Displaced Gazans search for warm clothes as cold draws in

Displaced Gazans search for warm clothes as cold draws in

Shafaq News/ When Khulud Jarboueh and her children fled their home in the northern Gaza Strip under Israeli bombardment in early October, the young ones were wearing just shorts and T-shirts.

The heat of late summer still lingered then. But now she rummages through piles of clothing looking for something to keep them warm in the rain and bitter cold.

"We left Gaza City with 20 members of the family more than a month ago," the 29-year-old told AFP at a second-hand clothes stall outside a school in Rafah run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

They had left the north of the Palestinian territory after Israel warned people to flee south, saying it was safer there.

The exodus came after Israel's military began a relentless bombardment of Gaza after Islamist Hamas militants stormed across the border on October 7 and killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

They also seized around 240 hostages in attacks that sparked massive retaliation from Israel. The Hamas government in Gaza says Israeli attacks have killed around 11,500 people, including thousands of children.

Now Jarboueh and her family sleep on the floor of the UNRWA school.

"We didn't take any clothes with us. But now it's cold and I have to buy winter stuff," she said at the stall where items of clothing go for a shekel each (around $0.25).

'No other choice'

Even before the war, life in the Gaza Strip was difficult.

The United Nations estimates that in 2022, the blockade Israel had enforced against the territory since 2007 had "hollowed out Gaza's economy".

"The restrictions on movement also impede access to health and other essential services, as 80 percent of Gazans depend on international aid," said UNCTAD, the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

Unemployment in the densely populated strip of land squeezed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea was 45 percent.

Today, the UN says, all 2.4 million people in Gaza are going hungry, and 1.65 million have been displaced by the war. With almost half the houses in Gaza destroyed or damaged, poverty will only get worse.

"It's the first time in my life I've had to buy second-hand clothes," said Jarboueh. "We're not rich, but I can usually afford to pay 10 shekels for an item of clothing for the children.

"Now they're coughing because it's so cold. I have no other choice."

She said she was sure the old clothes were "full of germs".

"But they're going to have to put them straight on. I don't have the water to shower my children, let alone do the laundry."

On a road lined with stalls, hundreds of Palestinians held up items to check sizes or compare fabrics. The temperature has now dropped and downpours are common.

'This is no life'

Farmer Walid Sbeh said he has been uprooted from his land, and does not have a shekel to his name. He camps at the UNRWA school each night with his wife and 13 children.

"I can't stand it, seeing my children still in their summer clothes go hungry, and I know I can't buy them anything," he told AFP.

"This is no life. They force us from our homes and kill us in cold blood. If we don't die in the bombing we die of hunger or thirst, sickness and cold," he said.

Sbeh said that when they left after their house was bombed they brought blankets with them.

"But on the road, the Israeli soldiers told us to drop everything and keep our hands up."

He said some people gave them warmer clothing their own children had outgrown.

Adel Harzallah, who runs a clothes shop, said his stock of winter pyjamas sold out in two days.

"The war began when we were waiting for winter wear to arrive. It was due to come across the border" but that shut after the October 7 attacks in Israel.

Now his goods were stuck in containers, like food, drinking water and fuel, all only to be released for a high price.

One potential customer left Harzallah's store disappointed.

"Seventy shekels for a jacket? I can't pay that -- I've got five kids," she said.

Abdelnasser Abu Dia, 27, told AFP he "doesn't have enough to buy bread, let alone clothes".

For a month he had only the clothes in which he fled.

But as the temperature dropped, "someone gave me and my kids sportswear jackets. We've been wearing them non-stop for a week."

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