Gaza Strip’s reconstruction picks up
Gaza City - Atef el-Zaza’s home in Shujaeya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City was flattened in an Israeli aerial attack that destroyed thousands of homes in a 50-day war in the summer of 2014.
At the end of the offensive, Arab and international donors pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza’s homes, offices, schools and mosques and fix infrastructure that had been destroyed.
Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed and more than 11,000 were wounded in the war, in which Gaza militant rulers fired missiles on Israeli cities, killing 73 Israelis and wounding 1,600 others.
Zaza, 52, and his 14-member family looked delighted when they moved back on November 12th to their brick-and-cement home. Their previous three-storey house was turned into rubble during an Israeli missile attack on the neighbourhood.
The Zaza family is the first to move back into its rebuilt house in densely populated Shujaeya, which is close to the Israeli border and had received the lion’s share of Israeli tank shelling and air strikes. More than 1,200 housing units have been built in Gaza since the war ended, although the target was 3,000 homes.
“We ran away from our house and from the entire neighbourhood because we were being showered with missiles and tank fire,” Zaza said while in his home, where interior walls glistened with shiny colours.
“This spot used to be a pile of debris and rubble after Israel struck it,” added Zaza, a jobless merchant who rented an apartment when his home was destroyed.
Thousands of homes were destroyed during the war, leaving 20,000 families homeless, according to Gaza government statistics. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) assisted some of the families, paying their rent to keep them off the streets.
“UNRWA paid our rent in the past 13 months,” Zaza said. Additionally, UNRWA also gave cash to him and others rebuilding their homes, saying the money came from Germany.
“UNRWA helped displaced families from A to Z,” Zaza said.
Zaza’s house was supposed to be rebuilt within 70 days, with the same architecture and shape it was before being destroyed. But he noted that reconstruction was obstructed by the lack of building material.
Gazing at houses still in rubble in his neighbourhood, Zaza said he was “so happy that my home was rebuilt”.
“But this happiness won’t be complete until all displaced families return to their rebuilt homes,” he said.
Naji Serhan, a deputy minister of housing and public works, said the Gaza government led by the militant Palestinian Hamas group “fully understands the situation of the owners of the destroyed homes, their problems and their daily suffering”.
“We’re happy to see some of the families returning to their rebuilt homes,” Serhan said.
He said reconstruction in Gaza will pick up if money and construction materials were available.
Construction material has been scarce under tight Israeli scrutiny of commodities bound for Gaza. The monitoring is in line with an Israeli siege imposed on Gaza after Hamas took over the area from the Palestinian Authority.
Serhan said delays persisted despite an agreement on shipping construction material to Gaza reached between the United Nations and Israel in coordination with Palestinians.
Outlining reconstruction plans, Serhan said 9,000 housing units were expected to be built in Gaza within three years but pointed out that delays under the siege were hampering the effort. “We have to build 3,000 houses each year but right after the war we were only able to build 1,200 new housing units,” he said.
Another reason is the shortfall of pledged donations by foreign governments, which seem to be hesitant to send money to areas ruled by Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist group. The World Bank said in a recent report that construction was slow because “some donors didn’t fulfil their pledges”.
Maher Tabaa of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce said rebuilding homes “does not signal that a real process of reconstruction has started.
“We still have a long way to go.”