[News] Gaza struggles with lack of shelter caused by two Israeli wars

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 7 20:44:25 EST 2015

  Gaza struggles with lack of shelter caused by two Israeli wars

Rami Almeghari <http://electronicintifada.net/people/rami-almeghari>
The Electronic Intifada 
6 January 2015

Since 2011, Aaed al-Athamna, his wife Asmaa and their six children have 
been sheltering in a mud-brick home in the Izbet Abed Rabbo neighborhood 
in the northeastern Gaza Strip.

They have been displaced since Israel’s three-week-long “Operation Cast 
Lead <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/operation-cast-lead>” assault 
which began six years ago.

The area suffered heavy Israeli bombing and shelling in January 2009, 
destroying the family’s 230-square-meter cement home.

The al-Athamnas’ life has been similar to that of thousands of families 
in the coastal enclave displaced during the Israeli attack six years 
ago. The situation has gotten catastrophically worse since Israel’s most 
recent attack in the summer, which left more than 2,200 people dead.

“I consider myself lucky compared with tens of thousands of others,” 
Aaed, a taxi driver in his mid-thirties, told The Electronic Intifada. 
“At least my current home of sand and mud has sheltered my family from 
the sun and winter rains, even though it is only 80 square meters [860 
square feet],” he said.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/un-ocha> now reports 
<http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/hno2015_factsheet_final9dec.pdf> that 
an additional 100,000 people in Gaza have been displaced and need 
permanent shelter.

    Damaged in latest Israeli attack

More than 113,000 homes, or 13 percent of Gaza’s housing stock, were 
affected by the summer bombardment, with 22,000 units destroyed or 
severely damaged.

Much of the destruction would have been caused in attacks by barrages of 
inaccurate Israeli heavy artillery 

But Israel also deliberately targeted private homes on a large scale, 
including multi-story apartment buildings, actions Amnesty International 
has described as war crimes 

It is now winter and Asmaa al-Athamna spends much of her time mopping up 
water and trying to keep the house comfortable for Aaed and their four 
girls and two boys. Asmaa told The Electronic Intifada that Israeli 
shelling in the area over the summer caused cracks in the ceiling that 
allow the rain to come through.

“But in general, this home has proved much better than many other metal 
boxes,” al-Athamna said, referring to the shipping container homes 
donated by international organizations as emergency shelters for some of 
the displaced. The metal containers are known for being extremely hot in 
summer and bitterly cold in winter.

“Thank God we have a home to protect us,” al-Athamna said as she carried 
on with her housework.


Mushrif al-Irr lives in another mud-brick home with eleven members of 
his family, also in northeastern Gaza. What’s remarkable is that the 
house contains not a drop of cement, nor any steel reinforcement bars 
(known as rebar).

“We started living in this home almost one year after the 2008-2009 
Israeli war on Gaza,” al-Irr told The Electronic Intifada. “And since 
then, we have been living comfortably at all times of the year, 
including summer and winter. In summer, the home feels cool, while in 
winter it feels warm.”

Cement and rebar are the basic ingredients of construction in Gaza, but 
both are in severely short supply due to the siege Israel imposed on 
Gaza <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/gaza-siege> in 2007. The UN’s 
Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism 
brokered after this summer’s assault, has done nothing to ease the 
Many Palestinian analysts say the arrangement for strictly monitored 
imports simply turns the UN into the enforcer of Israel’s siege.

Al-Irr is full of praise for the sand- and mud-brick houses. “This is a 
very creative idea that has helped partially resolve the reconstruction 
problem in Gaza,” he said. “I myself have been applying for a cement 
home since my home was destroyed in 2009.”

Al-Irr, who is in his early fifties, spoke as he showed The Electronic 
Intifada the spot — about two kilometers from the Israel-Gaza boundary — 
where his old home had stood.

    Gaza soil

The initiative to build the mud and sand houses has been backed by UNRWA 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/unrwa>, the UN agency for Palestine 
refugees, and a number of other international aid organizations.

Engineer Imad al-Khaldi, a designer of alternative buildings, told The 
Electronic Intifada that he had suggested the initiative to UNRWA.

“Back in 2009, I and many others realized the need for speedy 
reconstruction of destroyed homes. I had long experience in the field of 
alternative construction and I offered my expertise to UNRWA, which had 
built several such homes of sand by then,” al-Khaldi said.


Each home costs about thirteen to fourteen thousand dollars to build and 
includes three rooms — a small family room, a kitchen and a bathroom 
— al-Khaldi explained during an interview at his office in Gaza City.

In his forties, al-Khaldi is the owner of the New Horizons alternative 
construction company.

Al-Khaldi says that using materials from Gaza’s “rich” soil makes sense. 
Natural ingredients such as potassium and calcium make the buildings 
durable, he says.

“These days I am working on new ideas for using the soil based on the 
fact that it contains such substances,” he said. “We’re thinking about 
how to build sand bricks and walls that can be installed and uninstalled 

While al-Khaldi is excited by these innovations, the number of people 
likely to benefit is still a tiny fraction of those in need.

UNRWA says 
that while it is providing emergency payments for shelter assistance to 
39,000 displaced refugee families, its funding for this purpose will 
reach zero in January. As of mid-December, the agency said that it was 
still sheltering more than 19,000 people in its schools displaced by the 
most recent Israeli assault.

    Slow reconstruction

After two full-scale Israeli assaults in 2008-2009 and 2014 destroyed 
tens of thousands of homes, reconstruction has barely begun, and to 
rebuild on such a scale there is still little alternative to traditional 

According to estimates by the Palestinian Authority ministry of housing 
and construction in the Gaza Strip, only two percent of the $5.4 billion 
in reconstruction funds 
pledged by international donors last October has actually arrived.

The international charity Oxfam 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/oxfam> has estimated that at the 
current glacial pace, reconstruction could take 23 years 

The housing shortage doesn’t just apply to the destroyed homes. Gaza was 
already suffering from a shortage of some 250,000 units, the housing 
ministry estimates, to accommodate its fast-growing population which is 
now around 1.8 million.

“In our assessment, Gaza needs at least 5.5 million tons of raw building 
materials, including 1.5 million tons of cement alone,” Nabil Abu 
Muelik, chairman of the Gaza contractors union, told The Electronic 

Yet under the UN Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, a mere 4,000 tons of 
cement has entered Gaza since October — that’s less than one quarter of 
one percent of the estimated need.

In March 2009, following Operation Cast Lead, donors also pledged 
billions to help rebuild Gaza. With the latest pledges, the total 
offered is almost ten billion dollars. And yet little has gotten 
through. People in Gaza are exasperated that nothing has happened.

“It is deplorable that such little progress has been made given the 
enormous scale of needs and massive destruction,” Catherine Essoyan, 
Oxfam’s Middle East regional director, said in a recent year-end 

“People in Gaza are becoming increasingly and understandably frustrated 
at the lack of progress. The international community has repeatedly 
failed the people of Gaza,” Essoyan added, “it must not fail them again.”

“I can live in this sand-built home for ten years to come. I prefer 
living here than waiting for Godot,” al-Irr said, referring to famous 
play by Samuel Beckett.

For tens of thousands of others in Gaza, even such small comfort remains 
a distant dream.

/Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the 
Gaza Strip/
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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