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Gaza rebuilds

Kate Shuttleworth, Gaza
August 27, 2014

Gaza City awoke on Wednesday after a night of celebrations marking the truce with Israel to a stark reminder of the damage left behind by the seven-week war. Now Gazans hope to get on with rebuilding their lives.

Image: DW/K. Shuttleworth

"My car is beneath this rubble and all my sources of income are gone - my beehives from the roof and the rabbits I was raising - they're all gone," said Abrahim Mohammed Kafarma, whose five-storey home in Beit Hanoun was destroyed by an Israeli F16 airstrike during the conflict.

He pointed to remnants of roughly painted white wooden boxes and metal tray inserts twisted and lying wrecked among the rubble of his home. His home and income were destroyed during the seven-week operation carried out by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

His family spent 40 days in United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA)-run schools that had been turned into shelters in central Gaza and he said would remain there until he could find somewhere else to rent.

"When we left our houses were still standing, we left because they were shelling us from all directions." Kafarma and his family plan to wait to find out if international financial aid will pass through humanitarian organisations in Gaza to pay the rent of homeless families like his. "The ceasefire is good news, I hope that I will be able to rebuild,” he said."We will see what the government or UNWRA are going to do for us, we have to stay at the school until we find a dwelling."

Worse than prison

Life in the shelters is worse than in a prison cell according to Kafarma. "Even prison cells have less people than these shelters," he said.

On Wednesday in Beit Hanoun, a steady procession of cars - rooftops loaded with mattresses and the few possessions people were able to grab when they fled their homes - made their way back into the town.

United Nations Development Programme special representative Frode Mauring was visiting Beit Hanoun to assess the damage.

"We will be part of a recovery to make Gaza a livable place," he said as he pointed to a house behind him reduced to rubble that used to belong to a colleague of his.

children copyright: Kate Shuttleworth
Putting on a brave faceImage: DW/K. Shuttleworth

Confronting the magnitude

Some 16,000 houses have either been totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair and another 58,000 are damaged. "The biggest challenge is the magnitude, it's an enormous task to reconstruct Gaza. It's a big challenge to bring building materials to Gaza," Mauring said.

Suad Okasha is another Gazan who has felt the full brunt of the 50-day-long war. She lost her two sons, 21- and 23-years old, and was standing in the doorway of what was left of her home when DW visited the region.

"I hope things will get better for us and this ceasefire holds," she said sadly.

Just a few kilometers away from the Israeli town of Sderot, Beit Hanoun was one of the towns hardest hit by the Israeli attacks. Subhiya Abu Ouda and her three sons, Emad, 43, Nehad 41 and Mohammed, 31 and their children were outside their apartment building that houses six families and 52 people.

A shell came directly through the roof near the top floor of the building in the kitchen and caused a gas bottle to explode resulting in further fire damage inside.

boy sleeping copyright: Kate Shuttleworth
A window to better times?Image: DW/K. Shuttleworth

Despite the destruction inside their home they say they can still live on the lower floor, even though there are gaping holes in the walls. And it appears that they haven't lost their - albeit dark - sense of humor: One of the boys sleeps on the top floor with a blown-out wall next to him giving him a full and unobscured view of Israel.

More of the same?

The family says the ceasefire is no real success for them - merely a return to what was agreed to in the truce after "Operation Pillar of Defense" in 2012, an eight-day Israeli campaign against Hamas militants.

"So far we haven't seen anything - we will wait to see if the border crossings and a seaport open," said Emad. "We went through all of this just to get the old agreement; it's useless. Israel will always violate all agreements."

On one level the ceasefire is a welcome relief for Palestinians in Gaza who are mourning over 2,000 fatalities, but only the coming months will determine whether conditions for them improve.

Under the ceasefire agreement brokered on Tuesday, a commitment was made to address the idea of building a formal seaport and an airport. The deal also envisions an immediate easing of Israel's blockade of crossings into Gaza, and a gradual lifting of restrictions on fishing off the Gaza Strip coast.

Restrictions are also to be eased on five border crossings, including the Rafah crossing with Egypt which would allow vital humanitarian aid Gaza and building materials into Gaza so that reconstruction can begin. Should the truce hold, the next step under the Egyptian-brokered agreement would be holding informal talks within a month. As past experiences have shown, a lot can happen between now and then.

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