After summer of horror, Gaza families face winter in cramped shacks

Shadi Alqarra

Ned’a al-Najjar — also known as Um Ayman — cannot access the clothes she has bought for the baby she is expecting. They are buried under the rubble of her house, which Israel bombed during the summer.

As her pregnancy becomes more advanced, she spends much of her time trying to keep her temporary home — a cramped metal shack — as clean as possible.

Um Ayman and her husband have three children, including twin girls. The latter are blind. Their shack has two small rooms.

Water from its tiny kitchen keeps falling on the floor. And Um Ayman is worried that the entire temporary home will be flooded if it rains heavily during the winter.

“I hope this will be the last war on us,” she said. “We want a normal life.”

Many of her relatives and neighbors in the Khuzaa area of Gaza are encountering similar problems.

Hamdan Suleiman al-Najjar’s house was bombed by Israel in the final hours of its 51-day attack on Gaza this summer.

There are nine people in his family. Yet the shack sheltering them only has room for six. “I am trying to put some metal sheets around my caravan in order to expand it,” he said.

“Completely destroyed”

The shacks have been provided by the Khuzaa municipality, with assistance from foreign charities.

Hatem al-Khour, a shelter coordinator with the municipality, said: “We’ve counted 460 completely destroyed homes in Khuzaa. We are hoping to provide accommodation for all the people affected. But we are restrained by limited donations.”

Each of the temporary homes costs $6,000, according to al-Khour. He added that the municipality has leased a piece of land with a surface area of two square kilometers for temporary shelters. Electricity and water connections have been established.

Human shields

Khuzaa, located near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, witnessed some of the most horrific incidents during Israel’s offensive. Evidence indicates that some of Khuzaa’s inhabitants were deliberately used as human shields by Israel.

On 25 July, for example, Israeli troops stormed the home of the Qdeih family in Khuzaa, where numerous people were seeking refuge. After shooting 65-year-old Muhammad Qdeih dead, others from his extended family, including children, were forced to stand at open windows as Israeli soldiers fired from behind them.

Some members of the al-Najjar family were killed as a result of Israeli shelling in Khuzaa that same day. They included Motassem al-Najjar, a five-year-old boy.

“Earthquake”

Shehda Abu Rouk, the mayor of Khuzaa, likened the impact of Israel’s attack to an earthquake.

Although the attack is over, the results of the destruction cannot be missed. “We need, at least, fifteen machines — including bulldozers and trucks — to be able to remove all the rubble from the houses that were destroyed,” Abu Rouk said.

On Sunday, international donors attending a conference in Cairo promised $5.4 billion in reconstruction aid to Gaza.

That figure may sound impressive.

Yet the anti-poverty group Oxfam has warned that much of this money could languish in bank accounts for decades if Israel does not lift its siege on Gaza.

Under current restrictions, building the 89,000 new homes, 226 schools and health, water and sanitation facilities required by Gaza could take 50 years, Oxfam has estimated.

There is an even more fundamental issue to be addressed.

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.

The families living in Khuzaa certainly need new homes. Even more importantly, they need Israel to be held accountable.

Unless that step is taken, they will be vulnerable to further attacks.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

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