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Hopeless Gazans are still waiting for reconstruction

It was midday and the temperature was over 32oC as Rabah Abu-Shanab, 58, lay under the rubble of what once was his house in Al-Shuja’ia, the neighbourhood which was devastated the most during last summer’s Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip.

A year has passed since the attack, but nothing has changed in Abu-Shanab’s life. He and his extended family of 18 members are still homeless, have not received makeshift shelters, have no electricity and no drinking or running water.

“To this day, nothing has been done for me and my family,” he said. “Even the rubble of my house has not been removed… I asked the electricity company to install only one street light in the whole area, they promised, but did not fulfil that promise.”

Abu-Shanab, who has been unemployed for 13 years, said that he had received only one six-month payment to cover rent for an apartment. He used the money to buy some basic household appliances and other essential goods to equip what he called a “makeshift house”; I call it a very primitive tent.

Abu-Shanab is not alone

Isam Habib is 23; he has been working more than 12 hours a day just to afford the rent for a small apartment that he, his family and his father’s family are currently living in.

“My father was abroad when the war started,” Habib said. “When he came back he was shocked to see his house completely destroyed; he had a heart attack on the spot, which killed him.”

Habib said that all of the family then moved to his uncle’s house. “We lived there for about two months,” he explained, “but my uncle could not bear having 16 new family members living in his house, which is designed for a family of six.” He moved to the small rented apartment for which he is struggling to pay the rent.

Habib and Abu-Shanab are two out of around 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza who are still homeless. According to confirmed statistics, 19,075 homes were destroyed or made uninhabitable by Israeli bombing during the 2014 war. Several local and international organisations, including Oxfam, have said that none of these houses has been rebuilt.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which has an office in Gaza, “83,977 housing units are still waiting for repair assistance and people continue to live in homes that have gaping holes from the bombardment.” The NRC said that some homeless Gazans have built makeshift shelters, but it insisted that the tight Israeli restrictions on the movement of building material into the Gaza Strip would make the reconstruction take at least “half a century”.

No money for reconstruction

Less than two months after the end of the Israeli offensive that killed around 2,260 Palestinians and wounded 11,000 others, international donors held a conference in Egypt and pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza. Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, whose country called for the conference, announced that the pledges exceeded the $4 billion that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had asked for.

Last month, Adnan Abu-Hasna, spokesman of the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), told MEMO that the donors have not fulfilled their reconstruction pledges. He said that only $216 million of the money pledged has been paid to date. “It seems that the issue was not taken seriously by the donors,” he said. “A sum of $216 million out of $5.4 billion means no fulfilment.”

The people in Gaza feel desperate, he added, as no single house has been rebuilt. “More than 1,500 displaced refugees are still sheltering at UNRWA schools in different areas across the Gaza Strip.”

Abu-Hasna also blamed the siege as the “main reason” for the delay in rebuilding the beleaguered territory. “If the siege continues, Gaza will continue to suffer,” he explained.

People feel ‘hopeless’

While showing me around his makeshift home, Abu-Shanab said that he feels “hopeless” about the pledges of the donors and the promises of the Palestinian officials regarding the reconstruction of his house.

“We have been here [in his tent] for a year now,” he said, “and I have been hearing promises and pledges, but have seen nothing to this day.” Abu-Shanab hopes that the donors and the officials will eventually fulfil their pledges and promises. “We live here with rats, mice and insects,” he pointed out. “I want to end this and live again in an appropriate house.”

While standing on the rubble of his house, Habib also expressed his hope that his home will be rebuilt very soon so that he and his family can live in appropriate conditions.

At the end of last week, UNRWA’s Operations Director for Gaza, Robert Turner, said that the agency has only received funding for 200 homes. But he also said that the situation in Gaza would witness tangible measures regarding the reconstruction of the destroyed homes.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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