Torn away from the olive trees

Palestinians demolish the remains of a building in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City destroyed during Israel’s summer 2014 assault.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Ismail Halasa toiled hard to provide his family with a home. From his work in the construction industry of the United Arab Emirates, he managed to save enough for a house in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City. Tall and spacious, the house accommodated several generations — until Israel bombed it in 2014.

Almost two years after the attack, the Halasa family still does not know when the home will be rebuilt. They have been forced to rent apartments elsewhere in the city.

“The family house was extraordinary,” said Samira Hani Halasa, a daughter-in-law of Ismail. “It was surrounded by beautiful olive trees and other fruit trees. Everyone could relax by sitting under those trees. Now I feel I am being imprisoned by the four walls of this apartment.”

Samira, her husband Emad and five of their children now live in the Thalathini area of Gaza City.

Integrating into the new area has proven difficult. The Halasa family lived in Shujaiya since the 1990s.

In Shujaiya, Samira could ask her in-laws for food whenever she needed anything. Now she has to wait for her husband to return home from work so that she has money to buy groceries. She does not know her new neighbors well enough to ask them for help.

“We hear only promises”

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, is providing the family with $200 per month to pay the rent.

On paper, Emad is a police officer serving the Palestinian Authority. But because of the divisions between Fatah, the dominant party in the West Bank-based PA, and Hamas, which is in charge of Gaza’s administration, he is no longer working.

He still draws a PA salary yet it is not sufficient to meet the family’s needs. To supplement it, he sells headscarves for women at the entrance of a local university.

Emad has asked UNRWA for aid to rebuild the home in Shujaiya. But he does not know when he will receive it.

“Every time we go and ask when the reconstruction will start, we only hear promises from UNRWA,” he said. “They say, when funds are available, and promise to get in touch.”

After placing severe restrictions on the importation of building materials, Israel temporarily banned private operators from bringing cement into Gaza during April, claiming supplies were being diverted by Hamas.

Some 45 days after introducing that ban, Israel eventually lifted it in late May.

A total of 18,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged by Israel during the 2014 attack. Only around 4,000 of that number had been repaired or rebuilt by the end of April this year, the UN monitoring group OCHA has reported.

All recipients of aid since the 2014 attacks on Gaza have been screened by Israel. UNRWA and other administrators of aid have been cooperating with the Israeli authorities in the screening process.

Shujaiya was one of the areas worst affected by the 2014 attack.

Of the buildings in Gaza destroyed during that offensive, approximately 24 percent were in Shujaiya, according to OCHA. Around 75,000 of Gaza’s inhabitants were still displaced at the end of March this year.

To date, only some basic repair work has been undertaken in the Halasa family home. Ismail Halasa was able to have that work carried out with the help of a grant from Kuwait.

Family scattered

Iyad al-Jamal is another resident of Shujaiya whose home was bombed by Israel two years ago. He, too, has received a Kuwaiti grant to help rebuild his home.

The reconstruction has been stymied by Israeli policies. Work on the roof has not yet been completed because he has not been able to secure an adequate supply of cement.

“For about two months now, cement has been scarce on the local market,” al-Jamal said. “Even after the latest shipments of cement to Gaza, it is still scarce.”

Akram Hasanain, a father of four, lived in a three-story house in Shujaiya before Israel destroyed it in 2014.

For a year after the attack, he and his family lived in a rented accommodation. Then they moved into a mobile home placed on land belonging to his father-in-law in Shujaiya. The shelter was provided by Qatar.

Hasanain said that he “could not bear” the cold in the dwelling last winter. After leaving the mobile home, he managed to get another grant from Qatar to build a one-story home, also in Shujaiya.

Hasanain used to live with several generations of his family.

His father, Farouq, and one of his brothers, Muhammad, live with him in the one-story home. His other siblings have had to find shelter in different parts of Gaza. “We only see each other on special occasions,” Akram said.

“I wonder how long we will remain scattered,” he said. “Only God knows.”

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