From Wal-Mart to the Gaza Strip: The Case of 114

The typical American supermarket or department store sells everything. If you need an appliance, they’ve got every type. Soap? I personally recommend Dove, and packs of eight can be found in aisle 13. If you’re craving vitamin-B enhanced orange juice with medium pulp, it’s definitely in the orange juice department. Face it, Wal-Mart sells everything. And here’s proof: the average supercenter holds no less than 142,000 different items.

Now imagine that your local Wal-Mart or supermarket store downscales its carrying capacity from 100,000+ items to exactly 114 items. Your entire community would be forced to rely on less than 0.1% of the store’s original stock – barely enough merchandise to fill a single shelf. There would be no variety to choose from. You would be limited to the same selection of food indefinitely. Most employees would lose their jobs. Prices would skyrocket to counter the lack of supply. Essentially, disaster is guaranteed – and the number 114 is to blame.

But is this scenario really all that ridiculous and unlikely? Visit the Gaza Strip and you’ll soon have your answer.

Since the onset of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007, only 114 different items have been allowed through the borders. More than 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza depend on these items for survival. And they are barely surviving.  As a result of the blockade, over 50% of the population is unemployed and more than 70% live below the poverty line. Malnutrition rates are increasing and families are forced to make do without basic amenities. No society can sustain itself under these conditions.

The concept of “accessibility and affordability” is virtually nonexistent in the Gaza Strip when it comes to food. People can barely feed themselves. Fresh meat, sweets, and vinegar are just a few of the many food items and ingredients prohibited from reaching the besieged population. As for the foods that are permitted, such as rice and corn, Gazans can’t always afford them. Items that used to cost half a shekel now cost ten times as much. My uncle tells me that he eats yogurt and bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is simply nothing else to eat.

Keep in mind that Gaza’s infrastructure was just recently pummeled by Israeli military forces in an invasion that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead. Over a year and a half later, the rubble still hasn’t been cleared. Cement, iron, tarp, and other construction materials are prohibited under Israel’s blockade. Since homes can’t be rebuilt or even repaired, entire families are forced to live outdoors. Pillows are prohibited, so the children sleep on their parents’ arms. They don’t complain.

It’s been this way for over three years. Excluding the very rare items smuggled through underground tunnels, Gazans are limited to a lifestyle of only 114 possible items. Rooms are empty because there is nothing to fill them with. Hospitals are useless because the Israeli military won’t allow medical supplies through the border. Students walk to school empty-handed since, believe it or not, notebooks and “writing implements” are prohibited. There’s nothing to own which means there’s nothing to sell, and when there’s nothing to sell, there are no jobs. And with no financial or social support, the population of Gaza starves, slowly but surely.

Next time you go to Wal-Mart, count the number of items in your cart. I’m not telling you to stop shopping, but just know that in a matter of minutes, you will soon purchase more items than the average Gazan has seen in the last three years.

End the siege on Gaza now.

Sami Kishawi

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