RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We go now the Middle East and an update on life in the Gaza Strip. The coastal territory received a pounding one year ago when Israel unleashed a major offensive to stop Palestinian rocket fire coming out of Gaza. In this first of two pieces on the aftermath of that conflict, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro looks at the struggle Palestinian families face as they try to put their lives back together.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Near the border with Israel, the remains of splintered Gaza homes are being ground up. The wind makes the ribbons of fine gray dust coming from the factory look like contorted waste.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palestinian men shovel piles of rubble into a machine - locally invented a few months ago - that is used to make bricks. Worker Yassir Abu Jarad says there's no shortage of raw material. Slabs of broken concrete from the thousands of homes destroyed by the Israeli military during the fighting are brought to the site by donkey-drawn cart. They're then pulverized and made into the makeshift blocks.
Mr. YASSIR ABU JARAD: (Through translator) You can't rebuild your whole house with these. They aren't strong enough. We only sell 100 or 200 for people to complete repairs if they suffered partial damage.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel prohibits construction material, including cement and glass, from entering the Gaza Strip. It says those items could be used for military purposes by the militant group Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave.
So, says Abu Jarad, Gazans have to improvise.
Mr. ABU JARAD: (Through translator) It's so ironic. I buy this rubble from people who have had their houses destroyed, and then sell it back to them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A year after the war in Gaza, there is still a housing crisis.
Mr. CHRISTER NORDAHL (Deputy Director, U.N. Field Office, Gaza): All the destruction and all the damages that was caused in the war in December, January, is still the same. Nothing have been repaired and nobody can do anything.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christer Nordahl is the deputy director of the U.N. Gaza field office.
Mr. NORDAHL: Winter is coming, and they are still suffering and will suffer even more.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the biggest problems, residents say, is overcrowding and the stresses that it is putting on families.
In the Tawam neighborhood of Gaza City, families have built makeshift homes out of rubble bricks, old tires and metal sheeting. What was once a middle-class area now looks like a shantytown.
Hoson Jarbou lives with seven other people in a tiny dwelling made of mismatched blocks recovered from her flattened home.
Ms. HOSON JARBOU: (Through translator) It's been a very painful year for me. I cannot describe this year. I lost everything. Now we are living on top of one another, it's so crowded. When it's raining, the water seeps in. Kids are getting sick. Rats run into the house.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her 30-year-old daughter Sabrine Shinar and her child used to live here, too. But there's simply no room now. So Shinar shares a room with her husband and his first wife - an embarrassing and uncomfortable arrangement. Shinar refers to last year's war as a second nakba, or catastrophe - the word Palestinians use to describe the creation of Israel in 1948.
Ms. SABRINE SHINAR: (Through translator) This is even worse than the first nakba. We have been totally forgotten. At least before, the refugees found someone to help them. No one cares about us now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hoson's other daughter has had to move into the home of her fianc�'s relative. Twenty-four-year-old Hala Shinar says many families in Gaza now have permanent guests like her.
Ms. HALA SHINAR: (Through translator) There's no privacy, no freedom. I don't want to use too much electricity to turn on the heater. At meals, I eat very little. If I'm hungry, I can't just go to the kitchen because they may say she eats too much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But she is better off than her fiance, she says. She takes us to his house.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: In a cramped living room, a woman in a long, white veil kneads dough into large, flat circles, and places them carefully on a sofa.
Um Wasim, the family matriarch, says there are now seven families staying with her. She bakes 120 loaves a week to feed them all. People sleep on the living room floor. One woman and her child camp out in the storeroom. There is bedding and clothing everywhere.
Ms. UM WASIM: (Through translator) And there is arguing all the time, the fight over who sleeps where, over food, the bathroom, water. This house is too small to accommodate all these people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there's no choice, she says, and no end in sight.
Ms. WASIM: (Through translator) We live without hope. We depend on charity, and we have no future.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Um Wasim says she knows she's lucky to have a roof over her head. But she says she doesn't know how long they can cope.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: See photos of the people that you've just heard about living a year after the war on our Web site, npr.org. Tomorrow, we'll visit the Israeli town that was hard hit by Palestinian rocket fire during the Gaza conflict.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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