Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

It's Tents for Most Homeless Families in Gaza, Prefabricated Huts for the Lucky Few

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

It's Tents for Most Homeless Families in Gaza, Prefabricated Huts for the Lucky Few

Article excerpt

DESPITE THE parade of various international diplomats and aid workers surveying the destruction in Gaza, virtually nothing has changed since Israel ended in January its Operation Cast Lead assault-peversely named after a line in a children's Hannukah poem. Israel launched its assault on Dec. 27, 2008, during the Jewish religious festival.

Homeless families are distressed at the lack of progress in providing adequate and safe shelter, despite pledges made by international donors at a conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in early March.

"I am glad to be one of the first people in Gaza to receive a prefabricated hut," said Issa Hamouda, who lives in Gaza's densely crowded Jabalya refugee camp.

The 57-year-old Hamouda gestures toward some of his 20 children and grandchildren standing next to the rubble of what used to be their family home, where they would wake up every morning. "It's only the size of one room," he said of their new dwelling, it's better than nothing."

The prefabricated hut stands next to the rubble of his demolished house. "Each time I pass this tent and prefabricated hut," Hamouda added, "it's a symbol to remind us of the last offensive against us."

Unfortunately, the tent and adjacent shanty hut his family has been forced to live in since January will not be coming down anytime soon.

Despite more than $4.5 billion in pledges made at the international donors' conference to help rebuild the Gaza Strip, nothing seems to be getting through to Gaza so far. According to a senior official in Gaza's de facto government, who noted that no funds have yet been received from donor nations, "There have been no serious attempts, by all sides, to plan the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip."

In the weeks following the Israeli assault, aid groups set up tent camps in the hardest hit areas, but the prefabricated shelters did not arrive until June, when the Hamas-led government in Gaza began distributing 192 structures supplied by Turkey. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) plans to supply an additional 1,200 prefabricated units in the coming weeks or months, according to Palestinian sources in Gaza.

The 40-foot-square pre-fabricated huts in which fewer than 200 families currently are living have no toilet, washroom, kitchen or private facilities. Indeed, they are little more than a simple tool shed. Yet, in Gaza, five months after Israel halted its attack, it passes for a home.

There are some Gazans who are not reduced to living in tents or huts: they are crammed into the homes of relatives and friends, or renting an apartment if an available one can be found. The latter, however, is a luxury most Gazans cannot afford.

Asked about the international pledges to rebuild Gaza, Hamouda replied, "These donor countries should first work to end the occupation, instead of offering to pay the cost of the occupation. If you want to give me dinner, don't just give me a fish, but teach me how and let me fish. We don't want to be dependent on other countries' donations."

Gaza has an abundance of human resources, including many workers and professionals, he added. "We could live much better just off our available resources," Hamouda said, "with open borders and no more occupation controlling our lives."

Israel's 22-day attack on Gaza killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. Thousands more-the majority civilians-were injured. …

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