An MCC-supported effort to raise rabbits helps increase income and improve diets.
For more than 60 years, Hashem Manar Al Attar’s family has lived on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip, with generations eking out a living from what they can grow or earn, weathering the violence and turmoil of this spit of land as best they can.
Over the past decade, the difficulties have multiplied.
Since 2006, Al Attar and other Gazans have not been permitted to cross into Israel for the jobs that helped sustain Palestinian families in the small city of Beit Lahia, near the border. Three years later, during fighting between Israeli forces and armed Palestinian factions, the family’s home was destroyed by an Israeli tank, forcing them to spend a year living in a tent.
To support himself and the 11 other family members who share his home, the 27-year-old has relied on selling strawberries, watermelons, cucumbers and corn he grows on rented land.
But whether Israel allows crops to be exported from Gaza can change from day to day, and Al Attar, to make a profit, needs trade to be allowed at the time his crop is ready for harvest.
As his options narrow, one of Al Attar’s newest hopes is not in the fields he farms — but in the rabbits in simple wire cages outside his family’s small, concrete-block home.
Since 2007, MCC and a Palestinian partner organization, Al Najd Developmental Forum, have provided livestock and training in raising animals for families in Gaza, a densely populated region where the United Nations estimates some 80 per cent of residents rely on outside assistance.
Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler
“In such a dire situation, the work of MCC partners like Al Najd becomes especially important, helping families to eat better and to have the dignity of better supporting themselves and their loved ones,” says Joanna Hiebert Bergen, an MCC representative in Palestine and Israel.
Al Attar began participating in the project last June, receiving three female rabbits and one male.
He began breeding them, and within a couple of months, the family was able to eat rabbit meat, a valuable source of protein each week.
With income from selling rabbits, Al Attar began buying more vegetables and fruits in the market and purchasing needed items such as school clothes for the family’s children.
Some 180 families have begun raising rabbits over the last three years through this effort, which MCC supports through its account at the U.S.-based Foods Resource Bank.
In addition to providing animals, Al Najd trains farmers how to properly feed the rabbits, give them medication and use their waste as organic fertilizer. A veterinarian regularly visits the homes of families involved in the project. During cold winter temperatures, Al Najd helped Al Attar and others involved in the project to build warmer shelters to protect the rabbits.
When the food security project began in 2007, it included chickens as well. But according to Al Najd, rabbits were more successful — better at both reproducing quickly and resisting disease.
According to Al Najd, female rabbits can give birth about once a month, with litters of up to 10 rabbits, though not all offspring always survive.
The benefits spread quickly. Al Attar, for example, has given rabbits to relatives, neighbours and friends and offered them advice on how to raise them.
With income from rabbits, he was able to begin raising pigeons — creating another source of food and income for his family.
But no matter how successful these efforts are, Al Attar’s future depends on many factors outside his control.
Feed for rabbits and pigeons, for instance, must be imported from Israel, and prices have tripled since 2012, according to Al Najd.
The threats are not just economic. Al Attar’s home is in a part of the Gaza Strip particularly vulnerable to fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and to attacks by the Israeli military.
Last December, a storm ripped into the simple concrete-block house where 12 family members crowd into the two main six-by-six-foot rooms to sleep. It soaked the family’s meager belongings and tore off the metal roof. Al Attar was able to put the roof back on, but daylight shows through part of the damaged metal.
Al Attar doesn’t think the area in which he lives is secure, but acknowledges a reality that rings true for people across Gaza.
“This is the only available option,” he says.
His father, standing nearby, speaks up as Al Attar reflects on the situation in Gaza, eager to add that those in the international community who are conscious of the situation, and who want to, can act to raise awareness about the challenges Gazans face.
Seemingly against all odds, both Al Attar and his father maintain hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts between Palestine and Israel — a hope that Al Attar says grows out of his faith.
“We believe in God,” he says, “and God will not leave us . . .”
The Canadian government is a strong ally of the government of Israel. In January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed the government’s ongoing support during his visit to Israel and the West Bank. For more information on his visit, read Rachelle Friesen’s blog at mccottawaoffice.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/lack-of-sight.