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Ibtisam- Ten Readings of a Blocked Decade



The delicious smell of freshly baked bread distracts me as Ibtisam shows me into her modest house. ‘We do not have much, but freshly baked bread can always satisfy hunger’, says Ibtisam while offering me a piece.

Being a mother of 10, Ibtisam knows all about finding ways to keep everyone fed with little means. Ibtisam lost four of her children to cancer, meningitis and asthma. Clearly touched and unwilling to stir up painful memories, she moves on to tell the story about her most recent loss: ‘My son became sick and needed treatment outside. He died while waiting for a permit to exit Gaza.’

The movement restrictions and permit regime linked to the blockade on Gaza also impacted Ibtisam’s family in other ways. Her husband worked in Israel until the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, he was then denied permission to leave Gaza. Apart from some informal jobs here and there, and raising some poultry, the family has had very little to live on. ‘During the last war, it was too dangerous to check on the chickens I kept on the roof, so they all died’, Ibtisam explains.

As a beneficiary of Action Against Hunger’s cash assistance, Ibtisam started a grocery shop because she also wanted to actively involve her unemployed son in the business. With the first instalment, Ibtisam reimbursed the vendors from whom she had previously purchased all the goods. ‘Reinvesting and expanding my store comes next’, explains Ibtisam.

In the training courses of Action Against Hunger, she learned how to deal with vendors as well as customers. ‘Regular customers only pay at the beginning of the next month’, says Ibtisam. ‘I now carefully keep track of the debts of clients who buy on credit and of my own debts vis-à-vis vendors’. Having a more stable income now allows Ibtisam to introduce her family to a wider and healthier variety of food such as fruits, vegetables and even meat in small quantities. As her husband is ill, the family today is fully dependent on Ibtisam’s income. 

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