After The Bombs Stop Falling, Gaza Struggles to Rebuild

Issue 265

Children orphaned, jobs lost, trees uprooted and tens of millions of dollars in losses.

Wafaa Aludaini Jul 23, 2021

For 11 days in May, Israeli warplanes streaked over the Gaza Strip, reigning death and destruction on the people of this small coastal patch of land and sparking worldwide protests. The United Nations say more than 260 Palestinians, including 69 children, were killed and more than 70,000 displaced in a one-sided military battle the Israelis compare to “mowing the lawn.”

What happens after a ceasefire goes into effect and mainstream media moves on to the next eye-grabbing international crisis? 

Here in Gaza more than two months after the ceasefire, the desolation of war is felt everywhere. Thousands of Gazans have been displaced. Some have moved in with relatives. Others have erected tents atop the rubble of their destroyed homes. Children wake up from nightmares. Adults remember those they rescued and those they could not. Businessmen wonder how they will rebuild their enterprises. Drinking water, saltier and more polluted than before, is in short supply. 

The initial material losses in Gaza amounted to tens of millions of dollars and 75,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes.

Sitting in her partially wrecked cottage north of Gaza City, four-year-old Hala Alattar recalls the night when she and her family fled from their house barefooted when Israeli bombs landed nearby. “My daughter wakes me up regularly at night screaming for me to protect her from the warplanes that are above her sky,” says Hala’s mother

Six-year-old Suzy Ishkuntana appeared from under the rubble covered in dust after Israeli warplanes bombed her home on Al-Wihda St. in a before-dawn attack. Her mother and four siblings were killed in the blast. Her father, who had left the house to buy snacks for his children, was killed by the same airstrike while on his way home.

Orphaned, Suzy won’t speak to anybody but her grandparents. “She described seeing her little brothers and sisters covered in blood calling out for their father and their mother to save them until their voices faded away,” said her grandmother, who says Suzy now barely speaks or eats and continually asks for her mother. “When she asks, I tell her that your mother and siblings are in paradise, and she says, ‘I want to die to be with them’.”

Psychologist Inas Al-Khatib says that the loss of parents and the destruction of their homes are among the most traumatic experiences a child can suffer. “Common symptomatic behaviours that appear in children following trauma include involuntary urination, loss of appetite, and unwillingness to speak, as well as violent outbursts and screaming,” says Al-Khatib. She adds that mental health care services in Gaza are insufficient to deal with the extent of the problems suffered by those who have survived the war.

Paramedic Mahmoud Hamed recalls a man and his mother, hidden under the rubble, screaming for him to remove the detritus trapping their bodies. After eventually managing to do so, he watched as more paramedics extracted first the mother, then her son.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the initial material losses in Gaza amounted to tens of millions of dollars and 75,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes, of whom over 28,700 sought refuge in UNRWA schools. The bombing of Gaza caused over $40 million in damages to factories and the industrial sector of the Gaza Strip. In addition, the energy sector faces damages amounting to $22 million. Gaza’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates damages of about $27 million, including the destruction of agricultural lands.

Almond trees grew so well in Palestine that when asked how they are doing, locals would reply by saying “almond!” — a sign of goodness, health, greatness. No longer. Now, only 800 dunams (0.8 square kilometres worth) are cultivated. Deir AlBalah, a town in the middle of the Gaza Strip was once a terrain dotted with almond trees but now is a site of barren land.

Engineer Ramadan Al-Najili lost his home and company which he owned in the Khalil Building in Gaza City, which was flattened by 4 Israeli air strikes. “We survived the aggression; we only have the clothes on our backs now,” Al-Najili said. “I spent years in a small printing company until my dreams came true, but it was destroyed in seconds by the Israeli occupation’s hatred.”

The Vice President of the Federation of Industries, Ali Al-Hayek, said that the industrial sector in Gaza incurred direct and indirect losses estimated at $1.2 billion since 2000, well before this most recent attack, due to policies of neglect and the Israeli siege, as well as repeated aggressions on the blockaded coastal enclave. According to Al-Hayek, the industrial sector is on the brink of collapse. The vast majority of factories are forced to close their doors due to destruction and lack of compensation. Other factories have plunged their owners into debt, which has led them to borrow from banks. In some instances, failure to repay loans has led to debtors’ imprisonment.

“Whenever there is a war in Gaza, it sets us back 20 years. Whenever we try to improve the economy, they destroy it,” Gazan Mr. Abul Ouf told The Times.

Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour.

The head of the Federation of Metallurgical and Engineering Industries, Muhammad Al-Mansi, said that the occupation utterly destroyed the economic infrastructure during the last aggression. The Federation is conducting a census of what the airstrikes destroyed through specialized committees in partnership with the Ministry of Economy, evaluating damage to stores, machinery, equipment, raw materials and products. “We have not yet finished evaluating the damages that have so far reached tens of millions of dollars,” said Al-Mansi.

“More than 20 factories were completely destroyed. The Industrial State is supposed to be a protected area, according to international law. The occupation targeted the factories without warning and the equipment was not extracted for its protection,” he said.

In press statements, he noted that 3,000 factory workers were laid off as a result of the bombings and the suspension of industrial work. Al-Mansi further indicated that Gaza’s besieged industry “has not received any aid from anyone. Workers have not received any assistance, which increases their suffering.” According to Al-Mansi, since 2014, when Israeli bombings killed 2,251 Palestinian people (67 Israelis were killed by Palestinian forces), the Gaza industrial sector has received only 10% of the damage rate of their factories for reconstruction.

A town in the middle of the Gaza Strip was once a terrain dotted with almond trees but is now a site of barren land.

Sitting on the ruin of what was his livelihood, Munir Awwad, the manager of Abu Iskandar Factory, said, “At least 20 employees, working for long years in our factory, lost their jobs after it was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.” Abu Iskandar Factory manufactured nylon, plastic, and packaging materials. The factory had been in Deir al-Blaha City but they relocated to an area called Industrial Estate, east of Gaza City, just a few days before the bombing, believing the industrial area to be safer. “We transferred our materials here less than a month ago … But then the Occupation bombed several factories in the area, proving there is no safe place across all of Gaza.”

The water supply, too, is feebler and less potable than before the May air raids. The risk of transmission of infectious diseases has increased. It’s summer’s peak and people are having to drink less water and forgo showering. And the overwhelming majority of Gazans can not afford to buy bottled drinking water.

The authorities in the Strip cannot repair the damage caused by the bombing of the water and sewage networks because the occupation authorities have prevented the entry of spare parts and building materials necessary for repairs. 

Israel allows food products and medicines to enter Gaza but pipes, pumps, plugs, control panels, pipe closures, and thousands of other parts are barred by the Israelis because of their alleged military uses. For decades, there has been excessive pumping in the aquifer section of the Strip due to its high population. More than 95 per cent of its water is not fit for drinking. 

Since the end-of-May ceasefire, Israel has air-raided Gaza three times in response to alleged dropping of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip towards the surrounding Israeli settlements. The status quo, closing of borders and preventing reconstruction materials and the reconstruction suggest that Israel’s stranglehold over the lives of 1.3 million Gazans is nowhere near over. 

A note from the author: According to the UN, Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. Here we are in 2021 and Israel hit us with the world’s most advanced weapons, funded by the U.S. Every time I speak to those who lost their loved ones or lost their homes or livelihood, I become more and more inspired by these people, people who deserve freedom. They show their desire to move forward in this life despite the destruction and the pain that the occupation causes.

Wafaa Aludaini is a Gaza-based journalist and activist who has lived in the Strip her whole life.

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