The home where Miyasar Abu Muatak died with her children is now just a pile of rubble. A mourning tent has been put up outside with photographs of the family. A steady stream of relatives, friends and neighbors come in to express their condolences.
Three year old Hanaa, Salah, four, Rudeynah, six and Musad, 18 months, were killed along with their mother during a firefight between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces. Local residents say an Israeli aircraft fired two missiles, collapsing the house with the family inside.
The children’s father, Ahmed Abu Muatak, was on his way to the market when he heard the sound of the explosion and ran back. “It was my house, and I knew that everyone was inside, no one had escaped. What a black day, they have killed my family,” he said weeping as a neighbor put a consoling arm around his shoulders.
The deaths at Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza strip, were just the latest in this attritional conflict. But direct violence is not the only problem facing the community of 700,000 people. The confrontation between Israel and Hamas has led to a blockade of this Palestinian enclave leading to acute hardship and warnings from international aid agencies and the United Nations of a growing humanitarian crisis.
Just a few miles from the shattered homes of the Muataks lies the vast remains of an industrial park destroyed by Israeli forces who claimed that it was being used to fire rockets. The debris which one has to negotiate when getting into Gaza through an Israeli checkpoint is a symbolic reminder of how the infrastructure of the place has been dismantled and the hopes of it being a viable part of a future Palestinian state is ebbing away.
Gaza is certainly not Darfur or Somalia when it comes to food shortages or displacement of people and the violence in the area is much less than in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what is happening here is that a society which once functioned is now unraveling.
Mohammed Salah was sitting with a friend on the beach at Gaza City because there is little demand for his work as an electrician. “There is no work for people and so they have very little money and what they have they spend on food. They will only use me in an emergency. It is the same with me and my family, all I try and do every day is get just the essentials for my family, that is all.”
Before the current crisis 36-year-old Mohammed was earning around 3,000 Shekels (around $860) a month, enough for his family of four. Now he says he cannot even give a figure for an average income because so often there is none at all. “My savings have now almost all gone, both my family and my wife’s family help and I do any odd job that I can. We get wheat from the aid people and my wife cooks bread. We have pickles and some vegetables, but we cannot afford meat or fish.”
However polls show the core Hamas vote holding steady and anger against Israel is never far from the surface. Mohammed’s friend, who did not want his name used, had no doubts where the blame lay. “Who is keeping food and fuel from us? It is Israel. Who is bombing our homes? It is Israel. It is they who have taken our land. We all want peace, but we cannot continue to be humiliated.”