First Published: 2009-03-03

Gazans fear reconstruction 'empty promise'

Palestinians hope to be able to rebuild homes reduced to rubble by Israeli bombardment.


Middle East Online

Broken dreams

GAZA CITY - Osama al-Dam has heard about the billions of dollars pledged to Gaza's reconstruction but has little hope he will be able to rebuild a family home reduced to rubble by Israeli bombardment.

Like tens of thousands of Gazans left homeless by the 22-day war at the turn of the year, he comes to the shattered remains of his home every day to sit among the ruins and wait for some kind of aid before returning at night to a crowded, rented room.

On Monday, international donors meeting in Egypt pledged some 4.5 billion dollars to the Palestinians, much of it for the reconstruction of Gaza, but the money will make little difference if Israel does not allow the import of building materials.

Donors have vowed to keep aid out of the hands of democratically elected Hamas.

"Everything we hear is empty. I don't think they will rebuild a single house because Israel won't allow it," Dam said. If they don't open the crossings and allow building materials in, then the aid is pointless."

Since his home was destroyed, Dam has lived in a rented storage room with his wife, five children, and mother and father. "They destroyed my spice shop too. So I have no house and no work," he said.

Six weeks after the end of the war, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians (mainly civilians) and destroyed thousands of homes, schools and other buildings, the homeless remain camped out amid the rubble in the worst-hit areas.

Others have rented rooms or taken shelter in the homes of neighbours. Yusef Mustafa, a 45-year-old former policeman, is living with his nine children and his wife in a single room in his brother's house.

He says Israeli bulldozers destroyed his home in the southern village of Al-Qarrara after it was shelled by tanks.

"We hope there is a solution and that we can rebuild our houses quickly, because, God, there is a lot of suffering," he said.

"We are happy that the donor countries have decided to help us with this large amount of money. If the building materials are allowed to enter, we can rebuild what was destroyed."

Even before the war the 1.4 million residents of Gaza were reeling from the 18-month siege, with unemployment at 40 percent and at least 80 percent of people living in poverty, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Since the fighting came to a halt on January 18, international organisations and the Hamas government have been distributing aid, but many people have fallen through the cracks of the fragmented recovery efforts.

"Some people have received aid and some people haven't," said Mirfat Abdullah, a 33-year-old housewife.

Her house was only partially destroyed but she says her family cannot live there and, because her husband is out of work, they cannot afford to rent a room somewhere else. A neighbour has taken them in, giving them a single room.

"I'm not optimistic about this conference because we have received none of this urgent aid," she said.

Others take the longer view that their homes and neighbourhoods will eventually be rebuilt but know their wait is far from over.

"We are optimistic we will rebuild our house," said Bashir Abid, a 36-year-old who had a house north of Gaza City. "But we know it will take many long years to rebuild everything."

International aid groups have callied on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, because they say it is preventing the Palestinians from rebuilding the Gaza Strip.

Israel has banned the importation of cement, steel rods and other material necessary for construction.

Over the past month, Israel has also arbitrarily refused entry to items like chickpeas, macaroni, wheat flour, notebooks for students, freezer appliances, generators and water pumps, and cooking gas.

Israel, which wants to crush any Palestinian liberation movement, responded to Hamas's win in the elections with sanctions, and almost completely blockaded the impoverished coastal strip after Hamas seized power in 2007, although a ‘lighter’ siege had already existed before.

Human rights groups, both international and Israeli, slammed Israel’s siege of Gaza, branding it “collective punishment.”

A group of international lawyers and human rights activists had also accused Israel of committing “genocide” through its crippling blockade of the Strip.

Gaza is still considered under Israeli occupation as Israel controls air, sea and land access to the Strip.

The Rafah crossing with Egypt, Gaza's sole border crossing that bypasses Israel, rarely opens as Egypt is under immense US and Israeli pressure to keep the crossing shut.

Fatah has little administrative say in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and has no power in Arab east Jerusalem, both of which were illegally occupied by Israel in 1967.


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