A few kilometers from where the Israeli army attacked Gaza’s coast, a coalition of 27 women’s organizations held a festival marking International Women’s Day. Organized by the Women’s Affairs Center based in Gaza City, the event titled, ‘Gaza women defy the Israeli siege,’ was held at the Beach Hotel along the coast.
The hall overlooking Gaza’s shore is crowded with dozens of attendees and a number of booths selling various products. One woman sells traditional folk dresses, while another delivers homemade Palestinian foods, and another stand offers homemade accessories and household items.
Reem Elneerab, organizer of the exhibition says that today’s festival is ‘exceptional as it comes during a crippling siege,’ enforced by Israel since June 2007. ‘The exhibition is sending out a message of steadfastness by Gaza women that despite the Israeli closure and measures, the Palestinian women can emerge with more creativity and ability to sustain,’ she explains.
Donya Al-Amal Ismail, a local journalist and a participant in the fair, believes that such an exhibition ‘helps women express their talents and creativity in a way that exposes an important aspect of Palestinian society in Gaza, despite the ongoing suffering of the population.’ She adds that the exhibition faced a number of problems this year including ‘the lack of raw materials and people’s inability to make purchases at these difficult times.’
Ismail’s sentiments are echoed by the Zakher Women’s Society for Craftwork and Textiles, which has a stand in the exhibition. Reem Al-Haddad, a customer service representative, says that she has been displaying her products since the early hours of the morning, yet visitors come to look without buying.
She smiles and explains that ‘when I look at the eyes of my customers I can understand they want to buy, but they can not afford to buy. The situation has affected their ability to purchase.’
After Hamas took over Gaza last June, Israel imposed a harsh economic blockade on the coastal region. According to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine Refugees, more than 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents depend entirely on food assistance that the organization provides.
As Ms. Al-Haddad observed, many Palestinians want to participate in events like the Women’s Day festival and purchase the crafts on display, however, they are unable to afford these items. Because of the siege even purchasing basic items like bread has become difficult.
Now Gaza’s local industries have been forced to shut down due to lack of raw materials and Israel’s closure of border crossings, leaving more than 70,000 local laborers jobless. Near the women’s exhibition of homemade craftwork and foods, the local chapter of the Committee for Breaking the Siege held a symbolic funeral procession for Gaza’s local factories. The procession drew hundreds of men who marched through Gaza City’s Kateeba district.
This is the situation in Gaza today: in the midst of the ongoing Israeli siege and attacks, Palestinians in Gaza feel a mixture of frustration and determination to continue with their lives.