Gaza is in desperate need of homes, schools and hospitals but how will they be built if Israel continues to ban the entry of construction material?
It was raining heavily the day I saw Mahmoud Naseer, 54, frantically trying to cover the few mattresses he has with whatever sheets he could get his hands on. He was protecting the few worldly items, which he had salvaged from his house that was bombarded by Israel back in 2014. Two winters have passed since and water continues to pour in from the damaged ceiling of his caravan in the heart of Beit Hanoun town, north of Gaza.
Naseer is one of a 27-member family whose three-story house was reduced to rubble during the last Israeli war on Gaza, also known as Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014.
A month after the war an international conference was held in Cairo where the global community pledged up to $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza.
Like thousands of other Gazans, Naseer awaits a chance to reconstruct his house. He claims to have applied for all the required paperwork to get the needed reconstruction process started in Gaza, but nothing has happened so far.
The unemployed father now lives with his six children in a caravan while the rest of his family is distributed in other caravans nearby.
“Living in an iron container is disgusting; in summer it is like an oven and in winter it is like a freezer, I do not know when we will get rid of this horrible life,” says Naseer.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian Territory (UNOCHA) says that the mechanism of reconstructing destroyed and damaged houses in Gaza has been stopped because shipment of building materials to the strip has been halted.
According to a recent UNOCHA statement issued on April 28,: “Payment to 1,550 families scheduled to start reconstruction is being delayed due to the lack of available cement,” .
But it is not just civilian homes that have been destroyed in Gaza. Hospitals were targeted too.
Three buildings belonging to El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation compound, another hospital and nursing home for the elderly in the Shujayia neighborhood, east of Gaza, were reportedly destroyed by Israeli air raids in July 2014.
The executive director of the compound, Basman Alashi, says plans for the rebuilding of the hospital, which used to serve 12,000 patients a year, as well as the elderly nursing home “are still frozen,” mainly due to Israeli obstacles.
“We have moved here to resume our work at a temporary building till we rebuild our hospital and elderly home again,” Alashi tells Newsweek Middle East in an interview at his office in the heart of the Gaza Strip.
Alashi reveals that some organizations, like the Islamic Bank, “are ready to fund the rebuilding but the absence of guarantees for not having them being bombed again is another main obstacle.”
According to Palestinian officials, around 71 hospitals and healthcare centers and tens of ambulance stations, were damaged in the 2014 war; 5,153 industrial installations were—either completely and/or partially—damaged as well.
And it is not just hospitals and industry facilities that were targeted by the Israelis. Education facilities have been targets as well. However, that sector was luckier than most, as 90 percent of the damaged and destroyed education infrastructure have been rebuilt, according to the Director General of Buildings at Ministry of Education, Jamal Abdelbari.
Most of the schools destroyed by Israel were rebuilt by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), but not the administrative buildings serving that sector, he tells Newsweek Middle East.
“Israel’s procrastination and the frequent ban on the entry of cement to Gaza are the main cause of delay in rebuilding the rest of the schools and administrative buildings,” he says.
Some 327 schools and 199 kindergartens were damaged in the last war, according to sources from the education ministry.
In April, Israel halted a shipment of cement to Gaza dedicated to private sector companies which carried out the rebuilding of houses and other installations.
The U.N. says that 75,000 Palestinians in Gaza are internally displaced and in need for homes.
“After hearing from over 16,000 displaced families in the Gaza Strip, it is clear that most continue to live in desperate conditions,” says Robert Piper, U.N. Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities.
“International support to end this situation is urgently needed.”
He adds: “Funding is needed more than ever. We face a funding gap to reconstruct some 6,600 houses, or about 37 percent of the overall caseload. Without this support, thousands of Palestinians will see no end to their displacement.”
“The Israeli halt of cement [entering the strip] and the donors not abiding by their pledges, the [Robert] Serry plan, the Israeli prevention of allowing building equipment are all contributing to the delay in reconstructing Gaza,” Mofid Alhasaina, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Public Works, tells Newsweek Middle East.
“Some countries paid nothing, some of them paid 3 percent of their pledges, others only 5 percent,” he adds.
Alhasaina says “Gaza needs 10,000 tons of cement daily but that the Israelis allow 3,000 tons only. Now it is completely banned except the international projects.”
Of the houses destroyed, only 1,800 were rebuilt while 3,000 are under reconstruction. 5,700 of the houses that suffered total destruction as well as 32,000 of the partially damaged ones are still waiting to be reconstructed.
Spokesperson of the Israeli “Coordination office of Government Activities in [the occupied Palestinian] Territories” (COGAT) says that following information of “raiding construction materials by Hamas, COGAT has decided to suspend the cement entry to Gaza for the private sector until the issue is addressed.
“In terms of lumbers entry into the Gaza Strip, following information of Hamas using the lumber for terror purposes, it has been decided that the entry of woods into the Strip requires security examinations,” the COGAT spokesperson office says in an emailed letter to Newsweek Middle East.
Halting the shipments of cement to Gaza “is a collective punishment” targeting everyone in Gaza and paralyzing the industrial activity in the strip,” Chairman of the Palestinian Businessmen Association, Ali Kohail, tells Newsweek Middle East.
“At least 800 factories suspended their works… 37 percent of jobs in Gaza are linked to the cement, building a house means it would need electric technician, blacksmith, carpenter, aluminum…etc.”
In a phone interview from Tunis, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesperson Adnan Abu Hasna, revealed that UNRWA was supposed to rebuild 9,500 houses for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, but the shortage in funds remains an obstacle.
Inside her damaged house in Beit Hanoun, Zahra Alkafarna, the mother of five, closed the sole surviving room at her home, with a makeshift wooden latch.
“We had a four-story house with all furniture and electric devices, now we have nothing,” she says with a sigh.
“It is an unendurable life. It’s not easy to be clean, and sometimes stray dogs infiltrate into the rubble horrifying my kids.”