Awad Nawasra, 52, was delighted when he got a call from the Ministry of Labor in Gaza to come and sign a contract in order to start rebuilding his completely demolished home in Gaza’s el-Maqazi camp. “I was surprised when they called me from the ministry to come and sign the reconstruction contract, they told me that I should bring a geometrical scheme of my home within 48 hours to be given money to initiate building,” Nawasra said as he was looked contentedly at the construction workers laying the foundations of his new house.
Nawasra’s home was targeted by the Israeli military planes three times during the conflict last summer. Four of his family members were killed in the first raid, his newly-married son with his wife, and two of his eldest son’s children. In addition to the psychological suffering of losing beloved family members, Nawasra also had to find a flat for rent. “So far we have lived in three flats as we were following every piece of news about expected reconstruction efforts to take place in any time. At the beginning, I thought that I will not wait for so long to see my three-story house rebuilt. But, when time elapses without any genuine effort, my hopes started to shrink,” Nawasra said. More than 15 people of his extended family lived in his house.
Still, Nawasra’s hope of seeing his three-story house rebuilt again will not be accomplished soon. The current plan aims to build only one floor for every completely damaged house, regardless of the size of the previous house.
Reconstruction is now being seen in nearly all of Gaza’s districts as part of the funds that were pledged at the Cairo Conference to reconstruct Gaza have started to be delivered to Gaza. The conference was held in October, 2014, and raised about $3.5 billion.
Joint local and international work
Mufeed Hassaina, the Palestinian labor minister, confirmed that the distribution of construction contracts for people with completely collapsed homes is the first phase of the reconstruction project. “We received part of the pledged money, and bought the necessary building materials such as the cement, iron, and gravel,” Hassain’s office said in a press release.
The conflict last summer completely or partially destroyed more than 100,000 civilian homes, leaving hundreds of thousands of Gazans homeless. It has been more than a year since the war was over and the devastation’s manifestations are still apparent in Gaza everywhere. Palestinians were desperately waiting to see the international world’s promises of rapid reconstruction come true, and they did not think that they will wait for so long. The reasons for this delay were mainly political. The donors, the Americans in particular, wanted proof that the pledged funds would be destined for only civilian purposes. Therefore, there has been a growing call for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reestablish its presence in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have accused the PA of trying to dodge its responsibilities in Gaza in general, and especially the reconstruction since the last war. In addition, the Israelis have made the movement of materials into Gaza difficult by closing the crossings which are the only channels for construction materials to enter Gaza.
In the meantime, thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in UN-run schools, with some of them living there for nearly a year.
Fatima Abo-Qaidda is a university student whose family house was completely demolished in the conflict. Her family had to live in a nearby UN school in Beit Hanoun village in the north of the Gaza Strip. “Just month ago, we have been given a small flat in el-Shaikh Zaid town which we have to share with my married brothers,” Fatima said. When I asked her whether they have called them to sign a contract, she said that they have not called her father yet.
The UN has declared that it closed the door of the last UN school shelter, El-Bahreen school in the north of Gaza, a month ago. “The UN has finished renovating about 62,000 partially damaged houses, and about 60,000 still need to be renovated, Adnan Abo-Hassna, the UN spokesman said.
“We gave money to about 35 family in Gaza to start the reconstruction, but we have 9,000 completely demolished homes in total that need to be reconstructed, ” Abo-Hassna added.
The Housing Ministry in Gaza along with UNRWA have prepared a mechanism to reconstruct completely damaged homes as part of the UN mechanism presented by Robert Serry, the former UN Special Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process. Najje Sarhan, the Housing Ministry’s deputy confirmed that the ministry’s staff has finished the process of scrutinizing their data which includes the names of the homes’ owners.
The ministry said that Gaza needs about 130,000 housing units after the conflict.
The current housing crisis in Gaza is taking place alongside an unprecedented heat wave this summer, which greatly aggravates the situation.
Hayyat, 26, is a seven-month pregnant woman and has a one-year old son. She lives with her family in a small tent established on the ruins of their completely damaged home in Wadi Salqa in the south of the Gaza Strip. “The heat is sweltering inside this stinky tent. We endured a lot of difficulties during the summer as the mosquitoes spread quickly in the heat,” Hayyat said. The scars of the mosquitoes bites were apparent on her little boy’s delicate skin.
To the north of Salqa is Kuzaha village, an area which endured a heavy bombardment during the summer conflict that leveled many of its residents’ homes to the ground. The Israeli aggression has left the beautiful and quiet village as a heap of stony rubbish.
As a temporary solution for the homeless people inside the village, a charity from the Gulf has donated money to build the “Caravans’ Neighborhood” which accommodates about 50 families whose homes were entirely damaged during the conflict.
Ahmed Qdeeh, in his thirties, lives in a caravan along with his family members. “The heat inside the caravan is intolerable, I am looking for other alternatives. They promised us that this will be a momentary solution for our problem, but so far we sustained these dire circumstances for more than 6 months,” Qdeeh said.
“The news is good, but politics here taught us to wait for deeds before listening to ornate speeches, ” Qdeeh ended.