AS ISRAELI SIEGE WEARS ON, FOOD SUPPLIES DWINDLE IN NABLUS
by Kevin Mohan
American Reporter Correspondent
NABLUS, Israel, Sept. 22, 2002 -- The putrid smell of garbage litters the streets of Nablus along with debris of broken roads and shattered dreams. A starving people, sidelined to their homes, are running out of hope.
International organizations, operating in conjunction with the Nablus Food Emergency Committee Warehouse, are trying desperately to offer relief. Yet, curfews and closures maintained by Israeli military operations over this northern West Bank city continue to severely intensify the hunger struggle.
While local shops have been able to maintain food stocks, customers are few and far. No one has any money. "Since September 2000, Nablus workers have been unable to enter Israel to work," explains Omar Yaish, a Nablus representative of the Palestinian National Committee.
The complete lockdown of Nablus has taken this problem to a boiling point by preventing employees from reaching jobs even within the city limits. "For over 80 days now, Nablus has faced continuous curfew with only small interruptions," laments Yaish.
For city residents, this has produced many harsh realities. Mohammed Ali Hamem, 52, a shoemaker with four children, has had no work all summer. Though he is of course concerned with his own plight, he is more worried about the fate of his son, Asam, who at the age of 24 is beginning to start a family.
"My son has been without work for 18 months and there is little I can give him," his father says.
Further exacerbating the lost-wages problem is that prices of foodstuffs in the city continue to rise. Little else can be expected when merchants are forced to transport their wares by donkey rather than truck. Delays, closure, and refusals at the Hawara checkpoint, one of the main gateways into Nablus, have left little other option.
To augment the lost income and increased prices, families have been forced to rely on savings, relatives and the sale of their assets. A Health Sector report issued by Care International and Al-Quds University found roughly 48.5 percent of West Bank families borrowing money and 12.8 percent selling possessions.
Yet, this option has finite limits. Statistics, which describe families consuming significantly less food, are suggesting their depletion. The same report details a 45 percent decrease in food consumption for Nablus families for a two-week interval from July 12 to July 25. This disposition has forced roughly 10,000 families of the city to rely on external aid.
This reliance has caused substantial hustle and bustle at the Nablus Emergency Committee Warehouse, where International donations have been flooding in as a result of the situation. World Food Program trucks have delivered large quantities of flour, sugar and oil, while other international organizations have sent complimenting portions of canned foods and milk.
Staff at the warehouse organizes the food into family packages, which are then sent to smaller secondary distribution sites designed to serve nearby communities. Or at least that is the plan. Curfew has hindered, but not entirely stopped, the necessary secondary distribution.
When deliveries are made, warehouse staff strives to identify the neediest families and expedite food packages to them-doing so requires serious rigor and the help of other Palestinian organizations.
The primary two organizations, the Zakat Health committee and the Ministry of Social Welfare, conduct surveys of their respective communities within Nablus, identifying families desperately requiring aid. Surveying usually involves telephone interviews and house visits, curfew permitting of course. Coupons are then issued to each needy family, marking them as a recipient for a food package from a secondary distribution site.
At such a site, a small, whitewashed building bordering a road torn by tank treads, Abu Mustafa Sulbah, is collecting a package for his family. The city of Nablus is under curfew but his starving son and two daughters can wait no longer. Without these "gifts of God," he explains, there would be no hope.
Others like Sulbah are brazen in their defiance of the curfew, coming to the warehouse to gather their food and also to escape their dwellings that psychologically serve as prisons. "They are fed up with being forced to stay at home 24 hours a day and they are also hungry," explains Yaish.
Unfortunately for the people of Nablus, the end of this misery is nowhere near in sight. Israeli claims that Nablus remains a terror hotbed are not a promising sign.
"They will tighten harder. I hope not, but they will do it," Yaish says.