Israel opens the border: Gaza is building again

As of: 31.10.2021 02:47 a.m.

Five months after the heavy fighting with Hamas, Israel is again allowing deliveries of construction materials to the Gaza Strip. But the reconstruction is only progressing with difficulty. It’s not just because of the money.

By Jan-Christoph Kitzler, ARD-Studio Tel Aviv

The border in Kerem Shalom between Israel and the Gaza Strip was closed for months. Now the trucks are rolling again. There are 400 to 500 a day, say the people here. Fruit and vegetables, cattle, building materials – everything from Israel.

The responsible government representative does not want to give his name. But he does answer a few questions. “After the war, the border crossing was closed. Israel has opened in the last few days. But what comes in here does not meet the demand,” he says.

UN aid through border opening for goods possible

You know best if this statement is true at UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East. The UN organization has been the largest employer in the Gaza Strip for years, taking care of schools and the health system. 70 percent of the population here are considered refugees – UNRWA distributes 600 tons of food every day.

The misery in the Gaza Strip is also so great, says Thomas White, the director in Gaza, because the Gaza Strip is economically largely cut off from the outside world. After all, Israel now lets goods in. “In the last few weeks the restrictions that existed have been relaxed. Now there is a lot more goods than before, especially building materials,” reports White. “There was always the argument that this would be used by militant groups in Gaza to build tunnels. In fact, people need this to rebuild houses. And for us that now means that we can help people to find themselves help.”

Thousands of homes destroyed or damaged in May

Cement, steel and wood are currently arriving relatively unhindered. The numbers of houses and apartments destroyed in May when Hamas rocketed targets in Israel for 11 days and the Israeli air force responded by attacking the Gaza Strip vary, depending on who you ask. At UNRWA, they assume that there are more than 1,300 apartments that have since become uninhabitable. In addition, there are more than 7000 damaged accommodations.

The numbers Mohamed Abbood has are higher. He works as a senior executive for the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure. And while UNRWA has started paying private individuals money to rebuild their homes, Mohamed Abood’s ministry is worried about infrastructure.

He is not making any real headway. Because the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, is also dependent on international financial transactions. “How does the money get to Gaza, and also the goods? I hope that something will change in the coming weeks,” says Abood. “We have the experience. Money and goods just have to get in here easily. We have workers and engineers who can rebuild Gaza without any problems, God willing. Just give me the money.”

Debris disappeared quickly after the war

There is little left of rubble in Gaza – it was quickly removed after the war in May. Also because Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the EU, among other things, wanted to present itself as the winner. The destruction didn’t fit into the picture.

Because you can now buy building materials from Israel and Egypt like on a free market, Zaed Zidija has also started again: He is building a six-story house in Gaza City. Very few will be able to afford the 24 apartments that are being built here. The construction site stood idle for four months. Now the business is running again. “Building was difficult before – due to a lack of material. Since the Israelis eased the blockade, more building materials have come in,” says Zidija. “The construction industry is rolling in. But the difficulty now is: There are no buyers. Because the people’s economic situation is not good.”

Because there is no work, hardly any exports and only very limited external relations, the majority of the people in the Gaza Strip cannot support themselves – and the trend is rising. Prior to 2007, when Israel cordoned off the area, the United Nations was providing food to around 100,000 people every day. Today there are 1.1 million who depend on this aid every day. So rebuilding is just one of the problems people have here.

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