On Thursday morning, 10 January 2018, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) organized a workshop titled: “Reality of Owners of Houses Destroyed in the Gaza Strip 4 Years after the Israeli Offensive” in its head office in Gaza City. A group of specialists representing the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, UNRWA, the owners of destroyed house, NGOs, and media participated in the workshop. Khalil Shaheen, Director of PCHR’s Economic Social Rights Unit, facilitated the workshop.
Raji al-Sourani, PCHR’s Director, opened the workshop by reviewing crises that the Gaza Strip residents have been suffering from after 12 years of the ongoing Israeli closure, during which 3 offensives were carried out by the Israeli forces. He pointed out that the suffering of owners of destroyed houses in the Gaza Strip continue due to not initiating the reconstruction or completing the reconstruction of about 40% of those houses though 4 years have passed since the Israeli offensive. Sourani confirmed that the suffering of those residents aggravated after the inability of the competent authorities to finance the rental of temporary housing units, calling upon the international community to intervene to end their suffering.
Dr. Fadel al-Muzaini, a researcher at PCHR, reviewed a report titled: “Four Years without Adequate Shelter”, noting that the report addressed the suffering of owners of destroyed housing units during the 2014 Israeli offensive. The report includes five perspectives: the policy of destroying houses during the 2014 Israeli Offensive of; delay in the reconstruction of housing units destroyed; challenges facing the reconstruction of destroyed houses; the suffering of families still living in temporary houses; and the position of international humanitarian law and international human rights law of the delay in the reconstruction of housing units and the ongoing suffering of their owners. Al-Muzaini pointed out that the report based on interviews conducted with representatives of the official governmental authorities concerned with reconstruction and the international bodies competent with sheltering the residents, the owners of the houses destroyed and their families. At the end of his presentation, al-Muzaini reviewed the recommendations mentioned in the report.
In his intervention, Engineer Mo’een Moqat, Deputy Director for Infrastructure & Camp Improvement Program in UNRWA, said that UNRWA prepared reports and sent urgent appeals to urge the donor countries to provide the funding necessary for ending the 2014 crisis of destroyed houses. He confirmed that one of the most significant obstacles that the reconstruction of destroyed house currently faces is the lack of funding the reconstruction while in the previous period, the restrictions on importing construction materials was a main obstacle. He added that lately, a problem appeared that some of the houses destroyed were built on governmental lands with no title deeds. Moqat said that UNRWA is still unable to pay rent allowance for 600 families living in rented houses. He noted that UNRWA made great efforts and spent 320 million dollars for the reconstruction of destroyed houses and sheltering thousands of families. Furthermore, the massive destruction in all sectors obstructed the continuation of the reconstruction process.
In his speech, ‘Abed al-Rahman Abu Jayab, Director of Gaza Governorate in the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, affirmed that the lack of funding is currently the main obstacle to continue the reconstruction process of the destroyed houses, noting that the reconstruction process is slowly progressing. Despite the obstacles, the Ministry managed to reconstruct 9500 houses that were completely destroyed and 82000 houses that were partially destroyd. He indicated that the Ministry would complete the reconstruction process within months in case the necessary funds were available.
Ossama al-Sa’dawy, Director of the Palestinian Housing Council (PHC), affirmed that destruction of thousands of houses during the latest Israeli offensive without reconstructing them until now aggravated the housing crisis from which the Gaza Strip has been suffering for 12 years. He indicated that the Gaza Strip witnesses at the meantime an acute shortage of housing units and needs thousands of these units to make up the shortfall. Al-Sa’dawy said that the buildings in the Gaza Strip, including houses, lacks the minimum standards required in residential facilities, demanding to comply with these standards during the reconstruction of houses destroyed or whule building new private housing projects.
Faraj al-Sarfandy, Southern Governorate General Director in the Ministry of Local Government, said that the Ministry was a partner in the Gaza Strip reconstruction and worked on re-planning the areas that were destroyed during the 2014 Israeli offensive. He added that the Ministry rehabilitated the devastated infrastructure and faced real problems regarding the funds available for the reconstruction process. Al-Sarfandy also said that the rate of those facilities reconstructed represents only 30% of the overall facilities destroyed during the 2014 Israeli offensive.
Mohammad al-Gherbawi, representing the Committee of al-Nada Neighborhood, talked about the lasting suffering of owners of destroyed houses in the neighborhood, which was destroyed in the latest Israeli offensive, that still live in temporary houses; live under harsh living conditions; and lack adequate housing. Moreover, al-Gherbawi said that the families are unable to pay the rents for their temporary housing units, as the UN has been incapable to provide them the necessary funding for 5 months. He also called for exerting the utmost efforts in order to provide the necessary financial assistance for the rents, noting that under the current deteriorating economic conditions, the residents of the temporary houses are threatened of eviction from the houses they rent.
A broad discussion about the repercussions of reconstruction of destroyed houses and the suffering of their owners was opened. Thus, the participants agreed on the recommendations concluded in the report; most significantly:
- Calling upon the donor countries to fulfill their financial obligations that they pledged to provide in Cairo Conference on the Urgent Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
- Working effectively to provide Urgent Relief Programmes to help the affected civilians who are still without shelters and living inadequate houses until they return to their reconstructed houses.
- Halting the United Nations Reconstruction Mechanism that has proved to be doomed-to-failure process as this mechanism has completely failed to meet the minimum requirements of the Gaza reconstruction process.
- Calling upon the Lands Authority, the Ministry of Local Government and Municipalities to regularize the status of the destroyed houses that were built on governmental lands so their reconstruction shall start.
- Removing any reason that may cause concern for the donors, including the ongoing closure, the UN Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, and the ongoing Palestinian division in addition to the continuous Israeli threats to carry out a new offensive on the Gaza Strip.