First Gaza refugee home rebuilt since 2014 Israeli war

Much of Gaza still lays in ruins as more than 9,000 completely destroyed Palestinian refugee homes need reconstruction.

Palestinian labourers work at the construction site of a house, that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer
More than 13,000 Palestinian refugee families still cannot return to their destroyed or damaged homes in the Gaza Strip [Reuters]

Gaza City – The first of more than 9,000 “completely destroyed” Palestinian refugee homes during Israel’s 51-day war in the besieged Gaza Strip has been rebuilt, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). 

“I held the new keys in my hand; at that moment, I felt relieved and happy, and I wanted to give the keys to my wife and show her the house and everything in it,” Atef al-Zaza, father of 12 from al-Shaaf neighbourhood in Gaza City, said in the press release.

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Starting in July 2014 and spanning seven weeks, Israeli forces attacked Gaza from land, air and sea. Palestinian armed factions fired rockets into southern Israel and carried out cross-border raids.

Razed homes blanketed the map of Gaza.  

According to UNRWA, at least 140,190 refugee homes were “impacted” by the fighting. 

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The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) verified the deaths of 2,131 Palestinians – among them 1,473 civilians, 501 of whom were children. 

On the other hand, 66 Israeli soldiers and four civilians were killed. 

Already blockaded by Israel since Hamas took control of the strip in 2007, Gaza has been hit by three major Israeli attacks since 2008.

Many homes destroyed during the first war – Operation Cast Lead – have yet to be rebuilt due to Israel’s strict regulations.

Slow reconstruction

Reconstruction, however, moved at a snail’s pace, leaving tens of thousands of Palestinians displaced. 

It was not until nearly a year after the ceasefire, in June 2015, that an agreement was reached between Israel and Palestinian leaders streamline the reconstruction of residential structures that were entirely flattened.

Known as the Residential Stream of the Gaza Reconstruction Movement, the agreement allows for an increase in the amount of materials into Gaza for totally demolished homes. 

“Now there are many houses under construction, everywhere you go,” Ahmed Yousef, the head of Gaza-based think-tank House of Wisdom and former senior adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, told Al Jazeera. 

According to Yousef, an agreement between Israel, Qatar and the international community are the driving forces behind rebuilding.

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“It has nothing to do with their goodwill. There is a world pressure on the Israelis to allow reconstruction materials through,” Yousef said.

Adar Horn, the spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, told Al Jazeera that Israel is “increasing” the number of truckloads of reconstruction supplies.

“The average is about 800 trucks a day, last October, it was around 250 trucks each day,” she continued. “More than 2,200 million tonnes of reconstruction materials have been allowed to enter Gaza.”

‘Only one home’

Though materials are passing more quickly, much of Gaza still lays in ruins. 

“Delighted as we are for the Zaza family, the fact that just one totally destroyed house has been rebuilt in the 13 months since the Gaza conflict ended is a sad commentary in and of itself,” UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness told Al Jazeera.

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Gunness stressed that 13,166 refugee families – whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged –  remain displaced.

“We are being hampered in our mission to restore dignity to the people of Gaza by the lack of funds as well as the physical restrictions. We need money, but we also need complete freedom of access and we need it immediately.”

Follow Creede on Twitter: @creedenewton

Source: Al Jazeera