water supplies. Gaza has high salinity in the water anyway, but things have definitely got worse.

Many water and sewage systems were damaged during the war and because of the lack of cement, they remain unrepaired. Cement is 13 times more expensive than before the siege began.

There are more cases of diarrhoea now than last year, before the war.

Another impact of the siege on my work is lack of materials. We give hygiene kits to the children and their families and I have had real difficulty in finding the things to go in them.

The best quality on offer in the market is really not good enough, I'm talking about toothbrushes, toothpaste, washing up liquid, towels.

It's almost impossible to buy cotton towels at the moment! Prices have shot up. We go for the best quality, and we don't ask where it comes from.

We try to get our message across through play and fun. We give children the chance to debrief their trauma.

When you ask a child to draw their dream environment, they draw a house with no borders around it, with green trees and birds.

When you ask them to draw their actual situation, they draw their home with a siege surrounding it. The message is clear.

Mohamad Khayl, strawberry farmer, Beit Hanoun, Gaza

Before June 2007 we were making good money - I was the first person to export strawberries from Gaza to Europe. Then the blockade started and restricted our exports.

Mohamad Khayl
Mohamad, second from right, in his strawberry fields

Sometimes we can lose all our produce - so we sell it at a loss locally before it spoils. It's the same with the flowers.

Life has been really difficult for the past two years. I have been gambling between two options: the money I get from potatoes and flowers I invest in strawberries, and the money I make from strawberries goes back into potatoes.

I cover about 80% of my costs - so I'm losing money every year. If the situation remains as it is, I don't think I'll plant anything this season.

It costs between $6-7,000 to plant and care for 30 dunums [30,000 square metres] of strawberries. I can't afford to lose that sort of money. I need to sell the produce before I can even pay some of my workers.

Of course this makes life miserable. I have 13 children and I can't afford to buy them the books and bags they need for school.

It's a domino effect, if I don't bring home money, I can't buy my kids food; if we don't pay money in the markets, the shops close. Most people here depend on aid from Unrwa now.

I haven't looked for other work because there is nothing else I could do here. I will have to depend on aid - they already give us food rations.

We farmers are trying to contact the UN, theRed Cross and local NGOs to help us fight the situation, because we are losing everything.

Mahmoud Abdalrahman, 19, student in US, Gaza City

Mahmoud Abdalrahman

When I arrived in Gaza last month, it was the first time I had been back in three years. I'd been studying abroad and my mother worried that if I came home for the holidays I'd never get out again.

I missed my family, but my mother always said the future was more important than emotions and that I should concentrate on my studies. This year she said she couldn't bear it any more and I had to come home.

My term in Massachusetts starts on 20 August, so I started applying to get out of Gaza the moment I got in.

The way to leave is complicated. I hope to leave through Rafah, into Egypt. Everybody knows the border is controlled by Israel and the Egyptians.

The Palestinian authorities just decide which cases are the priorities to be allowed to leave when the border opens.

I have to keep checking the website for the Ministry of the Interior here in Gaza, they publish the names that can leave the Strip, and when they can go.

I have my fingers crossed that I will be able to leave at all. I would be very sad if I could not continue my studies.

I have a full scholarship, including even my flights. I am studying biology now, but I want to study medicine after that. It is a very long dream.

Coming back after three years was also strange. I live in an area called Tel al-Hawa which suffered huge damage in the war. There are a few ministries nearby which were occupied by Hamas two years ago, which is why it was hit.

I see people with no political affiliation whose houses were half destroyed too, that was shocking. It was more random than the news reports prepared me for, and more dreadful.



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