Mel Frykberg
The Middle East Times
June 25, 2008 - 5:38pm

"Islamic Jihad has just fired several rockets into Israel," the U.N. World Health Organization representative told the Middle East Times at the Gaza-Israel border crossing as a convoy of U.N. vehicles and a delegation from the humanitarian organization Oxfam were waiting for Israeli security clearance to cross back into Israel yesterday.

The tentative ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, which began at the end of last week, was already looking shaky with seasoned analysts questioning just how committed both sides were to ensuring its success.

The rockets were fired by Islamic Jihad in response to Israel's assassination of an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, and a Hamas fighter who was working closely with the group, by Israeli soldiers the previous evening.

The bullet-riddled bodies of 23-year-old senior Islamic Jihad commander Tariq Jumaa Abu Ghali, from the northern West Bank, and 24-year-old Iyad Hanfar of Hamas, were found in the early hours of the morning by neighbors in an apartment building in a Nablus suburb following the Israeli raid.

Although technically the ceasefire did not extend to the West Bank, an Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza had said that his organization would respect the ceasefire, but it also reserved the right to retaliate in the face of Israeli attacks.

And it is highly unlikely that Israeli security experts were in any doubt as to the provocative nature of the assassination and the response that would ensue.

In addition to the assassination, an elderly Palestinian farmer in the north of Gaza was shot on Monday by Israeli soldiers as he tended his orchards. Although an Israeli spokesman claimed that this was an "errant" bullet, Palestinians accused Israel of breaching the ceasefire.

The Middle East Times spent the day in Gaza yesterday in order to observe the ceasefire on the ground and to ascertain if a slight easing of the Israeli embargo on the Strip was being felt by ordinary Gazans and if they believed there was any hope for the future.

This reporter visited the Women's Program Center in Gaza city, which is part of the U.N. relief and welfare agency (UNRWA), and also funded and directed by Oxfam. The center trains and employs Palestinian seamstresses from the refugee camps and donates the clothing they make to Gaza's poor and destitute.

Elena Qleibo, a French-Costa Rican anthropologist, who has lived in Gaza permanently since 2004, is Oxfam's Food and Security Livelihoods Officer and responsible for running the program which began several years ago.

"The program has helped women from poverty-stricken families, where there is no breadwinner, to take home a modest salary to help support their children and menfolk, most of whom are unemployed," Qleibo said.

Sawsan Muhammad Daba, 49, has seven children to support. Her husband lost his job as a construction worker due to spinal injuries while her son was laid off from a local factory due to the closure of many business and factories in Gaza following Israel's economic embargo of the strip.

"Now I am able to help feed my family. Coming to work also helps me, emotionally and psychologically, to get away from the depressing atmosphere at home.

"Our home is adjacent to the Karni Crossing into Israel and we were caught in the crossfire between the resistance groups and retaliatory raids by the Israelis during which our house was damaged on numerous occasions and we were forced to flee for our lives," she said.

"This was extremely frightening and in addition to not having enough money to buy even the basics I was very depressed. Now I am able to earn $200 a month for working three days a week from 8 am until 12.30 pm and I feel much happier," Daba told the Middle East Times.

Rad Greiga, 49, is in a similar situation and has 11 children at home to support as all the men in the family are unemployed.

"I was married at 15 so I never finished high school and had never worked before. I learnt to sew at the center and now instead of having to ask for bits and pieces of money from family and friends, they are the ones that ask me for money and this has made me feel as if I am contributing to my family's welfare," explained Greiga.

Indeed a key point of the women's center, which has another branch in the Shati refugee camp and employs 30 women and 12 men in total, is not only to boost the self-esteem of the women by providing them with gainful employment and the capacity to earn.

A key strategy is to educate women about their rights in regard to domestic violence, honor killings and divorce.

Hindi al-Arabi, the center's program officer said her organization aims to provide women with work skills but also "raise their awareness in regard to human rights, social issues relating to domestic violence and divorce and to facilitate this we hold regular lectures and workshops."

Qeibli explained that she would like the center to become economically self-sufficient by selling its clothing thereby helping it to expand. "But we need to be able to import material and this is not possible with the boycott. We also don't always have regular access to electricity and this hinders production."

Despite all the gloom, doom and despair in Gaza, there remains pockets of hope. If a political resolution to the conflict can be found and Palestinians are given the chance to help themselves then it is possible that more good-news stories could make the headlines instead of the daily death and destruction which fills newspapers all too regularly.


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