Shortages Stymie Rebuilding Efforts In Gaza

Palestinians use hammers on the rubble of a house destroyed during Israel's military offensive i i

Earlier this month, Palestinians in Jabalia, northern Gaza Strip, use hammers on the rubble of a house destroyed during Israel's 22-day military offensive in Gaza. Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinians use hammers on the rubble of a house destroyed during Israel's military offensive

Earlier this month, Palestinians in Jabalia, northern Gaza Strip, use hammers on the rubble of a house destroyed during Israel's 22-day military offensive in Gaza.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian women in Jabalia prepare food inside a tent i i

Palestinian women in Jabalia prepare food inside a tent on April 23. Their houses were destroyed during the Israeli military offensive. Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian women in Jabalia prepare food inside a tent

Palestinian women in Jabalia prepare food inside a tent on April 23. Their houses were destroyed during the Israeli military offensive.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
A Palestinian waits to enter a tunnel that runs under the Egyptian border and into the Gaza Strip i i

A Palestinian waits to enter a tunnel that runs under the Egyptian border and into the Gaza Strip on April 22. An unknown number of tunnels now run under the border between Gaza and Egypt, bringing in staple goods such as cement and fuel, as well as reported shipments of arms. Ahmad Khateib/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Ahmad Khateib/Getty Images
A Palestinian waits to enter a tunnel that runs under the Egyptian border and into the Gaza Strip

A Palestinian waits to enter a tunnel that runs under the Egyptian border and into the Gaza Strip on April 22. An unknown number of tunnels now run under the border between Gaza and Egypt, bringing in staple goods such as cement and fuel, as well as reported shipments of arms.

Ahmad Khateib/Getty Images

In the four months since Israel launched its offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, little reconstruction has taken place in the Palestinian territory.

The operation left much of Gaza in ruins, and thousands of Palestinian civilians whose homes were leveled are living in tents or other temporary accommodations.

Every day, Israel allows 80 to 100 truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza, but that does not include building supplies. The United Nations is calling on Israel to allow vital reconstruction materials like cement into Gaza. But Israel is resisting the appeal, citing the continuing security threat from militants.

Palestinians Lack Supplies

Sitting beneath a plastic tent in the hot afternoon sun, Mohammed Abed Rabo points to the ruins of his house. Several slabs of concrete lie jumbled on top of one another, like giant crumbled crackers.

It was home to Rabo and 24 members of his extended family before Israel's Gaza offensive. The Rabo family fled the neighborhood during the fighting and returned to find their home destroyed.

Rabo says the family has received $5,000 in aid from the Palestinian Authority and another $5,000 from the Hamas government in Gaza. But the money is being spent on food and on rent for an apartment for some of his children.

"I am not very optimistic at all about the issue of reconstructing my house and reconstructing the Gaza Strip. I call on all the Palestinian factions to sit together to solve this problem, because money is useless," Rabo says. "When you give us money with the (border) terminals closed, I cannot even get cement or other materials to reconstruct the house."

Crossing Closings Key To Misery

Hamas controls life inside Gaza, but Israel rules the land, sea and air around the territory. Israel maintains that its military cordon around Gaza is necessary to prevent rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns and stem the flow of arms to the Palestinian territory.

John Ging, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip, says that rocket attacks have diminished in recent weeks, yet Israel has not eased its blockade.

"There's nothing going on in terms of reconstruction because the crossings are still closed. That's the key to all the misery here," Ging says. "It's hard to fathom that after all of the outpouring of concern and empathy with the plight of the people here during the January conflict, that months later they are still living in the rubble of their former lives."

"So the rockets have stopped but the siege continues," Ging says. "Where is the dividend for the Palestinians?"

Israel: Hamas Refuses To Give Security Guarantees

Israeli spokesman Yigal Palmor says there is a very simple reason.

"What we have there is a rebel area in secession from its own legitimate government, in an open armed confrontation with its main neighbor, Israel," Palmor says. "The real problem here is the attitude of the Hamas de facto government."

Hamas, founded in the 1980s as an Islamic militant movement fighting Israel, took political control of Gaza after a surprise victory in Palestinian elections in early 2006. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and a member of the rival Fatah party, dissolved Gaza's Hamas-led government and declared a state of emergency in 2007. Hamas took full control of the territory after fierce street fighting with Fatah militias.

Palmor acknowledges that there have been fewer rocket attacks into Israel recently, but says that Hamas has refused to give Israel security guarantees.

In the past, some cement and other materials intended for civilian construction projects in Gaza were used instead for building military positions and bunkers, Palmor says.

"We can't allow Hamas to rearm itself with materials coming from Israel," Palmor says.

Black Market, Suffering Grow

Meanwhile, the restrictions have bolstered a flourishing black market in Gaza. The only cement available in Gaza comes from Egypt, smuggled in through a system of tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border.

During the Gaza offensive, Israeli troops destroyed hundreds of tunnels to stop Hamas militants from smuggling weapons.

They have been rebuilt and are a lifeline for the people here.

Nasser, who runs a hardware shop in Gaza and did not want his last name used, says the cost of a bag of cement has skyrocketed to about $50. And even if customers had the money, he adds, it is impossible to smuggle the quantities needed to rebuild one house, much less the thousands that were destroyed.

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