“The closure is like dying a slow death” (PCHR)
Ramadan Daoud Hussein Abdel Bari (51) lives in Gaza together with his wife, their 8 children, and his sick mother. He opened a clothing factory in Khan Younis in 1985. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada the increased Israeli-imposed movement restrictions have ruined Ramadan’s business and caused him and his family to live in poverty, denying them the ability to live in dignity.
“I used to import cloth from abroad. In the factory we would make it into clothing that we would export to Israel. From the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, it became very difficult to continue our work. The Israeli army set up checkpoints everywhere in the Gaza Strip. The checkpoints separating the north from the south, especially Abu Holi checkpoint which people were only allowed to walk through, prevented the goods from reaching the factory. Around the same time, restrictions on the import of cloth began to be imposed. It became difficult to keep the factory going.”
The movement restrictions were the beginning of a downward spiral for Ramadan’s the factory, which provided employment to 30 factory workers. “I had to start selling factory machinery to pay salaries to my staff. In 2005, we made our last export, worth 80,000 Israeli shekels. The Israeli client, however, never paid me. After that, I was afraid to continue business, as I couldn’t afford to lose money again.”
In order make ends meet, Ramadan tried ways of generating an income. “From 2005 to 2008, I kept some machines in the bottom of our house, which we used for production for the local market. But now clothes are being imported from China and they are much cheaper than anything I would ever be able to produce. I had to sell my homemade clothes very cheaply. Then I bought an ice-cream machine. I can only sell ice-cream in summer, from March until around October, but this is not enough of an income for the family.”
The family now lives off a sporadic income. Ramadan describes the drastic change in the life of his family: “Before our problems started, when the factory was still open, we had a steady income. Due to our losses, I had to sell everything. Now we live from day to day. It has affected all of us. We are under a lot of pressure financially, but also psychologically. The closure is like dying a slow death.”
Ramadan’s mother, who lives with the family, is elderly and infirm. “My mother is paralyzed and suffers from osteoarthritis,” Ramadan says. “Because of that she needs to have surgery. But that is too expensive. We do not have health insurance. We give her pain killers.”
Ramadan and his wife, Na’ila, consider the education of their children as a priority. “All our children, 5 girls and 3 boys, are still in school. We want them to have an education but we face problems. We avoided putting our youngest children in kindergarten because we are not able to pay the monthly fees for it. So they all started their education in elementary school,” Ramadan says.
He continues: “Our daughter Madleen studies education at the university, and she wants to become a teacher. If I have money, she registers for a semester and enrolls in courses. If there is no money, she has to leave university for a while and delay her studies. At the moment, she is not able to be in university, as I have no money to pay the fees.” Madleen started her studies when she was 18. She has only been able to finish the first year of her program so far. She is now 21 years old.
The family sits in the dark for a large part of the day. “I don’t have enough money to pay for the electricity,” says Ramadan. The lack of electricity not only affects their wellbeing in the home, but also their prospects of improving their lives in the future. “If I want to restart making clothes, I need to start paying electricity but I can’t.”
Na’ila Mo’ain, Ramadan’s wife, worries about the children’s health: “Like all children, our kids get ill sometimes. If we want them to have access to medical care, we need money for medicines and treatment. We would not be able to pay for that. I cannot wait for our children to grow up so I can worry about that less.”
The story of the Abdel Bari family is common in Gaza. The Israeli occupation and closure of the Gaza Strip have impoverished many families, forcing them to a life in poverty, uncertainty, and heavily dependent on humanitarian aid. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights stipulates that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, while Article 22 states that everyone is entitled to the realization of their “economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”
The ongoing Israeli-imposed closure of the Gaza Strip constitutes a form of collective punishment of the civilian population living under occupation, which is in contravention of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As the Occupying Power, Israel has the legal duty to respect the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), including Article 6, which recognizes the right to work as a fundamental right, and Article 11, which stipulates the right to adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.