PCHR Holds Workshop on “Rights of Owners of Properties Destroyed in the May 2021 Israeli Military Aggression on the Gaza Strip, and the Delayed Reconstruction Process”
Date: 25 November 2021
On Tuesday, 25 November 2021, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights organized a workshop, titled “Rights of Owners of Properties Destroyed in the May 2021 Israeli Military Aggression on the Gaza Strip, and the Delayed Reconstruction Process.” The workshop was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA), owners of destroyed houses, and representatives of civil society organizations, academics, and the media. The workshop shed light on the human tragedy of thousands of Palestinians whose homes were destroyed during the aggression, the majority of whom currently live in temporary housing due to the failure to initiate reconstruction even now, 6 months after the fact. The workshop was moderated by Dr. Fadel al-Muzaini, Head of PCHR Economic and Social Rights Unit.
PCHR Director, Raji Sourani, started the event with an overview of PCHR efforts in monitoring and documenting the Israeli occupation’s violations and its house-demolition policy in the May aggression. He also addressed PCHR’s legal efforts to hold the occupation accountable for its crimes and asserted that these efforts are paying off as the International Criminal Court confirmed its territorial jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This decision was followed by the ICC decision in March 2021 to initiate an investigation into the crimes committed by the Israeli occupation, most prominently into the closure on the Gaza Strip, the 2014 military offensive also on the Gaza Strip, settlements, ethnic cleansing, and plundering natural resources. Additionally, Sourani revealed that PCHR met with the new ICC Prosecutor, Mr. Karim Khan, and urged him to expedite the investigation processes in order to safeguard justice for the victims. Sourani emphasized that the current developments bring a new chance to fulfil Palestinian victims’ hopes to hold Israeli criminals accountable for their crimes.
Afterwards, researcher, Ayman Lubbad, gave a brief presentation on PCHR report: “Home Destruction in the May 2021 Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip,” which included statistics on the number of demolished houses as documented by Palestinian human rights organizations and official bodies. Lubbad added that the Israeli military aggression exacerbated the Gaza Strip’s woes resulting of 15 years of closure and the deteriorated economic sector, and repeated Israeli attacks and aggressions. According to the report, there is a housing deficit of 100,000 units. The report also addressed the challenges and obstacles hindering the reconstruction process, identify two major causes for the delay: Israeli restrictions on the import of reconstruction materials into the Gaza Strip; and delays in releasing the pledged aid packages from donor countries to this date.
Eng. Mohammed Aboud, Director of Reconstruction Department at the Works Ministry in Gaza, addressed the ministry’s role in the reconstruction of destroyed housing, and the mechanisms put in place to assess the damage caused during the aggression. Aboud stated that the ministry supervised 4 million USD worth of intervention, that benefited 2000 families whose homes were
either totally or significantly destroyed by offering them to pay their rent. He added that 90% of the rubble removal process is concluded, paving the way for starting the reconstruction process. ‘Aboud added that construction process is subjected to several challenges and obstacles, the most important of which is the refusal of Palestinian Monetary Authority to transfer compensation payments to affected citizens’ accounts, instead, the ministry deals with contractors and completes the procedures for the Qatari aid. With regard to Egyptian funding, Eng. Aboud confirmed that it had been allocated for developmental aspect, not for the reconstruction of the residential towers, as announced after the end of the aggression. He pointed out that if the Qatari funding estimated at $64 million reaches, the ministry can reconstruct what had been destroyed by IOF within one year.
Eng. Alaa Abu Hassanein, Director of UNRWA Hosing Department, affirmed that UNRWA based its work on the preliminary list prepared by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, and UNRWA staff classified housing units whose damage was over $1000, and technical visits were made to check that damage. Accordingly, UNRWA paid rent allowances to about 1,065 affected families who are refugees, while the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) provided similar compensation to indigenous residents. Abu Hassanein added that UNRWA disbursed an urgent aid estimated at 800 shekels for partial damage, as at least 1800 families received aids funded by the European Union (EU). Also, he pointed out that UNRWA had counted 8500 housing units affected during the latest aggression on the Gaza Strip; 830 of which has completely destroyed, 540 had partially destroyed and became uninhabitable, and 7100 had partially destroyed. Abu Hassanein emphasized that the only funding reached for UNRWA was allocated for housing units that sustained partial damage, as the data of 340 housing units out of 540 was checked, and payments were disbursed to construct housing units for 290 families Abu Hassanein noted that UNRWA is awaiting the final signing of financial aid aimed at reconstructing houses destroyed during the last aggression, while the Saudi Fund for Development estimated at $10 million, which allocated for the 2014 aggression, was disbursed.
Mr. Ahmed ‘Atallah, the Spokesperson for the al-Jalaa Tower Reconstruction Committee, discussed the conditions of towers’ owners, stressing that the suffering began from the moment that they evacuated their houses before the attack, most of them were unable to evacuate any of their belongings, imposing extremely harsh economic and moral conditions on them. Atallah emphasized that the affected persons did not receive sufficient compensation that would guarantee a dignified life for them, pending reconstruction of their houses. He added that the pervious experiences of reconstruction post-military aggressions have gotten people wary, with lots of questions and fear that their suffering may be prolonged for years to come. He added that as time passes by, owners of destroyed homes, particularly owners of apartments in destroyed towers, are losing hope.
In conclusion of the workshop, a wider discussion started between owners of houses destroyed in the 2021 aggression and previous ones, and they demanded that reconstruction start urgently for all houses destroyed in Israeli military aggressions. They considered that reconstruction of homes should be top priority to spare these families further suffering and to protect their social, economic, and cultural rights. PCHR called upon donor countries to fulfil their aid pledges in order to begin the reconstruction process. PCHR also called upon the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take practical steps to force the occupation to life all forms of closure and open all crossings so that reconstruction can take off.