Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

No home to go back to

The destruction of neighbourhoods in Israel’s latest Gaza assault is sparking a health crisis as hundreds of thousands remain in overcrowded shelters, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Weeks of brutal shelling of the Gaza Strip has driven almost one quarter of the population out of their homes. Nearly half a million inhabitants are now staying in UN-run shelters or with other families. Many have lost their houses and all of their belongings, creating a humanitarian crisis that may last for years to come.

Palestinian officials say that up to 100,000 inhabitants now need new homes, their former residences having been destroyed in the recent hostilities.

Palestinian Minister of Economy Mohammad Mostafa said the government will try to provide homes for the displaced families, and will also work in close cooperation with the UN refugees agency, UNRWA, to erect prefab houses for the population.

“Committees are at work to estimate the scale of the damage and we expect to receive their reports over the weekend,” Mostafa said. “But from what we know so far, the damage has been unprecedented in several areas, especially Al-Shejayia, parts of Rafah, Beit Hanoun, and Khozaa.”

The war on Gaza left 2,016 dead and 10,193 wounded, according to recent figures. More than 10,000 homes were damaged, of which 1,700 are beyond repair, according to rights groups.

The overcrowded UN-run shelters are now facing a health crisis. Doctors report a high incidence of skin diseases, digestion problems, and respiratory issues. Nearly 400,000 people now live in such shelters.

Minister of Health Jawad Awwad said that the shelters lack adequate water and cleaning supplies, which contributes to poor hygiene. He added, “The medical teams have noticed above-average incidence of skin diseases, especially scabies.”

Ihab Kahil, 20, and his family took refuge in a school run by the UNRWA after the Israeli occupation army destroyed their home in Beit Hanoun.

“We are a family of 10 people, and we fled our house after receiving a message from the occupation army saying that they were about to shell it,” he said. “We left everything, including clothes and blankets. When we came back there was nothing left, only the rubble.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) last Saturday said over 200,000 inhabitants are now living in shelters run by UNRWA and other organisations. UNRWA is operating shelters in over 80 schools in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, OCHA said $68 million is urgently needed to pay the rent and daily expenses of the 17,000 families who were made homeless by Israeli attacks.

The World Food Programme and UNRWA are providing meals for families who fled their homes to the relative safety of UN-run shelters. Nearly 730,000 people, nearly 40 per cent of the total population, require food assistance.

A housing development called Abraj Al-Nada in Beit Hanoun was among the areas most affected by the shelling. Of the 26 large apartment buildings built 20 years ago, six were totally destroyed. The development is located near the Erez Crossing, which links Israel to Gaza.

Until a few weeks ago, Khalil Ibrahim, 35, who works for the Palestinian Authority (PA), was a resident of Abraj Al-Nada. Now he is a refugee.

“I used to live in one of the apartments in the Abraj. Now we lost everything. Our area was shelled by F-14 planes and artillery. So we had to take refuge in a school refitted as a shelter by UNRWA,” Ibrahim said.

“Most of the Abraj inhabitants are [Palestinian Authority] PA officials. Three-quarters of us have no relation whatsoever with the [armed] organisations. But the occupation makes no distinction between Fatah or Hamas or ordinary people. We are all targets,” he added.

Ibrahim called on the Palestinian government of national reconciliation to rebuild the housing development and help the displaced until they can return home. “The government must support us and not let us turn into beggars,” Ibrahim said.

In the Al-Shifa medical complex in western Gaza, the largest hospital in the area, the scene is chaotic. Hundreds of families who fled the shelling of Al-Shejayia have taken shelter there. Nearly 100 people died when Israel bombed Al-Shejayia on 20 July.

Abed Abdallah, who is in his fifties, took refuge with his family in Al-Shifa complex after the shelling of Al-Shejaiya. “The occupation demolished our house and we had to flee, but many of our relatives and neighbours didn’t make it,” he said.

“I cannot return to my home in Al-Shejayia because there is nothing left. There is no water or electricity either. All the homes around us collapsed. It is not safe to go back.

“We don’t want money. We only want to return home before the winter. Life in the UNRWA schools is unbearable. It is crowded and people are getting sick.”

Fouad Abu Rida had to leave his home in Khozaa, in eastern Khan Younis. He is now living with a relative in Gaza.

“Khozaa was first subjected to round-the-clock artillery shelling. Then, four days later, we received messages on our phones saying that our homes will be bombed,” he said. “We didn’t expect this scale of destruction. Our homes and mosques, even our crops, were bombed by planes and artillery. Many were killed or wounded, and the rest had to flee.”

Before the most recent war, 11,000 people used to live in Khozaa, an agricultural area of 10,000 feddans that is close to the border between Gaza and Israel.

“In previous wars, the destruction was limited and easy to repair. It wasn’t that devastating. But now there is not a house left intact. Everything we rebuilt after the 2008 war is gone. We are back to square one,” said Abu Rida.

Over the past six years, Israel waged three major wars against Gaza. The first, Operation Cast Lead, lasted from 27 December 2008 to 17 January 2009 and left 1,400 Palestinians dead and 5,000 wounded. The second, Operation Pillar of Defence, lasted eight days, from 14 to 21 November 2012, and left 160 Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded.

Some observers attribute the ferocity of Israel’s recent offensive to a desire to punish the Palestinians as a whole, in the hope of turning them against the resistance.

Analyst Abdel Razeq Abu Jazar said that when the Netanyahu government failed to kill any leading Hamas politicians and commanders, it decided to go for the entire population instead.

“The ground operation Netanyahu launched on 17 July wasn’t much of a success, and the big losses his army incurred made him react hysterically,” Abu Jazar said.

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