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Salah Jalal Abu Leila has been living in a tent for over a year after
his home was destroyed in the latest Israeli military offensive. Unemployed
since he was barred from access to his job in Israel, he cannot afford to rent
a new apartment and there is no material to rebuild his former home.

 

Beit Lahia, Palestine—Salah Jalal Abu Leila lives in a
crowded tent with his family of twelve beside a dusty main street in the
Northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia; they have been living here for more than a
year: "Our home was completely destroyed in the war. I worked for sixteen
years in Israel to build my home and in one attack the Israelis destroyed
everything I worked to build." Unemployed since 2002, when he was denied
access to his job in Israel, Salah is unable to rent an apartment and move from
his government-allocated tent like the rest of the families who, too, were
forced to take up temporary residence on this patch of sand after their homes
were destroyed during the latest Israeli military offensive in December 2008
and January 2009. Almost none of these families, however—and Salah’s as well—have
been able to begin to rebuild their homes and resume their lives due to the ban
on construction materials as part of the total closure imposed by Israel since
June 2007. For Salah and his family, life has been put on hold and he has
little choice but to wait for the opportunity to begin again.

 

Over 16,000 homes were damaged during the latest Israeli
offensive, 2,114 of which—like Salah’s—were completely destroyed. As a result,
more than 51,000 Palestinians were made homeless.[1] Most sought refuge with family members in
Gaza’s urban centers, adding to the already highly congested living conditions
in the Gaza Strip. Without cement, steel, lumber or glass—all denied entry by
Israel—most of those displaced during the war remain so more than one year
after the vicious attack.  Their homes
and other civilians buildings which were reduced to rubble by Israeli rockets
continue to serve as a striking reminder—as if such a thing was necessary for
the people of Gaza—of the extensive damage wrought by the war, and the
inability to repair them and return home has greatly exacerbated the psychosocial
distress of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza who are forced to live amidst
the ruins.

 

Since June 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza
Strip, Israel has tightened its grip on the coastal territory, shifting to a
policy of complete closure which allows only the bare minimum level of
humanitarian assistance—enough to sustain life and little more—from a policy of
selective closure employed since the early 1990s. While Salah’s home remains in
ruins due in large part to the ban of construction goods under the complete
closure, the misery caused to him by the Israeli-imposed closure did not begin
in 2007. Salah worked as a plumber in Israel for sixteen years, one of the
26,000 Palestinians from Gaza who used to commute daily to Israel for work.
Beginning in 2002, however, the Israeli-controlled Erez border crossing was
closed for Palestinian civilians and Salah lost his coveted job. Sitting on his
dirt floor, chickens and children scurrying around him, he speaks of his sixteen
years in Israel with nostalgia: "The money was very good then. I could
support my family with no problem and I had very good relationships with my
Israeli colleagues. Sometimes our families would get together for dinner and
celebrations."

 

Now only approximately 100 people cross through the Erez
crossing per day and these are either international aid workers or Palestinians
seeking urgent medical treatment.[2]
For Salah, the restriction of movement has meant unemployment and poverty:
after losing his job in Israel, he returned to a job market in Gaza where
unemployment now runs close to 55%. "Since 2002 I have not been able to go
to Israel to work and now I have been unemployed for many years. I have no
money to rent an apartment in Gaza City like the other families who were living
in this area. I have twelve children. How can I take care of them? How long can
we all live in one tent? I asked the government to help me, but they said there
is nothing they can do because they cannot get the material to build new
houses. I am a Palestinian civilian. I am not political. What did I do to
deserve this?"

 

Salah is far from alone in his difficult situation. Just
across the street in Beit Lahia, in an empty office above a semi-operational
gas station, lives Sabah al-Attar and her family. "Our home was completely
destroyed on the first day of the war [December 27, 2008]," Sabah
explains, waving her arms in an emphatic gesture to illustrate the totality of
the destruction. "Since then we have been living in an empty office above
a petrol station nearby," she says, "but the government discovered us
and is forcing us to leave because it is very dangerous to live here due to the
large gas tank directly below us. They say if we don’t leave by the end of the
month, we will have to pay a 10,000 NIS fine."

 

 

For over a year Sabah al-Attar and her
family have been living in an empty office on the second floor of this gas
station. Their home was destroyed and the tent provided to them was
confiscated. Because of the dangerous living conditions, Sabah’s family is
being forced to leave, although they have nowhere to go.

 

After the war, Sabah and her family were simply glad that
they survived the attack: as their home was being bombed, they were fired upon
by Israeli troops as they attempted to evacuated the burning building. They are
grateful to have each other, but more than a year later, still homeless,
jobless and with no support, this remains all that they have as they try to
gather the pieces of their broken lives: "We don’t have anywhere to go. We
have no home, no work, nothing."

 

Under the new arrangement announced in early July by the
Israeli authorities following international condemnation of the fatal Israeli
attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters, Israel will permit
increased flows of construction materials for PA-approved projects overseen by
international organizations. The reconstruction of family homes, like Salah’s
and Sabah’s, falls outside the scope of most of these projects, however. Essential
construction goods like cement and lumber beams will continue to be denied
entry to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip by Israel as "dual-use
goods"—meaning that they ostensibly possess military use—despite the fact that
these goods do not appear on any internationally-recognized dual use list.[3] In
this respect, it is easy to understand Salah’s pessimism with regard to the
recent announcements: "I have no hope that the materials will be let in
under the new policy. I hoped for three years now that the closure would end,
but nothing has changed." For now, there is little he can do but wait.  

 

 

 



[1] PCHR, "PCHR
Annual Report 2009."

[2] PCHR," State of
the Gaza
Strip’s Border Crossings: 16-30 June 2010."

[3]  These materials, like
others included on Israel‘s
"Directive on Defense Export Control," are not incorporated into the
internationally-recognized Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for
Conventional Arms and Dual Use Goods and Technologies.