Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Disaster zone

With a quarter of Gaza’s population displaced and massive destruction of civilian infrastructure, Israel has rendered the area unliveable, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza City

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“In the light of the destruction and the immeasurable suffering, I decided to declare the Gaza sector a disaster area,” President Mahmoud Abbas said in a message to Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general.

“I call upon you to assume your responsibility in the manner stated in the UN Charter … urging you to take all the necessary and available measures to meet the urgent needs of this dear part of our homeland, Palestine,” the president added.

One month into the Israeli offensive, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble.

In his message, the Palestinian president asked the UN to provide safe havens for the displaced and to send food, drinking water and medicine to the beleaguered inhabitants.

The occupation army targeted residential homes, power stations, and water facilities, turning life into hell in an enclave that almost 1.8 million people call home. Nearly one out of four Gaza inhabitants has moved into UN shelters, schools, government buildings, or the homes of relatives.

Islam Abdou, director of information in the Gaza Ministry of Prisoners, said that the wide-scale destruction was Israel’s version of collective punishment.

“The occupation authorities want to bring Gaza to its knees. They want to cripple Gaza so that it cannot confront their brutal aggression, which destroyed everything, including people, trees, and stones,” he said.

“Israel is destroying power stations, water wells, water purification facilities, and sewage stations in an attempt to change the mindset of the Palestinians, to intimidate them and frighten them, to turn them against the resistance, to make them blame the resistance for the destruction and horror inflicted upon them,” Abdou added.

The damage caused to the infrastructure in Gaza may take years to repair. So far two water purification stations, city water tanks, a sewage station, and a power plant have been totally destroyed.

Israel has imposed a sea, land and air blockade on Gaza since Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006. It tightened the siege after Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007.

Gaza’s entire coastal stretch sinks into total darkness after sundown, due to the lack of electricity. Because water and sewage facilities operate on electricity, the inhabitants in this heavily populated area, many of whom live in multi-story buildings, no longer have access to ordinary hygiene.

Gaza officials say that the supply of electricity is down to 10 per cent of its normal level, and that eight out of 10 electricity lines in the Strip have been cut off.

Israel bombarded the Gaza power station for the first time in 2006, after the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Since then Gaza has suffered from acute power shortages. Even before the recent offensive, Gaza inhabitants were used to enduring power cuts for up to eight hours a day.

Many now use gasoline-operated generators to power car batteries and use these for providing light.

Abdallah Mahmoud, a teacher, said that his family uses a power generator for five hours a day, and then plugs in a UPS battery that can keep the lights and the television working for 10 hours or so.

“We are sick of this situation. The blockade must be lifted and the suffering must end. We need electricity 24 hours a day, like the rest of the world,” Mahmoud said.

Gaza needs about 360 megawatts of electricity, but can rely only on 24 megawatts at present, delivered to the Strip through two power lines from Israel.

Because of the lack of electricity, Gaza inhabitants haven’t been able to fill up the water tanks atop their apartment buildings. Nearly 70 per cent of the Strip’s water wells have been either damaged in the shelling, rendered unreachable because of rubble, or cannot be operated because of fuel shortages.

Munzir Shiblaq, director the coastal water facilities, warned of a humanitarian crisis unless water stations and lines are repaired.

“Gaza is a disaster area, for the war has paralysed all services …we need the war to stop so we can repair the damaged facilities,” he said.

According to Shiblaq, some areas in Gaza have been without water for weeks. And there are homes that have been flooded with sewage.

Mufid Al-Husayna, minister of housing and public works, estimated the damage to infrastructure in the beleaguered Strip at $5 billion.

“This figure is likely to rise as the aggression continues and as more destruction is reported. There are 10,000 homes that have been destroyed completely, and 30,000 more that have received partial damage,” he said.

According to Al-Husayna, the worst hit areas are Al-Shejaiya in eastern Gaza, Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the Strip, and Khozaah and Absan to the east of Khan Younis in the south.

“When the ministry teams went to Al-Shejaiya, a neighbourhood of 110,000 people, they were shocked. Nearly 60 per cent of the homes were totally destroyed, especially those close to the eastern line [near the borders with Israel],” he said.

A report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said that the areas close to the Strip’s borders were “damaged as if by an earthquake”.

According to the PCHR, the entire town of Khozaah and the neighbourhood of Al-Farahin in Absan were no longer fit for living.

The PCHR report noted the “systemic destruction of infrastructure” and “odour of dead bodies” lying under the rubble.

“The occupation destroyed the local government offices, police headquarters, national security offices … It destroyed the computer facilities for civil registration services. These will cost no less than $300 million to rebuild,” Al-Husayna said.

He added that the occupation army shelled more than 140 mosques, 60 of which were completely destroyed.

“Just to rebuild the fuel tank in the power station will cost us $25 million,” Al-Husayna remarked.

Nearly half a million people have fled their homes since Israel started its offensive. Many now live in temporary shelters run by the UN.

According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), nearly 270,000 Palestinians now live in 90 schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

“Nearly 3,000 displaced people live in each school shelter, though the space shouldn’t accommodate more than 500 people at most,” said the OCHA report, which was released Monday.

A total of 485,000 displaced people now live in various facilities or with host families, the UN report added.

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, nearly 1,865 people were killed by late Monday, with many more injured.

During its offensive, Israel hit six schools run by UNRWA and used as temporary shelters.

In an attack on Sunday, an Israeli shell landed in front of a shelter in Rafah killing nine, including five children.

“This was the seventh crime of its type against shelters of this kind,” said the PCHR.

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