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Gaza jobs meltdown: an ice-cream firm's tale

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Mr. Mushtaha, a former amateur body builder whose parents were driven out of a village near Bersheeba and into the Gaza strip in 1948, has worked at the factory since 1991. He was making a little more than $300 a month when he was laid off. He's come in this day because he still needs money to buy new clothes for his five kids – the oldest 15, the youngest 4 – before school starts in September. His wife has already sold all her jewelry.

"I try to think about the politics of all this, but it makes no sense to me. Our ice cream business has become a threat to Israel? It wasn't a threat before?"

Musthaha says he was one of the hundreds of thousands of Gazans who voted for Hamas in its landslide electoral victory last year, more because he was angry at the perceived corruption and failures of Fatah than because of a commitment to the Islamist ideals of Hamas.

Now, he says, he won't vote again – for anyone. "Sure, I voted for Hamas. But why would I participate in politics again? We had Fatah for years, now we've had Hamas, but the economy just always seems to get worse."

Israeli officials say they are letting in humanitarian food and medical aid, though many Gazans report shortages of medicine. But they say they will restrict movement in and out of Gaza as long as Hamas is in control of the strip and does not end rocket attacks against Israel.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave a symbolic boost to the government of President Abbas by visiting the West Bank town of Jericho.

The meeting was one in a series meant to prepare for an international Mideast conference in the US in November. The Palestinians hope the leaders will sketch the outlines of a final peace deal, to be presented at the conference, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday.

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