De­spon­dent Gazans re­turn to de­stroyed homes

The China Post - - LIFE - BY FARES AKRAM

De­spon­dent over the slow pace of post-war re­con­struc­tion, dis­placed Gazans have be­gun to re­turn to their dam­aged homes, patch­ing up the struc­tures with cin­der blocks and plas­tic sheets and living in the un­sta­ble and un­safe build­ings while they wait for promised aid to ar­rive.

The re­turns re­flect a fail­ure by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to rebuild Gaza af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing war be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas mil­i­tants last sum­mer. Of­fi­cials say most of the more than US$5 bil­lion of in­ter­na­tional aid that was pledged never ma­te­ri­al­ized and re­turn­ing res­i­dents say that small sub­si­dies they re­ceived — and their pa­tience — have run out.

“We have lost hope. There is no hope and no­body is in­ter­est­ing in help­ing us,” said Mo­hammed Afana, a 27-year-old res­i­dent of Shaaf, a neigh­bor­hood in eastern Gaza City.

An es­ti­mated 18,000 homes through­out Gaza were de­stroyed dur­ing the 50-day war, dis­plac­ing 110,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. Less than 10,000 peo­ple are still living in U.N. schools that have been turned into shel­ters.

Shaaf, lo­cated close to the Is­raeli bor­der, was among the hard­est hit dis­tricts. Is­raeli ground forces took up po­si­tions on the eastern edges of the neigh­bor­hood, and Ha­mas said that its fighters en­gaged Is­raeli forces in the area.

An al­ley off the main street leads to a neigh­bor­hood of bat­tered homes. In the mid­dle of the neigh­bor­hood lie the re­mains of the four-story build­ing where Afana and his ex­tended fam­ily once lived.

Af­ter the war, the United Na­tions gave fam­i­lies small sub­si­dies to rent apart­ments else­where in Gaza while their homes could be re­paired. Afana re­ceived US$1,300 — enough cash to sup­port his fam­ily for three months. He then moved into a crowded home with his wife’s fam­ily.

Weeks ago, he de­cided to re­turn to the dam­aged first floor of his orig­i­nal home with his wife, two chil­dren, par­ents and a sis­ter. The top two floors of the build­ing are de­stroyed, and chunks of con­crete and twisted metal bars dan­gle down. Most of the ex­te­rior walls on the ground and first floors are de­stroyed.

Although the house is un­suit­able for living, the Afanas re­built some ex­te­rior walls with sec­ond­hand cin­derblock. The rest are cov­ered with huge blan­kets or plas­tic sheets.

“We can’t find some­thing bet­ter. I wish we can find an apart­ment with a rental sub­sidy. We would move im­me­di­ately if we found one,” Afana said, stand­ing in front of a makeshift wall make from dif­fer­ent-colored bricks.

‘That’s how we live’

In­side the home, the kitchen has been turned into a bed­room, since it still has a wall. Open­ings in the re­main­ing walls are cov­ered by wooden boards. There are no win­dows and the floor tile is pocked and un­even.

“Ev­ery day, ev­ery week, the wind rips off the sheets. That’s how we live,” he said. “Death is more hon­or­able than this life.”

One of five broth­ers from a fam­ily of builders and con­struc­tion work­ers, Afana said he could rebuild the home in two weeks if ce­ment and money were avail­able.

In all, hun­dreds of neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents, in­clud­ing his brother’s fam­ily living up­stairs, have re­turned to their bombed-out homes.

Such scenes are a far cry from what was en­vi­sioned when world donors pledged US$5.4 bil­lion to rebuild Gaza in Oc­to­ber, just weeks af­ter the fight­ing had ended.

Frode Mau­r­ing, the U.N. Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive, said he be­lieves only 5 to 10 per­cent of the pledges have been de­liv­ered.

“This is a huge con­cern,” he said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press. “It’s a shame that not every­body has been helped.”

There are many sources of blame. Donors have not fol­lowed through on pledges. Is­rael has been slow in al­low­ing con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als into Gaza, though in re­cent months, it has worked with the U. N. to set up a mech­a­nism to al­low larger quan­ti­ties to en­ter.

But more than any­thing, an on­go­ing battle be­tween Ha­mas and the ri­val Pales­tinian Author­ity ap­pears to have par­a­lyzed re­con­struc­tion ef­forts.

Is­rael launched the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion last July in re­sponse to heavy rocket fire from Gaza by Pales­tinian mil­i­tants.

More than 2,100 Pales­tini­ans, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of civil­ians, were killed in the fight­ing, while 72 peo­ple died on the Is­raeli side. Is­rael has blamed Ha­mas for the heavy civil­ian death toll and dam­age to res­i­den­tial ar­eas, point­ing to the group’s use of crowded neigh­bor­hoods for cover while fir­ing rock­ets.

About a dozen fam­i­lies re­ceived some re­lief in tem­po­rary trailer car­a­vans do­nated by Jor­dan and Oman. In Shaaf, some trail­ers have now been placed in­side of gut­ted homes.

The wealthy Gulf state of Qatar is also giv­ing peo­ple a glim­mer of hope. Qatar, the largest sin­gle con­trib­u­tor at Gaza’s re­build­ing con­fer­ence with US$1 bil­lion pledged, reached an agree­ment with Is­rael to de­liver con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als for Qatari-funded projects.

Is­rael re­cently be­gan al­low­ing 1,000 tons of ce­ment into Gaza each day for the Qatari projects. Qatar said it will rebuild 1,000 hous­ing units and an­nounced that three fam­i­lies were given US$10,000 stipends to kick off the re­con­struc­tion.

AP

(Above) Camels are led home through the dam­aged Nada Tow­ers res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood af­ter graz­ing, in the town of Beit Lahiya, north­ern Gaza Strip on Mon­day, March 30.

(Right) A Pales­tinian girl stands next to a tent where her fam­ily lives af­ter their home was de­stroyed, in the Shi­jaiyah neigh­bor­hood of Gaza City on Mon­day.

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