‘We’re dead anyway’: Gazans fight over bread as bakeries shut and flour runs low

'We have seen death ten times' say those risking their lives to take home food

Palestinians crowding to buy bread from a bakery in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. AP Photo
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Men and women argue in anger and desperation, with some fighting over a few pieces of flatbread, outside one of Gaza's few remaining bakeries where up to 700 people line up at a time.

Some of them, like Nour Al Basyouni, 35, have been there since 8am without any guarantee they would bring home bread.

“I have four kids and I'm pregnant,” Ms Al Basyouni tells The National, on the 20th day of the Israeli bombardment of the besieged strip.

Since the war began, more than 7,000 people have been killed in Gaza, where clean water is almost non-existent, hospitals are collapsing and fuel is running out, rendering doctors helpless.

“I haven't showered in four days,” says Ms Al Basyouni. “We drink from the untreated tap water. We have seen death in front of our eyes ten times.”

Umm Raed is a cancer patient who also has a torn tendon in her leg.

“I have 15 mouths to feed,” she says. “My daughter's house was destroyed in an air strike and her daughter is a bride-to-be. She's crying over her bridal clothes.”

Ismaeel Abu Zor, who works at Al Kholy Al Abbas bakery, says he has been seeing at least 500 people outside his door step in recent days as more bakeries go out of business, unable to make bread.

Many have been destroyed in Israeli air strikes.

“There are only 10 major bakeries operating right now. The pressure is high. There isn't much flour,” he says.

“We're working today but tomorrow we won't have any flour, gas or diesel. The people are fighting and we cannot control the situation at all. God help us all.”

Mr Abu Zor says he has to wait until UNRWA sends in flour so that the bakery can make bread – and even then it's not enough.

“We're getting many times the number of people who usually come to us,” he says as customers shout among themselves.

“We work one day – and have to stop the next.”

Even his shift is affected due to the air strikes, which normally take place at night.

“We usually start at 4am – now we start at 9am and go home at 3pm before [the bombing] starts,” he says.

The UN refugee agency has been trying to meet the needs of the hungry and the injured by rationing its fuel supplies so that water can be desalinated and respirators can continue to function.

“Do we give [fuel] to the incubators, or the bakeries?” UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told the Associated Press. “It's an excruciating decision.”

Noha Abdelaziz Abu Harb has been waiting outside the bakery on Al Wedha street amid the chaotic lines and constant sounds of bombing.

“I will wait until the evening. Hopefully God enables us to bring some bread home to our children.”

Speaking at one of the UNRWA schools doubling as shelters, one Gaza man lamented the misery in having to ration a loaf of bread so his children can eat.

“I've begun considering how I'm going to make the loaf enough for my family.”

“There are 50 of us here on the pavement as you can see,” he tells The National. “Even salty water – we're not able to get. What are we to do?”

Hisham Mohanna, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, says even vegetables such as potatoes and tomatoes are getting harder to come by.

“It's hard to get to farms and harvest wheat or whatever crops are available. Canned food is no longer available. The entire population is in panic,” he says.

“Many people are dealing with the challenge of even staying alive.”

Updated: October 26, 2023, 3:41 PM