Frustration mounts in Gaza Strip over reconstruction

Friday 12/06/2015
A Palestinian man hangs a sign calling for the reconstruction of houses in Gaza

GAZA CITY -Every day, from dawn to dusk, Subhi Gharbali sits on a pile of ruins of what used to be his two-storey home, destroyed during an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Gharbali, 67, has been desper­ately, yet eagerly, waiting for several months to have his house rebuilt.
“I heard there’s a reconstruction plan being considered but I don’t know when it will start,” Gharbali told The Arab Weekly while sitting on a chunk of concrete atop a heap of debris from his demolished home in Shujaia district in eastern Gaza City. “It has been 11 months since the war ended,” he sighed. “A truce is holding but no reconstruction has begun.”
“Look around you, it’s like the war ended just yesterday,” he added, pointing with his cane at wreckage in his middle-class neighbourhood, where rows of cement and white-limestone houses were demolished by Israeli shelling.
“We want to return to our homes soon and our patience is wearing thin.”
On July 8, 2014, Israel launched an air, sea and ground military op­eration on the coastal enclave on the eastern shores of the Mediter­ranean Sea, saying it wanted to stop rocket attacks against Israeli cities by Gaza’s militant Palestinian Ha­mas rulers.
Hamas’s attacks increased after Israel clamped down on the group’s adherents in the West Bank follow­ing the June 12th kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers by two Hamas members.
Hamas fired more than 400 rock­ets at Israel. Its goal was to bring international pressure to lift Israel’s blockade of Gaza, force the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and overcome its political iso­lation following its 2007 seizure of the strip from moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel’s offensive on Gaza ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce on August 26th.
Nonetheless, the conflict left 2,140 people dead and more than 10,000 wounded and resulted in massive destruction of thousands of homes, mainly in the area between the northern and the eastern bor­ders of the Gaza Strip with Israel. Housing, infrastructure, industry and agriculture in Gaza all sustained significant damage.
The United Nations estimated that more than 7,000 buildings — homes to 10,000 families — were destroyed. An additional 89,000 homes were damaged by the bombing. Rebuild­ing costs were calculated to run from $4 billion to $6 billion over 20 years. Many of those who had their homes destroyed took shelter in schools, while some lived on the debris of their flattened homes and others rented apartments in the densely populated strip, home to 1.8 million people.
Gharbali said he and 35 members of his family fled their home at the outset of heavy Israeli military shell­ing days into the war. The family ran from one house to another in Gaza until it found shelter at a school with other displaced families. He said his family later moved to a small apart­ment.
“I go to the rented house to sleep but I come back the following day in the morning and stay near the debris of our destroyed home,” said Gharabli. He said he hears in the news that reconstruction will start soon.
“But nothing happened yet.”
“Every passing day feels like a year has gone by,” he said angrily. “Our situation is tragic. We got used to living happily in our home and we find it difficult to stay in a small apartment.”
Others like Gharbali said what Gazans hear about reconstruction “are only empty promises”, mainly from the international community.
Mahmoud Salem, 53, lives with his family at a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Pales­tine Refugees in the Near East (UN­RWA). He said the school shelters hundreds of homeless Palestinians. He said his house consisted of three floors which were turned into rub­ble.
“We are living a new Nakba,” Sa­lem said, using an Arabic word that means “catastrophe” – a term Pal­estinians attribute to the day Israel was founded in British-mandate Palestine following the 1948 Middle East War.
Salem said conditions in Gaza were deteriorating.
“The world is neglecting the dis­placed Gazans and the Israeli siege was never lifted,” he said. “The promises and pledges we heard are just lies and the international com­munity is playing with our emo­tions.”
Last October, Arab and interna­tional donors pledged at a meeting in Cairo to disburse $5.4 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction but disputes with Israel on the mechanism of shipping raw material to the enclave blocked the process.
Many Western nations and their traditionally moderate Arab allies are hesitant to release funds to an area under the rule of militants, who reject a negotiated settlement with Israel and call for its annihila­tion.
Disputes between Hamas and Ab­bas’s Fatah movement have also de­layed the reconstruction bid.
Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA’s me­dia adviser in Gaza, said his agency had asked an international donors conference in Cairo for $724 million but only $216 million has been de­livered. “UNRWA understands the frustration and outrage among the population, mainly the homeless people who are living a tragic life,” said Abu Hasna. He warned that there was a broader concern that if reconstruction remained stalled, “the popular frustration will mount and may lead to an explosion”.
Hamas officials blame reconstruc­tion delays on tight Israeli secu­rity restrictions on crossing points, which are hampering the entry of reconstruction materials.
Talal Oukal, a Gaza-based politi­cal analyst, told The Arab Weekly that “the reconstruction plan is stuck and not moving ahead be­cause the process of allowing con­struction material into Gaza is fully controlled by Israel”.
“So, what is happening now is lit­erally giving people pain killers by making promises that reconstruc­tion will start to keep them under check,” he said.