Gaza’s Empty Shops

By Ola Attallah – Gaza City

Abu Ahmed Al-Madhoun has never felt more desperate.

He toured Gaza City for hours with a long list of necessary commodities for his family. In every shop he visited the answer was always the same.

"No milk, no cheese, no canned food, no cleaning soaps, not even baby diapers," Al-Madhoun echoes the answer given to him.

"There is nothing out there at all."

After a futile search, Al-Madhoun does not know what to tell his hungry kids when he returns home empty-handed.

"I don’t know what to do."

Nearly a month since the end of Israel’s three-week war, the densely-populated, impoverished coastal enclave has almost ran out of supplies.

Merchants say all commodities, from food to medicine and baby milk, have vanished over the past few months.

"You don’t ask any more what is missing in Gaza markets, but rather what is available," fumes a cynical Mohammed Qasim, a shop owner.

"Everything, from clothes and shoes to food items, is missing."

Despite international criticism, Israel refuses to open Gaza commercial crossings, 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 Western-Israeli blockade since Hamas was elected to power in 2006.

Lifeline Tunnels

Even the rare stuff found on Gaza shelves are sold at exorbitant prices.

"The prices have soared as all commodities have almost run out," notes Qasim, the shop owner.

"We are used to high prices, but never have they reached this record high."

Like all merchants, Qasim links the scarcity of commodities and consequent skyrocketing prices to the dying tunnels industry.

"The tunnels have long helped us amid the closure of crossings and the heightening of the Israeli siege," he explains.

"But now the situation is getting too harsh."

Since Israel sealed off the coastal strip, smuggling basics through tunnels dug across the Gaza-Egypt border has become the only way for Gaza’s 1.6 million people to survive.

A UN report last year described the tunnels as a "vital economic lifeline" to a Gaza under the blockade.

But tunneling has been hugely undermined recently after Israel bombed out some 700 tunnels and Egypt stepped up security measures to prevent any smuggling activity.

"Egyptian authorities have been tightening the noose on tunnels since the Israeli war," says Abu Walid, who owns one of the remaining tunnels.

"They are closing every tunnel they discover."

Samir Hamada, another shop owner, fears that ordinary, needy Gazans will bear the brunt of the Egyptian crackdown.

"Why are the Egyptians targeting the tunnels? It was our people’s only lifeline?

"Now we are back under the yoke of the scuffling Israeli blockade."

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