Letter from Gaza – like a piece of ice under the sun

Palestinian residents stranded in an inundated house following torrential rains that hit Gaza City (Mohammed Dahman - APA Images)

Tareq S. Hajjaj

Mondoweiss  /  January 25, 2022

Recent flooding has crippled life in Gaza. One reason for this has been the devastation wrought by Israeli attacks.

“Is the power on?”

I wake up and uncover my head in the cold of winter and check to see if the lamp is on. If it is I’ll decide whether to have some toasted bread, or maybe a hot shower, or explore some news and social media while plugging in an electric fireplace. This would be a good start to the day. But others who have nothing to wake up for, like the many unemployed young people in Gaza, are likely to prefer to stay warm in bed.

For the past few days, it has been raining cats and dogs here in Gaza. Life is mostly paralyzed. On the first day of the cold wave which continued for three days, kids went to school in the storm. When they finished their day, the rain was getting heavier and the streets outside their schools flooded in some areas like Al-Rimal west of Gaza City. This is where the city infrastructure was targeted during the latest Israeli war and this rain was the first test. It didn’t pass.

The water on the street was almost 50-60 cm deep as the primary school students gathered in front of the large school doors. Little boys were watching the rain all day from the windows of their classes, which were very warm due to the huge number of students crammed into the small space. They also wore their warmest clothes, some have scarves over their heads like a keffiyeh, and others held umbrellas in case the rain somehow got inside. But no one expected the size of the flood waves they would encounter on their way back home.

You might wonder – why do streets flood every winter in Gaza, every year worse than the last?

The reason is the municipality can’t afford to repair the infrastructures in all areas in Gaza, unless a foreign project funds it. And even if the municipality were able to afford repairs, it wouldn’t be able to keep up with the new destruction. The large areas Israel has targeted in the last four wars  – like Al-Shuja’iyya and Al-Rimal – have been too much to maintain. This is the main reason floods in Gaza continue and get worse. 

The municipality tried to patch the roads up but failed. Winter turns most side and main streets in Gaza into a pool, temporarily. And the roads aren’t the worst part. In other places like the refugee camps, the flood may reach into some houses. But still if you want to get home you have to wade through the streets to reach the other side. Sometimes, it is easier, and more comfortable to get a ride.

In Gaza there are general taxis which travel the road asking everyone waiting for a taxi for their destinations. If a passenger’s destination is on the driver’s route, he will take them. This means you are often driving slowly in a small car looking for riders until the car is full. In doing this you end up meeting all sorts of people in taxis, and you get a special look into the lives of people in Gaza. 

I will tell you a story I heard today while I was getting back home in a car. I was sitting in the front seat, heading east to Al-Shuja’iyya. The driver was hunting for passengers on his route, and one family was standing at the side of the road, kneeling a little bit to see the driver from the window of the car. The man shouts: “Al-Saha!” which is a square in the middle of Omar Moktar street. Happily the driver parks and a father carries his little boy, alongside his wife who holds two little girls, apparently, they’re going home. The father with the boy on his lap are right in my back, and I am forced to listen to them because everyone in the car listens.

The boy was naughty asking his father to get him a phone, of course not for calls but for the games he can play on it. “Just like the one Omer has!” The boy has almost won over his father’s heart when the father tries to escape. “But it’s not for Omer, it’s for his mother. Does he bring it to school?” the father asks. The boy answers: “No.” “See?” the father responds, who just found a good way to distract the boy’s desire. He holds his son’s head and surrounds him with his hands. “Get your mom’s phone when you’re home and play, and I will get you a phone when you grow up,” the father says, winning his son’s patience for now.

You can hear every dialogue that happens in Gaza in these cars because everyone uses them move in the Strip. In fact, some people see their fellow car passengers as an audience. Some start talking or asking people questions, while others share how hard their lives are, and how they have missed opportunities, or the struggles their family faces.

Life in the Gaza Strip moves slowly but firmly in a direction where every day human needs are missing, or just out of reach. In this blockade it is very hard to meet life’s demands. People struggle within extreme limits just to live; to feed themselves and their families. The siege makes Palestinians feel like a piece of ice under the sun. 

Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of Palestinian Writers Union