GAZA CITY — Salamah Al-Yazji is busy in the best of times. But these days, the baker bakes bread non-stop — sometimes under heavy bombardment — to serve his neighborhood and make sure that those who were breaking the Ramadan fast at sunset had something to eat.
“We work 24 hours, three shifts because three bakeries in our area stopped,” said Al-Yazji, 30, located in the Zaitoon quarter in south Gaza City. “I and my 12 staffers put ourselves at risk when we come to work in the bakery — but it’s my duty — I feel I can do something to alleviate the suffering of people. I want to help.”
As Israel’s military offensive entered its fourth week, and the search for a permanent truce drags on, residents in the densely populated Gaza Strip try to stay safe, hunt for supplies and attempt to keep life as normal as possible — in spite of the devastation and a death toll topping 1,000 that have marked the holiday season closing with Eid al-Fitr this week.
On the ground, grocery stores, markets and other suppliers of daily necessities have shut their doors because of the heavy bombardment. A few have dared to stay open, and long lines mark storefronts like this bakery as people wait to buy bread and other daily supplies.
Al-Yazji says he has trouble meeting demand in spite of the 27-7 schedule the bakery is keeping these days. That’s also because of shortages caused by the closed tunnels to Egypt , which have long supplied fuel and other goods, and the airstrikes that have taken out power lines.
“We face many problems nowadays, first a lack of electricity so we are forced to rely on electric generators run on diesel,” he said. “Fuel is hard to find and it’s expensive. Many fuel stations are closed. But with the help of some people who provide me fuel, I can also bake bread for the U.N. agency in Gaza. About 1,000 sacks of bread … I produce every day.”
Sometimes the bakery staff can’t get home because it’s too risky. So they sleep under the concrete stairs. Asked if he is worried that his bakery might be targeted, Al-Yazji says of course.
“They can hit anything. The drones fly overhead all the time,” he said of the Israeli warplanes. “And they might attack anytime, anywhere claiming they attack militants.”
The baker’s determination to stay open has amazed his neighbors. They say Al-Yazji has shown courage in doing so and ingenuity in finding wheat supplies from often absent traders.
“Salamah is a brave man,” said Aby Nidal Skaik, 47, a customer buying bread. “He is fighting the occupation by baking for people to provide bread for families, for children.”
Some of his customers have been eating his bread for almost two decades. They also applaud his generosity , because he doesn’t charge people who can’t afford to pay for a loaf.
Since the hostilities broke out, Al-Yazji, who is married with five children, usually goes to work while his family is asleep, and if he comes home, it’s long past their bedtime. He worries about their safety as he bakes bread, especially when the shelling resumes. He doesn’t know where they are or exactly where the airstrikes have hit.
He longs to see them but “I have to open my bakery,” he said. “We should be united at this difficult time.”
“Life goes on,” Al-Yazji added. “I really hope this mad war ends soon as I need some rest. I need to be with my family and hug my children.”