By Ola Attallah – Gaza City
Abu-Samir Nafei is desperate. The father of seven toured Gaza City for hours trying to buy bread for his hungry children back home.
"I sought every single bakery around, and in each time the answer is the same: ‘sorry no bread’," he told IslamOnline.net. "It was like searching for a hidden treasure."
Bread has become something of a rarity in the impoverished Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million, under Israel’s stifling blockade of fuel, power and food supplies.
The majority of Gaza bakeries have shut down, and even those still powered are hit by severe shortages of wheat.
"About 30 of a total 47 bakeries in Gaza have closed," said Abdul-Nasser Al Ajrami, head of the Association of Bakeries in the Gaza Strip.
"They started grinding secondary wheat, originally used for birds and animals, to meet the demands of the hungry population," he added.
"Ever since I have heard about this, I stopped even trying to search for bread," said Salma, a civil servant.
"Words like tragedy and catastrophe cannot even come close to explaining our situation."
Despite international criticism, Israel refuses to open commercial crossings with the densely populated territory, locked up since November 4.
The closure has again highlighted the plight of people in the overcrowded sliver of land whose economy has been crippled by a blockade Israel imposed after Hamas seized power in June 2007.
On Tuesday, Gaza’s sole power plant, which provides 25 to 30 percent of the energy used in the territory, ground to a halt after frequent shutdowns caused by fuel shortages damaged parts of the production units that cannot be replaced because of the blockade.
Human Rights Watch has slammed Israel’s fuel and power cuts to the people of Gaza as a violation of the law of war.
Om Ghaleb’s house has been bread-empty for long days.
"I had no other choice but to change our eating habits and feed my family anything that does not need bread with it."
But for others, bread was so indispensable that they had to turn to Stone Age solutions.
"I can’t just do nothing," said a resourceful Om Saher, another Gaza mother who decided to bake using primitive wood fire ovens.
"I get whatever wheat I can find and bake my own bread."
Many Gazans have now turned to baking in fire ovens they build inside their homes or on rooftops.
Building a wood fire oven usually costs about $20.
Donkeys loaded with dry branches and firewood has become a common sight in Gaza streets.
After his failed bread hunt, Abu Samir, the father of seven, also plans to build his own fire oven.
"It’s the only solution left to feed our kids," his wife Suhad told IOL.
Yet, she knows that the fire oven will not end their problem if Israel continues to block food, including wheat, supplies.
"Things are just getting from bad to worse and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel."
– Ola Attallah is a correspondent for IslamOnline in Gaza. (Originally published in IslamOnline.net)