Israeli embargo means Gaza unable to rebuild


The Strip continues to be denied necessary construction material by Israel, writes Alastair MacDonaldin Gaza

WHOLE STREETS lie in ruins, many thousands of Palestinians are homeless after weeks of Israeli bombing and foreign aid cash is piling up. As a builder in the Gaza Strip, this should be Anwar al-Sahabani’s big moment.

Instead, he sits at home, angry and sad, not just at the wounds he suffered on the first day of bombardment, but with frustration at being denied the basic supplies he needs to start rebuilding. Israel will not let in cement, steel pipes and other materials it says its Hamas enemies might use to make war.

“The fighting stopped over a week ago but people are still sleeping in the open air,” said Sahabani, whose firm employs up to 100 craftsmen and labourers when working at full capacity.

“We should have started reconstruction the day the war ended. But we have no supplies.” Along the 45km (30-mile) strip of Mediterranean coastline, half-finished construction sites stand silent, and, amid the ruins left by this month’s violence, families are building makeshift wood-and-plastic shelters to escape the cold.

“For two years now, we have not been able to build,” Sahabani said of an Israeli embargo going back to 2007.

“God knows what will happen now to the people who lost their homes.”

Across town, Nabeel al-Zaeem understands. His Palestinian Commercial Services Co is Gaza’s top importer of cement. Only these days, he has none.

“We need cement to rebuild the Gaza Strip, because of the Israeli offensive and the comprehensive destruction,” he said.

“But we have no raw materials.”

He was able to import only a fraction of what he needed since June 2007, when Hamas, victors in the 2006 parliamentary election, seized full control in the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Peter Lerner, an Israeli defence ministry official dealing with trade for Gaza, said Israel was helping international aid agencies to move in food and other vital supplies for the 1.5 million Gazans, most of whom are refugees, from families that fled or were driven from what is now Israel in 1948.

But until Israel was satisfied that cement would not be used by Hamas for fortifications and that steel pipes would be used only for plumbing and not to build improvised rockets for firing at Israeli towns, the embargo on construction material remained.

“We are working together with the international community to assist those needs that are beyond the humanitarian issues, such as building and reconstruction.”

Cement importer Zaeem said that even if the blockade were lifted it would take years to bring in all that was needed.

“We need now 8,000 tonnes a month,” he said. “And even at that rate we would need three years to repair the damage.”

– (Reuters)