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Living in the aftermath: Palestinians in Gaza struggle under the siege to rebuild

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Eight years of siege and three wars in six years have left the Gaza Strip in a state of perpetual disaster with no end in sight. After this summer’s assault, tens of thousands of Palestinians are sentenced to living in rubble wastelands that are scarcely recognizable from the thriving neighborhoods they once were.

“The survivors are the real victims of war,” Hamza Saftawi, 23, said. “They have to live in the aftermath.”

Moaeen Naim Maqbel, 54, and 13 of his family members live in a half-standing home in Shujaiya. Having worked inside Israel since age 15, the home Maqbel built over a span of decades was hit by Israeli shelling in 2008/2009, 2012, and was irreparably damaged this summer. 

His family now spends their nights outside in the dark. A small fire they built provides minimal warmth and light. “I worked in Israel starting when I was 15 and saved money for this house. It was hit in 2008/2009, 2012, and now it’s destroyed,” Maqbel told me. 

From where they sit, the lights of the Israeli kibbutz and military base of Nahal Oz are visible just several hundred meters away. “We can see they have electricity even on their borders where there aren’t any people. But there are people living here without electricity,” he explained. “We aren’t human, or what? Our life is hell. We are living like animals — maybe the cows live better than us.” 

Despite the $5.4 billion promised by the international community in Cairo last month, Israel has blocked the delivery of vital construction materials. Since the August 26th ceasefire, less than 1/1000th of the construction materials Palestinian officials estimate are needed to rebuild have actually entered the coastal enclave. 

With no prospects of rebuilding with imported materials, Palestinians comb through rubble in efforts to salvage any materials to rebuild. Throughout areas that were bombed, rebar skeletons of buildings are picked clean of concrete before teams of two workers use a basic machine to straighten each piece. 

A worker at the Zafer 4 Tower rubble salvages rebar that will be used to rebuild. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A worker at the Zafer 4 Tower rubble salvages rebar that will be used to rebuild. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

For the group of men who work ten-hour shifts combing the rubble of the Zafer Four tower in Gaza City, this labor is the best option available. Thaer Ayman Abdel Aziz Qassem, 20, spoke to me while he worked, unable to take a break. “My wages from this work aren’t sufficient to live. I wake up and start working at 6 am and finish at 4 pm. Every day is the same. While we work, we find clothes, jewelry and money. People come to check for their belongings from what we find. They left everything when they fled.” 

As the siege prevents rebuilding efforts, the war further exacerbated the economic crisis resulting from Israel’s eight-year siege. With unemployment at 55%, others resort to any work they can to survive.

Mohammed Majd Hosni Al-Madhoun, 23, collects rocks in a lot in Gaza City. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Mohammed Majd Hosni Al-Madhoun, 23, collects rocks in a lot in Gaza City. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Mohammed Majd Hosni Al-Madhoun, 23, from the Gaza City area of Sheik Radwan, sifts through dirt to collect rocks that he gathers into plastic buckets. Due to the ban of construction materials, he is sometimes able to sell the rocks to construction companies. “I used to work at sea and then I was a construction worker but now there is no work,” Al-Madhoun said. “I started to search for work in any place I could find it. I work every day that there is no rain but I can’t make a living selling rocks because it’s physically impossible to work enough. For a day of work, sometimes I earn five dollars, sometimes twenty dollars and something nothing. I am newly engaged and need to work in order to save money for my wedding.” 

Mohammed Majd Hosni Al-Madhoun, 23, sifts dirt to collect rocks. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Mohammed Majd Hosni Al-Madhoun, 23, sifts dirt to collect rocks. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

In the next field over, Yusef Abu Kader and his cousin Saber Abu Kader, both 18, cut pieces of rebar remaining from buildings that were bombed. “I’ve worked since I came to this life — since I was eight years old,” Yusef Abu Kader lamented before adding, “But don’t be sad for us.” 

“We work in places that were bombed to collect scrap metal. Together we earn about five dollars for a day of work,” Yusef Abu Kader said. 

Yusef Abu Kader, 18, prepares his horse to cart the day's haul of rebar. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Yusef Abu Kader, 18, prepares his horse to cart the day’s haul of rebar. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

While Israel enforces the siege — with the help of Egypt’s coup regime — and commits daily violations of the August ceasefire agreement, there is little hope for improved conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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13 Responses

  1. Daniel Rich on December 3, 2014, 6:42 pm

    @ Dan Cohen,

    Thanks for the report on the aftermath of Operation ‘As Much As We Can Destroy.’

    Q: Israel has blocked the delivery of vital construction materials.

    R: And the Apartheid State’s raison d’être this time is…?

  2. just on December 3, 2014, 8:28 pm

    Dan Cohen, many thanks for your indefatigable work. You are a bright and shining star of a human being, always reminding me how to be a better person.

    Take good care of yourself.

  3. annie on December 4, 2014, 1:16 am

    Throughout areas that were bombed, rebar skeletons of buildings are picked clean of concrete before teams of two workers use a basic machine to straighten each piece.

    how dare they? israel will find out where that basic machine is and bomb it.

  4. Mayhem on December 4, 2014, 8:05 am

    As you make your bed, so you lie on it.

    • bintbiba on December 4, 2014, 10:46 am

      Back to you, old boy/girl !!

    • Kay24 on December 4, 2014, 12:10 pm

      The problem is, their beds are always made by Israel, and then they are forced to lie on it.

  5. adpucci on December 4, 2014, 8:20 am

    Just one comment, Dan: “3 wars in 6 years” makes it sound as if they were really wars, that is, with 2 opponents on a similar level rather than protracted attacks by air and ground forces on a crowded strip of land with SOME guerrilla warfare.

  6. RobertB on December 4, 2014, 10:17 am

    The Aftermath of Israel’s Latest Assault on Gaza

    If Americans Knew
    September 10, 2014
    Updated: September 22, 2014

    Scroll down to see charts depicting the tragic outcomes of Israel’s 7-week assault on Gaza titled “Operation Protective Edge” (July 8, 2014 – August 26, 2014).

    Here are the facts not being reported:

    ” From January 1 to May 31 of this year, Israel kidnapped 2,330 Palestinians and held them in Israeli prisons. During these months, there were an average of 203 Palestinian children in Israeli jails on any given day. Palestinians held captive by Israel can be denied access to a lawyer for up to 90 days, and torture is routine. But the media only expresses outrage when Israelis are kidnapped and held prisoner by Palestinians.

    From January 1 to June 12 of this year, Israelis killed approximately 30 Palestinians, 4 of them children. None of the Israeli killers were held accountable for the murders. Mainstream media outlets almost never reported on any of these killings. Yet everyone was made aware of the names of the three Israelis abducted and murdered in June.

    Since “Operation Protective Edge” began (July 8 through August 11), Israeli forces have killed 2,191 Palestinians, 527 of them children. During this time, Palestinian resistance forces killed 71 Israelis, one of whom was a child. Approximately 77 percent of the Palestinians killed during this period were civilians, while approximately 9 percent of the Israelis killed were civilians.

    Hamas did not attack Israel first. Israel bombed the homes of three families and killed two Palestinians (one of whom was 10-years-old) in Gaza before a single Hamas rocket was launched back. Additionally, Israel killed 186 Palestinians from July 8 to July 14 before the first Israeli was killed on July 15.

    Israel actually rejected legitimate ceasefire offers throughout this crisis, not Hamas. The ceasefire Hamas has offered Israel would ensure that Gazans have the same freedoms that most people view as basic human rights (right to trade with other nations, right to travel freely, right to worship at Holy places, etc).”

  7. AppleFolsom on December 4, 2014, 11:59 am

    Israel is the antithesis to democracy.

    And, yet, our Congress moves their push for “closer ties” to the US forward by approving Israeli Visa-free travel to the US, additional funding, and closer “homeland security” ties.

    Enough with the expanding Israeli fascism to the US people!

  8. Daniel Rich on December 4, 2014, 4:43 pm

    My mom told me, “Coincidence is an illusion and illusion a figment of your imagination…”

    She would say many things, but never muse about it, let alone explain what she meant, so, go figure…

    “From the late 1960s, Jewish-American organized crime became part of an entire literature on “tough Jews.” The Jewish gangsters and boxers in the pre-World War II era were seen as tougher, more aggressive role models, which freed Jews from the dominant stereotypes of cowardice, pacifism, intellectualism and professional legitimacy. The stigma of defenselessness and powerlessness associated with Jews, compared with the physical aggressiveness and lawlessness more associated with the Irish and Italian immigrants, began to disappear.[9][10][11] According to Rich Cohen, author of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons and Gangster Dreams:” – LINK

    “Luckily we’ve got Gaza, our landlocked Viagra.” – Schmul Ekvelt

  9. just on December 5, 2014, 11:20 am

    “Israel has denied leading Irish politician Gerry Adams permission to enter Gaza, the Irish Journal website reported on Friday.

    Adams, president of the Catholic Sinn Fein party, is currently on a three-day tour of Israel and Palestine. He had been invited to visit Gaza by the United Nations Works and Relief Agency.

    “Preventing me from travelling to Gaza and talking to those citizens who have survived three Israeli assaults in the last decade and who are besieged and in need of massive aid to rebuild their shattered economy and society, runs contrary to the needs of a peace process and is very unhelpful,” Adams said in response to the ban.

    “The Israeli decision is a reminder of the imperative of supporting the Palestinian efforts to secure UN and international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he added. “That campaign has seen some success in recent months and next month it will be debated in the European Parliament.”

    Adams said that he had raised the issue of the recognition of a Palestinian state with the Irish prime minister in the Irish parliament, known as the Dáil, this week. The people of Palestine have “the right to national statehood,” he stressed.”

    Mads Gilbert, Gerry Adams, NGO’s and human rights organization are prevented from going in to Gaza, and Palestinians are prevented from leaving.


    • Kay24 on December 5, 2014, 11:24 am

      The guilty are afraid. They do not want anyone to see the devastation they are responsible for.
      The outside world must be prevented as much as possible from witnessing the viciousness and inhumane acts against voiceless people.
      Sick, is putting it mildly.

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