Ashraf Azzam, 33, stands in the ruins of his house in Zeitoun Area, Eastern Gaza City, destroyed in an Israeli bombing attack two months ago.
“Everything went so fast. In the beginning, a warning rocket fell on our house and adjacent houses as well; we rushed out of the house, running for safety - we didn’t have the time to think,” he told IRIN.
“The Israeli attack targeted a nearby house in front of ours - it was like an earthquake, everything was shaking; dust and smoke were all over the place with devastating consequences,” he said.
In the morning light, they discovered their house had been destroyed. No one from the family was injured though some of their neighbours had been killed.
For now, Ashraf’s extended family (15 members including his mother, married brothers and their children) are dispersed, living in rented apartments.
During November’s eight-day escalation in the conflict, Israeli’s bombardment of targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks from militants in Gaza destroyed an estimated 200 residential units, severely damaged 300, and partially damaged 8,000, according to the housing and public works minister in Gaza, Yousif Al Ghraiz.
Rebuilding work is already under way but, with repeated cycles of violence, post-conflict reconstruction is not always permanent.
Ashraf’s uncle, Mohammed, 61, lives nearby and saw his house damaged in the same rocket attack. This was not the first time he had seen such a thing. His family’s home in Gaza City had been completely destroyed in the 23-day 2008-09 conflict and rebuilding only finished a few months ago.
“[We] didn’t expect this to happen again. This time it destroyed not only my house, but also another building, which was my main source of income, where I rented apartments.”
“We are going to stay here, and we will rebuild our house again. Of course, we have concerns about the house and the area being targeted again, but should that stop us from restoring our lives? The answer is absolutely not, because we have the will to do this,” he said.
Al Ghraiz said the Gaza administration has rebuilt 2,800 of the 3,500 residential units destroyed in the 2008-9 conflict, with reconstruction on the remaining 700 under way.
Assessments and rebuilding
Teams from the public works ministry, local municipalities and the UN are carrying out damage assessment visits throughout the Gaza Strip after November’s attack.
Many of the streets are still filled with rubble, but some are being cleared and Palestinians are doing what they can to recycle the debris by selling it on to local quarries and stone-crushing companies who can extract gravel and construction aggregate.
This can act as a substitute for regular construction materials which are in short supply or banned as a result of the 2007 economic sanctions imposed by Israel.
In a recent publication, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said Gaza has been deprived of development as a result of the blockade: “As a result, development and reconstruction needs in the Strip are enormous: from governance and livelihoods to environment and infrastructure.”
Four weeks ago, in the aftermath of the ceasefire discussions, Israel gave permission for gravel to enter Gaza for private sector use for the first time in six years. But the amounts imported are still very small and much of the material goes to international construction projects, according to the Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement (Gisha).
Before the Israeli blockade was imposed in 2007 there were roughly 150 trucks of gravel entering Gaza daily for the private sector, according to Ra’ed Fattouh, chairman of the coordination committee for the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip.
“Of course, we have concerns about the house and the area being targeted again, but should that stop us from restoring our lives? The answer is absolutely not, because we have the will to do this”, Mohammed, Gaza resident
For the last three weeks, crossings have averaged 100 trucks (800 tons) a week, while iron and cement are still banned from entry, Fattouh said.
Osama Kuhail, the head of the Palestinian Contractors’ Union, says these quantities are insufficient, and that Gaza’s construction sector needs about 200 trucks of gravel daily.
"There are many projects that can be implemented if materials are available. We can start real estate investment projects and large housing projects for low-income people. The ban on materials for the private sector has a severe influence on housing projects,” he added.
Gravel crossing via Kerem Shalom costs about US$23 per ton, he said, compared to $29 per ton for gravel smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt, or $12 via the official crossing with Egypt at Rafah (when permitted).
The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) is currently studying Ministry of Housing assessments of damage and the consequences of the recent Israeli attacks, including damaged and destroyed homes.
Refa’t Diyab, coordinator of the IDB and Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) programme for reconstruction in Gaza, told IRIN: "After the last war, the Arabian Gulf States’ aid focused on housing because of its significance in the lives of Palestinians, especially with the huge number of houses demolished or damaged during the war."
With funding from the Gulf States, IDB has invested $76 million in housing projects since the 2008-09 conflict and has a $43 million housing project starting soon, Diyab said.
Qatar is funding 3,000 new housing units for low-income and poor people, as part of a grant of more than $400 million to fund infrastructure and public services’ projects, according to Al Graiz.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for its part recently completed the first phase of a Saudi-funded housing project, which is dedicated to the refugee families who lost their houses in the early 2000s in Israeli incursions and attacks, especially in the southern Gaza Strip.
UNRWA is also working on housing projects with funding from the United Arab Emirates and Japan, and after the 2008-09 conflict supported around 55,000 families who had lost their homes. Around 1,000 families are still without permanent homes.
A recent UN report said there is a shortage of 70,000 homes in Gaza.