ON many days ex-student Hamza Abu Shaloub is the only person sitting inside the derelict VIP lounge of what used to be Gaza International Airport.

Hemmed in by Egyptian border posts to the south and Israeli watchtowers to the east, he makes a living by trying to trap and sell songbirds, using other caught birds as lures.

Goldfinches are the real prize, he says, because they still sing in captivity. He can make a $30 for a goldfinch in the market, but has only ever caught one, and usually make do with lesser catches.

His older brother Shadi, 24, has had more luck, catching 12 goldfinch since, he started a decade ago.

It's not much of a job, rising at dawn every day their nets among the garbage-and-debris strewn former airport buildings. But with poverty rife and youth unemployment at 70% in Gaza, Shahoub said he did not have much choice.

He left school seven years ago at the age of nine.

''When I was at school I dreamt of becoming a teacher, but my father took me out of school to help him earn money for the family,'' he said, sitting in winter clothes and warming himself in front of a pot coffee on an open fire.

His favorite subjects were English and Arabic, he said.

To share the birds, the brothers tie a string to the leg of a captured goldfinch. They hope the sight of a bird on the ground will tempt wild birds to come down, thinking there are worms there to be eaten.

Once the birds land, they flip the nets onto them. They also place three recorders around the airfield playing sounds of birds.

They mostly catch smaller birds, which only fetch about $1.5 but still put food on the table.

The brothers chosen hunting ground is itself a symbol of thwarted Palestinian hopes for sovereignty and economic independence, as the Palestinians only direct link to the outside world that was not controlled by Israel or Egypt.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton attended the opening on Dec 14, 1998, and it used for a short time by visiting dignitaries including South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela. [Agencies].


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