Friday January 30, 2009
Crushing end to dreams
On Jan 18, Israel announced a ceasefire in Gaza. But just hours later, Israeli tanks and bulldozers on their way out of Gaza decided to make a sport of their withdrawal.
They smashed and destroyed a number of factories on their way back into Israel.
Tile factory owner Muhammad Ali Al-Ashram was one of those relieved when the ceasefire was announced. The first thing he did that morning was to rush to his US$1.5mil (RM5.4mil) factory in East Shijaya, which is about 20 minutes from Gaza City.
“I was so happy to see my factory intact. But there were tanks and bulldozers parked nearby so I waited a distance away for them to leave,” he said.
About eight hours later – at 4pm – Muhammad Ali watched, to his horror, as tanks and bulldozers moved in on his factory and smashed it to bits. Watching with other fellow Gazans, he said, his heart was so pained by what he saw. He did not dare stop the Israeli soldiers, of course.
“They have tanks and weapons. If they see me, they will kill me,” he said at his destroyed factory which is just one km from the Israeli border.
For two hours, he watched the tanks and bulldozers crush his dreams. Muhammad Ali and his four brothers had saved for more than 25 years to build the factory.
Built in 1999, it was one of the biggest tile factories in Gaza and the only source of income for Muhammad Ali and his brothers.
“What took us 25 years to build, they destroyed in two hours. And they did it after the ceasefire,” he said. He also witnessed the tanks and bulldozers flatten other factories, farms and greenhouses before finally crossing the border and getting out.
“Israel just wants to destroy every factory in Gaza City. They want to keep us without jobs. They came not to destroy Hamas but to destroy the civilians,” he said, his face full of worry.
Now Muhammad Ali has been sitting every morning by his destroyed factory, hoping that someone would come by and offer help.
“Nothing can be salvaged. They broke all the machines - every one of them. I think I’ll have a heart attack because I’ve lost everything,” he said.
Close by is Husam Abu Ashwa’s US$2.5mil (RM9mil) chicken farm, also one of the biggest in Gaza. Dead chickens are everywhere – thousands still in their cages.
Husam had reared 82,000 chickens for their eggs and 30,000 for slaughter and was drawing at least RM10,000 monthly in net income.
Now, all but a handful of his chicken are dead from either being bulldozed, bombed or starved during the war. Picking up some two week-old eggs, Husam smashes them on the ground.
“I can’t sell these. I can’t eat them. They can’t be used,” he said in utter frustration. During the first 12 days of the Israeli attack, Husam managed to get to the farm and collect about 36,000 eggs daily – half as much he was collecting before the Dec 27 strikes.
But over the last 10 days of the strikes, he did not dare – because the tanks were so close.
Like Muhammad, Husam too saw the tanks and bulldozers destroy his farm after the ceasefire. “It’s deliberate. They did it only for revenge. They don’t want to see Palestinians do well economically,” he lamented.
Husam has to rebuild from scratch as the cages, all his machinery including cables and generators are a total write-off.
In the next few days, he plans to burn the chicken carcasses and expects to take about two months to clean up the place.
“If you come back in two months’ time, Insya Allah (God Willing) I would have rebuilt it. If the Israelis destroy it again, I will rebuild it and if they do it again, I will rebuild again,” he pledged.