After destroying Gaza, Israel is generously letting some of the desperately needed reconstruction materials trickle through. One recalls Moshe Dayan’s quip that Palestinians refusing submit to Israel will be forced to “live like dogs.”
“Alaa Radwan, head of the Popular Committee for Monitoring the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, makes a simple calculation: “Given the pace at which construction materials are currently entering Gaza, it will be at least 20 years” before the damage caused by this summer’s war is repaired.”
“the quantities approved – some 40 truckloads of cement, iron and gravel (alongside 400 truckloads of other goods) – are far from sufficient; Gaza is thought to need about 6,000 tons of cement a day. Moreover, the supervisory process is so long and cumbersome that it is seriously delaying the reconstruction work.
“For instance, anyone whose house was damaged must submit an application detailing the scope of the damage and the amount of compensation sought. Representatives of the UN Office for Project Services, which is in charge of supervising the reconstruction, must then visit the house, reassess the damage, estimate the amount of construction materials needed and send a detailed list to the PA and Israel. The latter must approve both the project and the amounts.
“Once Israel gives its okay, the homeowner must sign a declaration that the materials will be used solely to rebuild his house. Only then will UNOPS give him vouchers to buy construction materials from one of Gaza’s major dealers.”
The war left large swaths of Gaza in ruins and aid agencies have warned rebuilding would take many years without a relaxation of Israeli restrictions.
… Israel also said that in coming weeks it would allow the export of agricultural goods from Gaza to the West Bank, which it had prohibited for security reasons, hitting one of the few industries in the densely populated enclave able to sell its products abroad.
Israel said the first such transfer would include 15 tons of goods, mostly dates and sweet potatoes, but over time additional goods such as fish would be exported.
With 60,000 homes destroyed and more than 100,000 people homeless, this is a real emergency as winter draws closer. On the political front, two surprising elements are falling into place. The Palestinian national unity government, bringing together technocrats from the West Bank and Gaza under the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas – which previously existed only on paper – has been reaffirmed.
West Bank ministers travelled to Gaza yesterday to hold their first cabinet meeting there, symbolically ending Hamas’s absolute control of the territory. Hamas still controls the security forces in Gaza, however, and the unity agreement is lacking significant content.
Israel agreed to allow the ministers to travel to Gaza, reversing its previous rejection of the unity government, in accordance with its long-standing policy of isolating Hamas.
The second floor of the al-Awda factory is covered in a sticky red liquid, as if a massacre had occurred here. The truth, happily, is much less gruesome: An Israeli tank shell had ripped open plastic cartons containing strawberry juice, which had been intended to be sold during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan — before the war intervened.
Until a month ago, this factory employed 600 people in the production of roughly 125 different snacks — everything from chocolate wafers to biscuits to ice cream. Now, it is gutted: The room that contained the milk, butter, and sugar is a sickly sweet ruin of charred parcels; a hole had been punched in one of the walls to create a makeshift slide that evacuated biscuits from an encroaching fire; the potato-chip machines imported from Europe have been ripped to pieces.
Mohammad al-Talbani, the factory owner, estimates that his production facility had been worth $30 million. It had been the work of his lifetime: He launched his business after finishing secondary school in the late 1960s, making sesame and coconut sweets by hand from his home in Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp.
Talbani believes that his factory was not merely collateral damage in the ongoing war, but that the Israeli attack was part of a broader campaign of economic warfare on the residents of the Gaza Strip.
There had been no Hamas fighters anywhere near the factory when it was shelled, he insisted. “If someone had come here to launch a rocket, I’d shoot them myself,” he said.
… While Talbani’s claim is impossible to verify, nobody is denying the economic destruction in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority government has estimated that it could cost $6 billion to rebuild the territory: 50,000 homes have been totally or partially destroyed, roughly 250 factories have reportedly been rendered inoperable, and Gaza’s sewage treatment facility and power plant have been damaged, shrinking the available supply of drinkable water and creating a potential health crisis for residents.
… There are even more urgent problems, however, than the supply of cement. Gaza’s only power plant was hit during the war, leaving most residents with only two to four hours of electricity per day. Mauring estimated that before the war, Gaza received a total of about 300 megawatts of electricity from the plant and power lines from Egypt and Israel. Now, with the power plant offline and the electrical grid from Israel damaged, he said that Gaza is receiving about half of that.
The power plant isn’t only important for keeping the lights on. “The fact that the plant was hit means sewage pumps aren’t working, water pumps aren’t working,” said Nate McCray, a spokesman for Oxfam International. “So you see sewage and brackish water seeping up into the [refugee] shelters and contaminating the water systems.”
Mauring floated the possibility of bringing barge-mounted power plants to the shores of Gaza while the plant is being repaired, which could take over a year. As the Israeli Navy controls access to the Palestinian territory by sea, however, this is yet another topic that will be subject to drawn-out negotiations.
“We started building on 20 June,” says Mohammed al-Sheikh Eid, a consultant engineer with Gaza’s Ministry of Interior. “Since this is the first time we’ve built something on this scale with mud bricks, we can’t estimate exactly how much longer it will take to complete. Maybe another two months or so.”
He is confident, however, that they will finish before the winter rains begin.
Since the war on Gaza ended, a number of houses have been built using mud to create simple, square, two or three-room homes. The new Sheikh Zayed police station is one of the larger and more ambitious projects.
… “The mud bricks take between one and two weeks to cast and dry,” he says, gesturing at the rows of bricks drying in the sun. “Each brick costs roughly one shekel [a quarter of a dollar] to make.”
Al-Khalout says the clay is brought from a nearby area of Beit Lahiya, and the straw comes from local farmers. “We will put plaster on the roof, to seal it and protect it from rain.”
Wood is temporarily used to buffer ceiling arches and windows until the clay mortar hardens. The wood is then removed and used elsewhere in the same manner.
Apart from these wood bracings, conventional and excessively expensive building materials are not used.
Cement smuggled in via the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza is as much as ten times the pre-siege price. A ton of cement costs 3,400 shekels ($850), compared to the 350 shekels it cost prior to June 2007.
Husam Toubil from the United Nations Development Programme says Gaza requires 50,000 tons of cement to rebuild destroyed homes, and 41,000 tons for public buildings.
… In an enclosed Strip where unemployment is near 50 percent and poverty has reached 90 percent, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCATD) report, the workers will brave the heat for the chance to earn 40 shekels a day.
Since the siege on Gaza tightened in June 2007, almost no construction materials have entered Gaza, according to the OCHA report. This is in comparison to the pre-attacks, pre-siege import levels of 7,400 trucks per month, from January to May 2007.
According to the United Nations Relief Web news, 3,900 truckloads entered Gaza from January to May 2007. Over the same period this year, six trucks were allowed in. These carried material for water projects, greatly in need and long awaiting completion.
… Over 20,000 Palestinians remain displaced in Gaza, with approximately 100 families still living in emergency tents provided by aid agencies.
PCHR also reports that 215 factories and 700 private businesses, 17 universities or colleges, 15 hospitals and 43 health care centers, and 58 mosques were destroyed or damaged during the attacks. The United Nations says that 298 schools were destroyed or damaged.
They all await reconstruction, as does Gaza’s shattered economy.