With Gaza largely cut off by the war between Israel and Hamas, most of the population homeless and destitute, and with few new goods arriving in the Palestinian enclave, cobblers are busy repairing shoes for people unable to replace them.
Few new shoes are available in Gaza and few people can afford those still for sale. But walking in the mud and rubble of the bombed-out enclave, with most cars off the battered roads for lack of petrol, people wear out shoes more quickly.
“We left Gaza City on foot and we did not carry anything with us. No clothes or even slippers. We stayed for a while in Khan Younis and then we were displaced here to Rafah,” said Ahmed Haboosh as cobbler Ahmed Hothot mended his flip-flops.
Haboosh had bought a pair of used flip-flops because new ones were too expensive and he took them to Hothot’s roadside stall — a chair and a small table under a tarpaulin — to fix them.
“Before the war, we used to work less, but now we started working more because people do not have money to buy new ones,” Hothot said.
“People’s condition is very bad and there is no economy, it’s very little,” he added.
The war began on October 7 when Hamas terrorists rampaged across the border, killing more than 1,200 people in Israel — most of them civilians slaughtered amid brutal atrocities including executions, burning of bodies and rapes — and seizing over 250 hostages, of whom more than 130 are still held in Gaza.
Vowing to destroy the terror group, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza which Hamas authorities say has killed more than 27,000 people. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.
Hothot and the other cobblers by the roadside work without electricity, using hand tools, sewing kits and glue to mend shoes, slippers and sandals for people a small fee.
“The customer brings the slippers totally damaged and we try to help him and do our best to repair the slippers for him. The sewing requires a regular needle and an awl. It’s all manual,” said Hothot.
For Um Wadith Abu Aser, it was very important to find even badly fitting footwear for her children in the muddy streets of Rafah’s new tent cities, home to her family and hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians.
The children had gone barefoot after they outgrew their old shoes or they fell to pieces during their chaotic flight from Israeli strikes, but she managed to find some old flip-flops that the cobblers were able to repair.
“People gave me clothes so I dressed my children. Some gave me partially damaged slippers but I managed,” she said.
“My children used to cry because there was glass on the street. My son fell many times because of the glass. They made us walk on mud and glass, but what can I say, nothing can explain what we have been through,” she said.