Jobs destroyed by conflict

Stories of “Disemployment” from Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza tell how they lost their livelihoods due to severe damage to buildings, vehicles, machinery and other productive assets caused by the Israeli military operation during the Israel-Gaza conflict of July-August 2014. These accounts accompany the release of the ILO study “The ‘Disemployment’ impact of the 2014 Conflict in Gaza: An ILO Damage Assessment and Recovery Strategy.”

Feature | 10 March 2015

Shaaban Sukkar, a Palestinian unemployed father of seven

Shaaban Sukkar, a Palestinian unemployed father of seven, describes how he and his seven brothers lost their livelihoods when their nut-roasting factory, equipment and a number of vehicles were destroyed by heavy Israeli bombardment. Sukkar and three of his brothers also lost their homes above the factory in the shelling.

Raed al-Ejla’s story

Raed al-Ejla, former taxi driver from Gaza
© Saleh Jadallah/ILO
Twenty-five year old Palestinian taxi-driver Raed al-Ejla lost his sole source of income when Israeli bombardment destroyed his grey Mitsubishi during the Gaza conflict of 2014, which took a devastating toll on Palestinian civilian lives, and resulted in massive damage to the social and economic infrastructure of the war-torn enclave.

For three years, al-Ejla used to drive his taxi around the old streets of the narrow enclave, picking up and dropping off passengers, earning just enough money to make ends meet. Now, he has no way of earning a living. Al-Ejla, whose house was also badly damaged in the same Israeli military operation, says he now has to rely on aid and food supplies distributed by international organisations to feed his children.

"I used to earn 100 (New Israeli Shekels, approximately US$25) a day, but now I cannot afford to even buy bread for my children," said the father of three.

Al-Ejla and 18 members of his extended family are currently residing in the remains of their damaged home, which lies about 1,000 metres from the Israeli border, and which they cannot afford to fix. Al-Ejla said that the destruction of his taxi is one of the worst things that has ever happened to him, but he still has hope that one day soon, he will be able to buy another car.

"Buying another car would help me get rid of my predicament. You cannot imagine how difficult it is when your children ask you for snacks and food but you have nothing to give," Al-Ejla said. "We are dying slowly here. Those who died in the offensive are in a much better situation than those who are still alive and struggling to survive.”

Emad Sukkar’s story

Emad Sukkar, former grocery store owner from Gaza
© Saleh Jadallah/ILO
Smashed shelves are still scattered amidst the debris of Emad Sukkar's grocery store in the Sha'af neighborhood to the east of Gaza. Sukkar's house, a few metres from his store, was also destroyed.

Sukkar estimates his losses after Israeli bombardment destroyed his shop at US$35,000. He says that the damage was so severe from the bombardment that he could he not salvage any goods from the destroyed shop.

"I cannot describe how hard it was for me to see the damage to my shop. I did cry and people gathered to comfort me," Sukkar recalled.

Sukkar opened his grocery store in 2004 after finding it impossible to get a job in Gaza in his university major of psychology.

"I was content with my income. I used to make 300 (New Israeli) shekels (about US$75) a day. Now I cannot give an allowance to my children who go to schools and kindergartens."

He says the damage is too great to repair. "I have been jobless for more than seven months now and have nothing to do except spend time with my family," said the 33 year old.

Sukkar is now trying to secure funds from international organisations to help cover the medical costs of his poorly son who is triplegic.

"My financial situation is getting more desperate every day. I had to pay 100 dollars for my son who recently underwent an operation."

Sukkar says that he sees no hope in the near future for Gazans unless international efforts are exerted to increase support for residents of a city where the infrastructure and economy was dire even before the most recent conflict.

"It is very hard to believe that there is any hope. Every time we think our situation and hardship has eased, the situation just gets worse. It is very difficult."

Younis al-Areer’s story

Younis al-Areer (centre) former blacksmith from Gaza, and two of his sons
© Saleh Jadallah/ILO
Left to face the squalid remains of his metal workshop after it was destroyed during the Gaza conflict, Gazan blacksmith Younis al-Areer now spends his time in a makeshift shelter he erected on the site of his wrecked business.

Al-Areer, 63, and all of his six sons used to weld metals and manufacture bulldozer scoops and truck containers in their facility to the east of Gaza City.

He values his losses from the destruction of the workplace that at one time provided income for 25 members of his extended family at US$150,000.

The old man built his workshop in 2000, and it expanded in size to cover 750 square metres before its destruction.

"We all worked here and all our family relied on that income. We used to have everything we wanted," he said. "Now we just wait for the rations distributed by the United Nations."

Al-Areer also lost his house, located around 5000 meter from his workplace, to Israeli military bombardment. He and a number of family members are living in rented apartments with the financial help of a U.N agency.

"I cannot build my workshop again because I have nothing. It requires high costs as I need to buy new machines and tools, and there are no construction materials."

Al-Areer foresees a worse future for Gaza if the situation does not change dramatically. When he goes to the location of his destroyed workshop, he cannot stop himself from remembering the times he spent in the place when it housed a functioning business.

"I don’t like to be pessimistic, but I can’t escape this reality,” al-Areer said while making tea on a wood fire at his shelter. “All my hopes were buried under the rubble of my workshop."

Ahmed Mahdi’s story

Ahmed Mahdi, financial manager of the al-Madina Factory for Soft Drinks in Gaza
© Saleh Jadallah/ILO
The financial manager of al-Madina Factory for Soft Drinks estimates the business’s losses due to exposure to heavy Israeli bombardment during the most recent Gaza conflict at US$9 million.

Once the hostilities ended, the owners and management of the factory, founded in 2006, began to repair the damage, spending around US$3.5 million to return it to partial production.

"We worked day and night to run the factory again and it took us three months to get to where we are now," said financial manager Ahmed Mahdi.

Prior to the conflict, 120 employees worked at the industrial unit. The factory, which was also damaged by the three-week Israeli military operation during the Gaza conflict at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, is currently hiring 50 employees, said Mahdi, who hopes to employ more workers at a later stage.

Challenged by power outage for long hours, the facility is forced to spend some US$18,000 a month on fuel to run power generators.

Mahdi is afraid of another military operation that might destroy all they have rebuilt.
"I am always worried there will be another war. I hope we can forge economic agreements that can guarantee the protection of factories and the industrial sector," he said.

The facility's owners are very keen to keep their business in the market, even if it means operating at a loss.

"Running the factory again is a great a achievement. The determination of the owners and the workers is very important for our existence and continuity," he said. "It is very important to keep our name in the market even if we operate at a loss."

Madhi rushed to inspect the factory during a brief ceasefire in the most recent conflict.

He recalled the moment he saw the destroyed remains of the production plant: "It was the most shocking moment. I was about to collapse when I found nothing left from the factory.”

The soft drinks factory has gone back to partial production
© Saleh Jadallah/ILO