‘Can’t feel optimistic’: Gaza Palestinians struggle after Israeli offensive

Gaza Palestinians say the reconstruction process of the besieged enclave has been on hold after Israel’s latest offensive destroyed the Strip’s infrastructure.

People pass by the rubble left after Israel's May attack on the centre of Gaza City [Hossam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Gaza City – For four months since it was bombed, Ahmad Alzaem has avoided passing by the levelled Al-Jawhara Tower in Gaza City.

As one of the tower’s owners, Alzaem lived at Al-Jawhara for 14 years, until it was bombed by Israeli forces during the latest 11-day offensive on Gaza last May.

“The building was bombed with more than five missiles. The bases were totally destroyed and it is impossible, according to local experts, for it to be repaired or restored,” Alzaem told Al Jazeera.

“I lived there with my family of six. My store was also in the same building. After the bombing, I lost everything,” said the father of four.

Alzaem is now unemployed and lives with his family in a rented apartment.

“My life has completely stopped since the offensive. My father and my brother lost their apartments. We lost our sole source of income. What happened is a financial and social catastrophe,” he told Al Jazeera.

According to Alzaem, about 1,000 people worked in businesses, media offices, and clinics set up at the building. Many were left jobless after the Israeli offensive.

Earlier this month, truckloads of construction materials were allowed into the ravaged Gaza Strip after hundreds of Palestinians protested along the border fence with Israel to pressure it into lifting its siege and allow the reconstruction of the enclave.

But Alzaem said all he received so far was a rental allowance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and a damage inventory from the ministry of public works.

“No reconstruction plans or compensation have been offered until now. We’ve heard many statements about aid or reconstruction, but nothing’s happened,” Alzaem said. “I’ve lost hope.”

‘Can’t feel optimistic’

The Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in May killed more than 260 Palestinians, including 66 children. In Israel, 13 people died.

More than 4,000 Gaza homes were destroyed or damaged. Some 74 public buildings, including local municipalities, were also destroyed, with losses estimated by the World Bank at up to $380m.

Like Alzaem, Nael Mushtaha, 41, the owner of the Aladnan building which was also targeted by Israeli attacks during the 11-day offensive on Gaza, has been traumatised.

“One of the most horrible nights in my life. Israeli warplanes bombed two buildings that were very close to ours. We rushed out in the early morning hours as the bombing continued,” he said. “None of us could believe we survived.”

The construction of Mushtaha’s six-storey building was completed in 2018. He moved into it with his family in 2019.

“It was my dream home,” he told Al Jazeera. “We lived there less than three years, then everything was destroyed.”

Israeli bombs during the relentless offensive left massive damage on Mushtaha’s building and caused it to start tilting.

“We’ve lost any hope of repairing the damages,” said Mushtaha, explaining that experts have advised it be demolished immediately to avoid danger.

Watching the bulldozers demolish his building, Mushtaha recounted to Al Jazeera his long journey to build his home in Gaza.

“It took me around two years to finish building it. Construction materials are very expensive in Gaza because of the siege. Sometimes, they’re banned altogether,” he explained.

“There were restrictions at every step. And once we finished it, it was bombed,” he said.

‘Legal prosecution and accusations’

Qatar and Egypt have promised funds to support Gaza’s reconstruction. Having already pumped more than $1bn into Gaza projects since 2014, Qatar pledged another $500m in late May.

Last Monday, envoy Mohammed al-Emadi announced that Qatari stipends for civil servants and poor families, suspended since May, would resume in the coming days with a new mechanism involving the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

But on Friday, al-Emadi said the PA had withdrawn from the agreement “due to fears of legal prosecution and accusations that banks were supporting terrorism”. Hamas is considered a “terrorist” group by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom and other powers.

Mushtaha said a lot of the promises to reconstruct the Gaza Strip were empty. “We always hear but don’t see anything,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to what he perceived as empty words.

“We can’t believe any promises for aid or reconstruction.”

Mohammed Alghefari, whose ceramic company in Gaza was bombed during the latest Israeli offensive, said it was not the first time his company was targeted by Israeli warplanes.

“Throughout the past wars of 2009, 2012 and 2014, my company’s stores were hugely affected by the Israeli bombing. But this time was the most destructive,” Alghefari told Al Jazeera.

“On the second day of the offensive, we received a call informing us that our stores north of Gaza were on fire. But we couldn’t reach the area, because of the heavy bombing. After the offensive ended, we went to see what happened, but everything was gone. Total destruction.”

‘Huge loss’

“This was a huge loss,” said Alghefari, explaining his father had set up the family business in 1979.

He explained many commercial facilities in Gaza have been targeted by Israeli fire during previous wars as well.

“But no one sheds light on our losses,” he said. “We are already suffering to get goods into Gaza because of restrictions, the siege and continuous closures.”

Commenting on Qatar’s promise to provide aid for Gaza reconstruction, Alghefari said, while many businessmen were not compensated for their losses in the past, he still hoped this agreement would bring some respite.

“We’re only trying to make a living. We have nothing to do with politics,” he said.

Urgent intervention

Omar Shaban, a Gaza-based political and economic analyst, said despite there being a slight change in the Israeli government’s position regarding the Gaza Strip, things looked bleak.

“There is constant talk about efforts being made to facilitate conditions in the Gaza Strip, but on the ground there no actions,” said Shaban, as he explained reconstruction was at a standstill because of a lack of funding from donor countries.

“There have been talks about reconstruction from Qatar and Kuwait, but nothing has been implemented,” he added.

“The reconstruction process is necessary to drive the economy after many commercial facilities were destroyed,” said Shaban. “Poverty and unemployment are on the rise, and the situation is very very difficult.

“Gaza needs urgent external intervention,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera