No shelter from winter rains for thousands in Gaza

“People live a desperate life,” says The Electronic Intifada’s Rami Almeghari about families without shelter in Khuzaa, a village in southeastern Gaza, which was heavily destroyed during Israel’s summer assault.

In a recent interview from Gaza, which can be listened to above, Almeghari said that hundreds of families whose homes were bombed by Israel lack basic infrastructure, including electricity and access to water, and remain in metal caravan shelters or at United Nations-run schools. Heavy rainstorms have recently swept through Gaza, further damaging the electricity, water and sewage networks.

“These people had no chance to be safe during the rains … it’s alarming for the whole population of the Gaza Strip, particularly those who have been displaced. The winter will be a difficult time for these residents,” Almeghari explained.

Though international donors have promised reconstruction aid, the physical process of reconstruction has not yet started. “These people have been waiting since the war ended in August for the reconstruction to take place,” Almeghari said.

The United Nations agency OCHA estimates that 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza remained displaced as of 30 September, one month after a ceasefire ended the intensive bombing and shelling which claimed nearly 2,200 lives.

“Diaster capitalism”

According to the international aid agency Oxfam, building the 89,000 new homes, 226 schools and health, water and sanitation facilities required by Gaza could take 50 years under the current Israeli restrictions which ban the importation of basic construction materials.

As Rami Almeghari notes in a recent report, “Israel has conducted three major offensives against Gaza since December 2008. On each occasion, international donors have promised reconstruction aid. Yet Israel has not been brought to court over the damage it has caused to previous aid projects or for its crimes against humanity.”

Meanwhile, half of the $5.4 billion pledged by international donors for reconstruction in Gaza will be diverted to fill holes in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority’s budget, while Palestinians seeking reconstruction aid will be forced to go through a four-stage process administered by the United Nations.

A Palestinian youth builds a shelter to protect his family from winter rains, Beit Hanoun, Gaza, 19 October.

Ali Jadallah APA images

The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah further explains that the “reconstruction” plans underway in Gaza should be defined as “disaster capitalism” — Israel could likely become “the main beneficiary” as all approved vendors will order supplies through Israel, via the Palestinian Authority.

“Under the guise of reconstruction, the UN will be monitoring and gathering private information about Palestinian households to be passed onto Israel, which will have a veto over which families get aid to rebuild their homes. … Gaza is to become ground zero for disaster capitalism, profiting from the suffering and incarceration of an entire population,” according to Abunimah.

Listen to the interview with Rami Almeghari via the player above, or read the transcript below.

“Winter will be a difficult time”

Rami Almeghari: My latest story was a depiction of the situation on the ground basically after the Israeli war on the territory, which devastated thousands of homes, houses, residences in the Gaza Strip, mainly on the border areas — eastern and southern areas of Gaza, rendering tens of thousands of people homeless. Many thousands of them live now at UNRWA-run schools and other places in shelter, others live with family members, others live in rented houses which have become so rare in the territory because of the immense and widespread destruction.

Regarding the latest story about the people displaced in Khuzaa town which has been devastated grossly during the Israeli war on Gaza, 450 families have been displaced, and only 100 have had the chance to be sheltered by a generous fund by the UAE Charitable Works Society, in cooperation with the municipality of Khuzaa. As you saw in the story, these people live in a desperate life. They lack basic things for accommodation, as they have lost their homes absolutely, and they are now being sheltered in boxes — metal boxes that are like caravans. And during the recent storm on Gaza, in which rains fell on the Gaza Strip, these people have had a difficult time as the electricity network was damaged because of the storm, and the network for water and sewage has been affected. These people had no chance to be safe during the rains, which means that it’s alarming for the whole population of the Gaza Strip, particularly those who have been displaced — the winter will be a difficult time for these residents.

The reconstruction process has not yet started — these people have been waiting since the war ended in August for the reconstruction to take place. Recently there was an international conference for the reconstruction of Gaza, in which world countries including the US, European countries, have pledged support estimated at $5.4 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza. But up to this moment, nothing has happened on the ground, and the need is very desperate for the reconstruction to start immediately. We’re talking about tens of thousands of families who have been displaced, and this suffering is reaching paramount [levels] — unlike the previous Israeli attacks on Gaza — according to some officials, only 440 tons of cement have entered the Gaza Strip, and this quantity of cement will go mainly to those who have had partial destruction or damage to their homes because of the last Israeli war. Which means that this is a very little amount of cement, of raw building materials for reconstruction to start in the war-torn Gaza Strip. This is really very basic and very limited.

Up to this moment, there have been talks underway between all the parties concerned about how to proceed with the reconstruction. Israel has been warning against the reconstruction, claiming that the amounts of raw building materials, particularly the cement, will go to the Palestinian groups to be used for building tunnels, that stereotype of Israel’s allegations since the war broke out. But in the meantime, we talk about the needs of a civilian population that is suffering out of this lack of reconstruction that should be immediate, as immediate as the concerned parties can.

There has been an agreement between Israel and UNRWA on the monitoring and observation of the entry of the cement and the stockpiling of the cement and other raw building materials. And this monitoring system will start taking place in Gaza, but nothing of this amount, this quantity of cement, has gone toward the reconstruction — even the partial reconstruction. This is the latest as far as I know.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Rami, I know you’re going to keep us posted on all the developments in the context of what’s being done to make sure that people have adequate housing and infrastructure in Gaza, but talk about what stories you’re working on this week.

RA: This is a good question. I’m thinking about featuring the agricultural life in Gaza. Because Gaza is a coastal enclave that is based on agriculture, that relies on agriculture. And the main crop here in Gaza is the olives, which is a blessed tree for the Palestinians, a symbolic tree for the Palestinians in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, in every part of Palestine. And this blessed tree is having a harvest season. You can see extraction of the olives, picking the olive trees, and this is a main crop in the territory. So that’s what I’m going to focus on, compared with the destruction of the farmlands during the last war that has affected the agricultural sector, which is a main source of living for people in the Gaza Strip.

And I had read, which is amazing, that this season is said to be a good season for harvesting olives despite the wanton Israeli destruction of the coastal territory, the widespread destruction of the border areas where there are farms.

Also, I would like to feature something else — something about how the people are rejoicing with their lives as human beings, and normal life, to try to hang out, to try to release some of the high amounts of pressure they have been enduring since the war broke out and ended for the past four or five months.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).