Ahmed Saud Basal is an eleven-year-old boy from Tuffah, a village in the middle of Gaza. He lives in a two room house along with five brothers and sisters, his parents and a grandmother. Times are tough, much harder than before. The two-year-long siege of Gaza has been devastating and its effects will continue to take a toll. Education, health care, transportation, economy and every aspect of a normal society lie in ruins. The result of a campaign of collective punishment was clear, disregarding not only the international human rights law but also underlying values of every major religion.
Ahmed and his family aren’t starving. This isn’t Somalia. Gaza was never the so-called “third world,” but hierarchies of suffering miss the point. Compared to before, when factories were open, when farms could bring their products to market, when students could study at night by electricity rather than by candles; life today has grown desperate. Unemployment hit 80%. Skyrocketing prices for basic necessities, such as food, clothes and medicines, force people to survive hand to mouth. In such an economic crisis, parents, however reluctantly, must enlist their children as wage earners.
Beginning early each morning, Ahmed and his ten-year-old sister, Hadia, go to work with their father. The three of them sell tea in the street. For an eight hour day, each of the children earns between 6-10 shekels ($2-3.50). Added to what their father makes, the family brings in $12 a day, not much when beef costs $15 a kilogram and fruit, which Ahmad hasn’t tasted in a year, $3 a kilogram.
UNWRA food packages help, but the rations, which are given out four times a year, are basic: 30 kilograms of flour, 5 kilograms of rice, 5 kilograms of sugar, 3 kilograms of lentils, 6 liters of oil; and sometimes, 5 250-gram cans of sardines. For a family of eight, this doesn’t go far.
Children like Ahmed represent the germ seed for the future. It is true that Palestinians have honed a collective resilience in the face of historic hardships. But this strength should not be sentimentalized. Children, who remain exquisitely sensitive to their circumstances and surroundings, need a healthy environment in which to develop and thrive, explore and play, hope and dream. The captivity imposed by the siege has robbed them of this freedom.
Restoring this freedom to Ahmed and helping him recuperate from the deprivations he has endured, remains a challenge that has only just begun.