Aid for Gazans Arrives, but Remains Untouched

Hatem Shammaly at a warehouse with building supplies. Many Gazans are not getting the materials needed to make repairs

GAZA CITY — Truckloads of cement, steel and gravel that Israel allowed into Gaza on Oct. 14 with great fanfare remain locked in warehouses, unavailable to thousands of families desperate to fix homes damaged by Israeli attacks as wintry winds and rain begin.

About $150,000 of construction material sits behind two link chains at Hatem Shammaly’s place in the Shejaiya neighborhood. Every day, a half-dozen United Nations and Palestinian Authority workers stop by to look at the supplies, said Mr. Shammaly, and at the eight security cameras trained on the site. Every day, too, Gazans show up begging to buy the stuff, but Mr. Shammaly is not allowed to sell.

“It’s like a mourning house outside, crying and weeping — nobody believes that we can’t control or handle a single bag,” he said. “Yesterday a woman came here. She wanted just two bags of cement, she wanted to repair her home. She was cursing God against us.”

Two months after a cease-fire ended this summer’s battle between Israel andHamas, reconstruction of more than 100,000 damaged or destroyed buildings remains a distant dream.

The Palestinian housing ministry’s damage assessment is only 60 percent complete. Officials say they have yet to collect a dime of the $5.4 billion that international donors have pledged to the effort. A promised monitoring mechanism to ensure materials are not diverted to military purposes is not in place. Rubble removal has barely begun.

But the landscape is not completely stagnant: Outside the approved system, a dozen men were at work this week rebuilding the headquarters of Al Aqsa satellite channel, one of the Hamas-affiliated media network’s four sites struck by Israel this summer.

One worker was busy coating silver support beams to ward off rust. Others passed recycled rebar up several stories. They had already erected two cinder block walls and wood-framed a sloped roof in a project that began Oct. 8 and was expected to take three months.

“The Zionist enemy destroys, and we rebuild,” declared Mohammed Thuraya, manager of Al Aqsa network, which employs 500 people and runs two television channels, a radio station and a news agency. “We are used to building — building ideas, ideologies and generations. The people will not be silent waiting for the materials. Al Aqsa network will remain the conscience of the Palestinian people that broadcasts the truth.”

Mr. Thuraya said United Nations agencies refused to include his buildings on the list for reconstruction because “they consider us a terrorist channel.” He would not specify beyond “private donors” who was financing the reconstruction of the four-story, 5,400-square-foot studio and offices that were hit by Israeli bombs on July 29.

The project engineer said he paid $5,500 for 10 tons of cement, quintuple the regular price, because of scarcity caused by Israeli import restrictions and the closing of smuggling tunnels from Egypt.

In another independent initiative, the little-known Arab and International Commission to Build Gaza has cleared away rubble and is beginning to shore up columns of an Interior Ministry building erected by the former Hamas government. The commission has a Hamas official on its board, features an Egyptian dissident based in Qatar on its website, and asked on Facebook for donations to be filtered through the Islamic Bank in Tripoli.

Mohammed Abu Aqleen, the commission’s manager in Gaza, said that the Interior Ministry building was selected only because it was in danger of collapsing, and that the group had also begun to rehabilitate 20 homes throughout Gaza and to manufacture hundreds of trailers to temporarily house the displaced. He would not say where the $1 million raised so far had come from.

Referring to the effort by the Palestinian Authority and United Nations to provide assurances to Israel that so-called dual-use materials will not go to rebuild tunnels that militants used to penetrate its territory, Mr. Abu Aqleen said, “This mechanism will be just words on paper.”

But most of Gaza must await the monitoring mechanism, which Israeli and Palestinian delegations are expected to discuss further next week in Cairo. Officials at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the United Nations Development Program and the Norwegian Refugee Council, a leading international aid group, said the timetable remained elusive.

“It all depends on how fast the material can come in, which I just don’t know,” said Scott Anderson, Gaza’s deputy director of the relief and works agency. Asked why the material that already arrived was sitting in warehouses, Mr. Anderson said: “That I can’t answer. I’ve asked the question also.”

Some 39,000 Gazans remain in 18 United Nations schools serving as shelters, and many more are bunking with relatives. The relief and works agency has given 1,000 families a total of $1 million for temporary rental assistance or minor repairs. The housing ministry said it would begin giving grants of $1,000 to $2,000 next week.

In Shejaiya, a neighborhood devastated by Israel’s ground offensive and where roads remain obstacle courses of rubble piles, Ghassan Muhisen could not wait. He said he had bought 20 bags of cement for $31.75 each — they are typically $6.60 — and 400 cinder blocks for $1 each, double the normal price, and hired five local men to fix walls in his kitchen and living room shattered by Israeli shells.

“One can never be comfortable away from his home,” said Mr. Muhisen, 37, a father of three who works for the sports ministry. He said he moved back Oct. 1 after weeks with friends and relatives. “Winter is coming, cold. Instead of paying the money for the rent, I used it for the repair.”

He ran out of money before replacing the windows, so he hung sheets over them instead.

Mr. Shammaly, the warehouse manager, said he was thrilled when the Palestinian civil affairs minister called Oct. 5 and told him his company, whose annual revenue is about $13 million, was one of 12 vendors approved to handle materials for the reconstruction. Two years earlier, he had spent $2,000 installing eight cameras in his 16,000-square-foot warehouses and put guards on duty 24 hours; he had already worked with the United Nations on several projects.

But after the cement, steel and gravel sat untouched for a week, Mr. Shammaly said: “If they continue in this mechanism, I will not participate.”

“I’m a merchant, buy and sell,” he explained. “I can’t freeze goods here, pile it up.”

(Source / 26.10.2014)

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