Thursday, May 25, 2006

Palestinian Dreams of Returning to Israel Job.






On a sunny Friday afternoon, Tawfiq Saad sat in front of his house, drinking tea and watching his four children play in a small patch of land right across the house, which lies near the northern borders of the Gaza Strip, in the small town of Beit Lahiya. Suddenly, a thunderous sound echoed throughout the area, and clouds of smoke rose less than a hundred meters from where his house lies. The terrified children dashed to the house screaming. The youngest of them, five-year-old Najat, jumped into her father's arms and started crying. "This has been the way since two months now," said 42-year-old Saad. "Israeli army artillery keeps pounding the place whenever Palestinians fire locally made rockets at them." However, Saad admits that he does not blame the Israelis entirely for his children's suffering. He even says that he has talked to his neighbors in order to call on Palestinian militants not to fire rockets at Israel from their area. "They fire the rockets and flee, and leave us the civilian residents to bear the brunt. I don't believe [the Israelis] would bombard Gaza if the rockets stopped. We need to understand their motives," he explained.

Indeed, Saad's point of view is not common among Palestinians in this conflict-torn area, and it is unusual in light of his personal circumstances: Saad has been unemployed for about two years, and lives off food rations from benevolent organizations and from the odd jobs that he does for friends and relatives. Up until two years ago, Saad worked as a blacksmith at an Israeli-owned metal workshop near the Israeli town of Khadera. There, he earned more than $1,000 a month building metal fences, window bars and protection railings. He claims that Israelis came from as far as Tel Aviv to have their metal needs built by him. He remembers being called "the metal wizard". Saad recalled that in May 2004, as he was finishing up his work at the workshop, a suicide bombing took place. "I remember hearing that afternoon something on the radio about a suicide bombing in the town of Khadera, which is just 10 minutes away by car from the workshop I worked in. Suddenly, my [Israeli] boss, Yisrael, hurried inside and asked me to return to Gaza immediately." "He drove me alone to Erez Checkpoint [north of Gaza Strip], and asked the soldier there to expedite my entry procedures to Gaza," Saad recounted. "He told me he was afraid that Jewish settlers living near the workshop might want to retaliate against me because the suicide bomber was a Palestinian. He told me he'd call in a few days to let me know when I could return to work," he added. But two years later, Saad is still awaiting that call. Yisrael still rings him up often to check on him, and sometimes sends him money on Jewish holidays, but he never calls to offer back his old job. "Go and ask Yisrael about me. He'll tell you that I'm one of his best blacksmiths. He still says that to me on the phone. He tells me that work has not been the same since I left."

Nowadays, Saad's income has declined to virtually zero a month. He does not have enough money to build his own workshop. He has barely enough to support his family. "I can't start my own workshop because I've spent my savings building this house for my family," he said. "Even if I did build a workshop, then I would barely find customers willing to pay the prices I used to charge in Israel. There are thousands of other workshops that can do the same work for less money," he lamented. "But definitely not in the same quality as mine."

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