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From the field

The Kaffa family lives in poverty since the father cannot renew his work permit, March 2005

Kamel Kaffa, father of nine

Kamel KaffaFrom 1985 to 2004, I worked picking oranges inside Israel. I could not work on a regular basis, since I could only get there when I had a work permit and when the Erez checkpoint was open. I was paid based on the amount of oranges I picked. For every full container of oranges I was paid 20 shekels. My daily total was about four or five containers, and so I earned about 80-100 shekels daily. My monthly wages averaged 1,800 shekels because I did not work on Fridays and Saturdays, Jewish and Muslim holidays, or on days when the weather was particularly stormy. The money allowed me to buy basic goods and to pay for services such as electricity, water, clothing and to cover the costs of my children's education.

For the past year, since March 2004, I have not been working. This is because the Erez checkpoint has been closed to workers for long periods, and because I don't have an official, steady employer to request a work permit for me in Israel. I looked for work in the Gaza Strip, but did not find any. People my age have almost no chance of finding work in Gaza, as most of the existing jobs are offered to young people. I have no work and no means to provide for my family of twelve.

I don't get water from the municipality and depend on my neighbor who has a water cistern, from which he allows me to take water. I have not paid my electricity bill for four years, and owe the Palestinian Electric Company 12,000 shekels. The company hasn't disconnected us because of the intifada, but now they are demanding that we pay the debt.

Once every two months, UNWRA gives me a sack of flour, two bottles of oil, five kilograms of sugar and five kilograms of rice. Occasionally, my sons do farm work on the land around our house, and in return the landowners give them a few crates of vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, parsley, potatoes, squash, eggplants, peas and beans. For me, fruit is a luxury which I buy only on holidays or in season. Fruits cost around four shekels per kilogram, which is expensive for me. I buy mostly flour, vegetables and basic staples. When I do bring home fruit, once or twice a year, my children eat it instead of a regular meal. I bring home meat on average once a month. One kilogram of red meat costs about 30 shekels, and a kilogram of chicken costs about ten. Fish costs about the same as meat, and only once every six months I buy a few small, inexpensive fish like sardines.

Most of my sons are in school. They pass clothes, shoes, books and notebooks from one child to the next. Most of their clothes are gifts from neighbors and relatives. During the month of Ramadan people give a lot of charity and we get some money, second-hand clothes and used shoes.

I have three brothers, all of whom are employed. They give me some money from time to time, and at the beginning of a school year they give the children some money to buy writing utensils, books and notebooks. My mother, who is seventy years old, also helps me and my children, and gives us some clothes and some money, because she has been doing sewing work for thirty years.

Every day, I wear my only suit, which I bought at the "Zas" market for 50 shekels. I walk around the market in the refugee camp to get some air and relieve my stress, because if I stay at home I will get a heart attack. I feel strangled and have trouble breathing. Every day at noon, I go to the book store at the el-Bourej market, which is about two kilometers from my home. I walk there and the owner gives me his newspaper, after he's done reading it. This way I can pass the time and also save two shekels, which is what the newspaper costs.

Kamel 'abd al-Karim Suleiman Kaffa, age 54, married and father of nine, is a resident of El Bourej refugee camp in central Gaza Strip. His testimony was taken at his home by Mazen Majdalawi on March 3, 2005.