ISRAEL-OPT: Homeless Gazans struggle to find shelter
GAZA CITY, 9 February 2009 (IRIN) – Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are still seeking shelter after their homes were badly damaged or destroyed during the 22-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January.
Some 4,000 homes were destroyed and about 17,000 badly damaged, according to a recent UN Gaza flash appeal. Some 50,000 people took shelter in UNRWA (UN agency for Palestinian refugees) facilities during the height of the conflict and tens of thousands have been staying in very cramped conditions with family and friends.
About US$106 million of the US$613 million UN emergency appeal issued 2 February is for shelter and non-food items, like mattresses and blankets.
No'oman (who declined to give his family name) told IRIN he, his two wives and 10 children were given five minutes to evacuate their home in Neusarat on 8 January. His 16-year-old cousin was killed in the attack which completely destroyed his home.
“Our family lost everything – furniture, two cars, more than $500,000,” said No'oman, who reckoned his home was targeted because his brother works with Islamic Jihad.
Hamas has given the family $2,000 as emergency relief compensation.
The family has taken shelter in a nearby unfinished building. The bare-bones structure lacks heating or a decent water supply.
Mattresses more expensive
Mattresses, blankets and plastic sheeting are hard to find in Gaza and have gone up in price. Thin mats can be found for 200 shekels (about $200); tents are not available, according to local residents.
No'oman makes a good living as a businessman but there are few homes for rent in Gaza due to soaring demand. Property owners fear tenants, unable to rebuild their homes due to the lack of building materials like glass and cement, will never leave.
“Hamas is providing quick relief for those whose homes were destroyed – between $500 and $2,000 per household,” Hamas political leader Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings, told IRIN. “And food assistance, like sugar, oil and blankets.”
“Hamas is the government, it is their responsibility to provide us a decent life,” said No'oman’s mother, Farhana.
UN agencies like UNRWA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as international aid organisations like CARE, are looking to buy building materials and emergency relief items on the local market, but say they are unavailable.
“We have allowed humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza. The question is about goods that might have dual uses, like fertilizer which can be used to manufacture explosives,” deputy spokesperson of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Andy David told IRIN by telephone.
Ahmed Abdel Al, a 31-year-old taxi driver, his wife and three young children ran for their lives in the A-Tufa area east of Gaza City after a small rocket exploded in their living room on 13 January.
Minutes later three missiles from an Israeli F-16 levelled the home, said Ahmed.
Five of the 48 residents in the building (30 of them children) were wounded, including Ahmed’s 58-year-old father.
The family said it lost an estimated $250,000, including their home and possessions. Ahmed said Hamas officials had given him US$3,200 in relief aid.
“I found an apartment for the family for $180 per month, which is expensive,” said Ahmed, now sleeping in his car. “I can’t find a mattress – I am looking for blankets, but so far all I have is glass and a cooking gas cylinder.”
Chris Gunness, an UNRWA spokesperson, said there was no longer anyone living in UNRWA schools or facilities and that
8,000 people had been relocated to apartments with monthly rent assistance from UNRWA. He also confirmed that hundreds of tents had been distributed.