Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gaza Blockade: Dying Hardest Hit

Yet another tear-jerking saga from Gaza.
THE last two years have been tough to live in Gaza - and now it's become difficult to die.

The ever-tightening siege of the Gaza Strip has seen stocks run dry of raw materials for most of death's necessities. There is no cement for graves, no iron, or mortar to seal them and precious little white cloth in which bodies must be wrapped for a proper Islamic burial.

Since September, Salahedin al-Ayub, the foreman at the Beit Lahiya cemetery in the north of Gaza, has been forced to buy used curbside bricks from the local council to seal his makeshift graves.

He long ago used his last dollop of cement and fears the house bricks he's now using to fortify the graves will one day collapse on their occupants.

And Mr Ayub has more to worry about; how to hang on to casual gravediggers, all of whom have this week quit after day one of a three-day contract that requires them to lug dozens of 80kg curbside bricks across the sandy cemetery.

"It's much harder for them this way, but everyday I have to find different workers," he complained. "The next day they don't come back. It takes three workers to make a grave and I give them 150 Shekels ($50) each, but they won't even hang around for that."

The dearth of supplies has seen the price of burials soar by almost 50 per cent. And that's after Gaza's grieving families have had to deal with price spikes along the line.

Materials used to wash bodies have almost doubled in cost and so rare and costly is the white cloth - known as "bafta" - it has almost become a precious commodity. "I don't have any alternatives to offer people," said Majid al-Ghourani from his fabric store in central Gaza. "I have nothing at all in basic white."

Across town, another fabric store worker, Bahar Ali, said: "Usually we have two types of cloths to usefor burials but both don't exist anymore.

"What we are using as a compromise is not good. We have to wrap males three times and females five times with a proper thick cloth, but what we are using now leaves the finished product see-through. And this is against (Islamic instruction)."

In the nearby Beach Refugee Camp, Safia Mehdi was beside herself as she described the plight of her ailing fabric business and battling family.

"I have been here 37 years and it has never been like this. I cannot find the bafta anywhere to give people a proper burial. The poverty now is unbelievable."
Heartbreaking, isn't it?

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