- Published on Tuesday, 05 June 2012 15:49
Last month, Gaza exported the first truckload of clothes in 5 years to the United Kingdom (UK) as part of a pilot project funded with British aid to rebuild a clothing factory that was forced to shut down in 2007 after the beginning of the blockade. Sadi Mustafa Abu Shaqfa, a tailor by profession living in Al Shaati Camp, remembers a time when he provided work for others at his sewing workshop while making good profits.
"I learnt my trade while working in Israel between 1980 and 1996," he says. "I then worked as a supervisor in one of Gaza's biggest factories, and in 2000 I started working for a company that supplied all of its goods to Israel. At the time we made jeans, trousers and men's shirts. In 2004 I opened my own sewing workshop with steady contracts for my previous employer."
In 2006, business dropped as Israel started closing the Gaza crossings. He would send one batch of clothes to Israel every two months, whereas before the closure he would sell more than three shipments a month.
"We ended up working just 10 days a month, until I had to close down in 2007," he says. "Month after month, I was returning home without any money and the major factory I used to get work from shut down. I ended up having to fire the workers and sell the machines to be able to pay the rent for our house."
Towards the end of 2008, Saadi and his family moved out of the house they used to rent in Gaza City. They live to this day in a two-room house with a zinc ceiling in Al Shaati refugee camp (Beach Camp).
"As you can see, it's not even fit for monkeys, but what can I do?" he says.
Eight people live in the little house without electricity, with water reaching them every three days.
"I used to walk proudly in the street but since I lost all my income it's been one long tragedy. There are no jobs. I now depend on international agencies for aid. One day we eat lentils, the next potatoes or anything I can get hold of. I'm tired of this life."
Saadi worked for two months in an Oxfam sewing workshop in Beach Camp funded by the European Commission's humanitarian aid agency ECHO earlier this year, but he has given up on waiting for things to get better.
"It was good to go back to work for a while and that's all I ask for," he said. "Shalit was released and we're still in the same situation. I've lost hope of ever returning to those busy days when we used to export to Israel. I feel destroyed."
The textile and garments industry combined used to make up the largest sector of industrial activity in Gaza, with 550 production companies, most of which were subcontracted by Israeli firms, providing employment to around 10,000 workers.
Oxfam partner Palestine Trade Centre (PalTrade) reports in its latest Gaza Crossings performance analysis that while Gaza had the capacity in 2000 to export up to 3,500 truckloads of garments a year, annual clothing exports fell to 478 trucks in 2007. Gaza's monthly average of exports before the blockade, which will reach its fifth year on 14 June, was around 1,034 truckloads of exported goods including furniture, garments, cash crops, vegetables, processed food, metal products, and handicrafts.