6 months after Israeli war on Gaza, tempers fray among the strip's homeless

AFP , Thursday 26 Feb 2015

A Palestinian boy plays near the ruins of his family house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day Israeli assault last summer, east of Gaza City February 18, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

For six months, Gazans left homeless by last year's war have waited patiently to be rehoused. But with no relief in sight and thousands still in UN shelters, tempers are fraying.

More than 100,000 homes in the Gaza Strip were damaged or destroyed in Israeli bombardment during the 50-day Israeli assault.

A similar number of people were displaced, with most taking shelter in schools run by the UN's Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

Today more than 10,000 people still live in 14 of the schools, unable to find lodging elsewhere, according to UNRWA. Tens of thousands of others are living with family or friends.

All are desperate to rebuild or repair their homes, but a lack of building materials means reconstruction has moved at a snail's pace, and swathes of the territory lie in ruins.

Gaza has been under Israeli blockade since 2006, and although Israel has pledged to allow in supplies for rebuilding, the delivery of materials is heavily controlled by Israel allegedly to prevent them falling into the hands of militants.

The reconstruction has also been hampered by inter-Palestinian disputes between leaders in the West Bank and Gaza.

So far, UN officials say around 47,000 people have been able to purchase building supplies, and another 75,000 have been cleared to receive materials. But tens of thousands of others say they have not received anything.

"The depression gets worse every day. We've lost our appetite for life," said 35-year-old Sufian Farawana, who is living with his relatives in a UN school in Gaza City.

"This situation is going to blow up in everyone's face," told AFP from the small classroom he and his family have adopted as a home.

"I'm afraid I've lost all hope for the future. If the situation gets worse, that won't be in anyone's interest," he added as his wife cleared up the remains of a meal.

Despite international pledges of $5.4 billion in aid for Gaza, half of which was to be poured into reconstruction, hardly any of the funds promised at a Cairo donor conference in October have been released.

International aid agencies warned Thursday that further conflict was "inevitable" if the situation did not improve significantly.

"The lack of progress has deepened levels of desperation and frustration among the population," said a statement signed by 30 agencies, including UNRWA, other UN bodies and Oxfam.

"Little of the $5.4 billion pledged in Cairo has reached Gaza," it said.

"A return to hostilities is inevitable if progress is not made and the root causes of conflict are not addressed."

The deterioration in Gaza threatens to deal another blow to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which faces a financial crisis following Israel's decision to freeze millions of dollars in tax monies as punishment for a Palestinian move to join the International Criminal Court.

The situation has stoked international fears that unless the crisis is resolved soon, the Palestinian Authority could face collapse.

In Gaza, people are being forced to rely on a mixture of resourcefulness and even bending the rules simply to survive.

Twelve-year-old Anas Berda is one of them.

He takes food given to him and his eight family members by the UN and resells it to pay for the school bus for himself and his four brothers.

With his four-month-old brother Jihad in his arms, Berda tries to study with a science book propped on his knees inside the classroom where the family has lived since their home was destroyed.

"We've nothing to eat and no way of keeping warm," said Berda's mother Nermin, 32, who gave birth to her youngest child inside the school, where 500 people wait to be rehoused.

"The UN gives me nappies and milk for him," she said.

But with her husband unemployed like nearly half of Gazans, they have no money and nothing to give their children, she admitted, the shame visible on her face.

"They never get toys like other children. At night, they can't sleep because of the cold. Psychologically they're completely destroyed," she said.

"In fact, it's as if we were dead," she said before being interrupted by her brother-in-law Ali, 32.

"UNRWA is pushing us to leave but to go where?" he asked.

"We have heard all the promises made by the UN and the Palestinian Authority but we haven't seen a penny coming from the Arabs or the rest of the world to rebuild our homes," he said.

"It has been six months that we've been living in these schools, on the sidelines of history, and nobody is coming to save us."

*The story was edited by Ahram Online

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