Vol 1 No 10 Spring/Summer 2004

The Dom of the Gaza Strip:
A DRC Update, June 2004

by Allen Williams

Since the last DRC Update on the Gaza Strip in 2002 the political situation in the region has changed little. However, additional information about the Dom community living there has advanced. The newfound data corrects earlier perceptions and augments other less detailed reports.

During the final quarter of 2003 a food security assessment regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip was released by the Food and Agriculture Organization in cooperation with the World Food Programme and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The following statement from that report adequately summarizes the general state of the Dom in these Palestinian areas.

The assessment concluded that though food is generally available, access is limited due to physical (curfews, closures) and economic reasons (high unemployment, depletion of resources, exhaustion of coping strategies and strained social support networks). The assessment confirmed the findings of other recent studies that households have until now been able to manage in the difficult circumstances albeit with dwindling resources and increased vulnerability to shocks. However, resilience has been greatly weakened, vulnerability increased and copying mechanisms severely strained by the rapid and inexorable decline in the economy and the continuation and further tightening of closures and curfews.

With rising poverty and unemployment, the food security situation has considerably deteriorated over the past three years, with four out of ten Palestinians food insecure. [From the Executive Summary of the Food Security Assessment report]

Due to limitations in funding and physical dangers to workers, the United Nations’ food distribution program has slowed. The Dom have benefited from other UN programs (particularly education programs); however, with the reduced food aide the Dom are among that portion of society that is increasingly vulnerable.

In response to requests for assistance, money from the Dom Research Center’s Relief and Development fund was released for the purchase and distribution of food items in the Dom communities. This hunger relief effort was carried out May 9-12, 2004. Dom communities in three primary areas received the attention of this assistance program: several neighborhoods of Gaza City, Khan Yunus (south of Gaza City), and the border town of Rafah. Local Dom who participated as members of the distribution team reported that according to their knowledge of the Dom population all the Dom families of the Gaza Strip had received food. Based on the number of families assisted, new population estimates range between 5,500 to 6,000 Dom individuals in the Gaza Strip. Included in that number are some 400-450 Dom from Egypt who were “trapped” there in 1967. These overall population figures are 5 to 6 times higher than previously thought.

The Dom living in the southern border town of Rafah have proven to be the most vulnerable in terms of housing and maintaining adequate food supplies. The “Brazil Camp” of Rafah is contiguous with the Egypt-Gaza border. In an attempt to insure its security, Israel has demolished the houses along this border to create a security zone. Among the displaced residents of this area were Dom families. After losing their homes some built shacks from the rubble and the superfluous materials they could gather. Other families now live in tents—usually supplied by the United Nations. But some of the families have been reduced to living in abandoned cars and uninhabited, substandard buildings. Still others moved to the homes of their relatives in other cities as a coping mechanism, thus placing a heavy burden on their kinsmen.

The distribution team also learned that the Dom have participated in the United Nations’ education efforts. Approximately 75% of the children are enrolled in school. This is probably the highest percentage of any Dom community in the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, there are many adults among the Dom who have achieved high levels of education and employment. As the political situation is resolved, or at least the tensions abate, the people have the potential for returning to gainful employment and providing for themselves. However, if the current level of hostilities and crisis continue, the imposed dependency of both the Palestinians and the Dom on outside sources of assistance will continue also.

Let us hear from you!
Send your review/comments regarding this article by clicking to the left.