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In Gaza, a family wonders how to rebuild

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 23, 2009

Ashraf and Nadia Ziad and their three children have been living in this UN classroom since Jan. 5th. On Friday, they were told to vacate to make way for school, which is expected to go back into session across Gaza on Saturday. But the family has no idea where they'll go. Their house was destroyed by Israeli shells during the war, which came to a tentative ceasefire last Sunday.

Ilene R. Prusher/Staff


GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP – While several thousand Palestinians remain homeless or otherwise displaced, the competition for hearts and minds that has plagued and propelled Palestinian politics over the past 20 years is palpably shaping how quickly Gaza will be rebuilt – and by whom.

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As average people struggle to pick up the pieces and survive the winter, their leaders are scrambling for the right to put this shell-shocked coastal strip on the road to reconstruction. A shaky cease-fire – which will be a week old on Sunday - looked likely to hold.

Hamas, which says it is ready to take charge of reconstruction, plans to begin distributing $35 million to $40 million in assistance this Sunday to Gazans affected by the war, a spokesman said.

But Israel argues that international assistance must go through aid agencies and that the local partner in this effort should be the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority (PA), which Hamas overthrew 1-1/2 years ago.

Ashraf Ziad, who fled his home in Bet Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, counts himself as one of the early recipients of Hamas aid. Mr. Ziad, his wife Nadia, and their three small children fled their village, which had already been under continued bombardment, when the Israeli army dropped a snowstorm of leaflets warning that the area would soon be bombed. Militants frequently use the northernmost parts of Gaza to launch Qassam and Grad rockets at communities inside Israel.

When the couple went back to their home after the cease-fire, they found rubble. "We couldn't even pull a mattress out from beneath it all," Nadia says, trying to calm her children, who keep crying for their toys and have been wearing the same clothes for two weeks.

Hamas officials came by, registered them as the owners of a destroyed house, and gave them emergency funds. "Hamas guys were moving between the homes and they gave me $500 to cope for now, and said, 'buy necessities for your children, and as for the home itself, we'll compensate you later,' " Ziad says.

It was enough to purchase a few things: a mattress or two, basic food and drink. But it hasn't taken them far. They are living in a UN school here in Gaza City, where families have been taking shelter at about 30 to a room. They were told on Friday that they would have to evacuate for classes set to resume on Saturday for the some 200,000 students. Hours before their departure, they still weren't sure where they would go.

Ziad – who was a policeman in the Fatah security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, which were overrun in June 2007 – says Hamas's payout didn't signficantly sway him.

"I don't care who's going to compensate me, but if they ask me, of course, I'd choose UNRWA [the main United Nations aid agency to the Palestinians] because they're the only ones who will distribute the aid fairly." All of the aid coming through one political faction, be it Fatah or Hamas, he says, would be disastrous.

"Without national reconciliation, without all the factions coming together, reconstruction won't happen," he says. "Sooner or later, we'll need cement and materials to rebuild, and we won't be able to get that without Israel, because Israel controls the crossings."

In other words, he says, Hamas won't be able to rebuild Gaza without some degree of partnership with Fatah.

Ahmed Yousef, the foreign-policy adviser of the Hamas government, says that Hamas is not opposed to working with Fatah. "[E]veryone should exert the utmost efforts to rebuild Gaza, every Arab and every Muslim," Dr. Yousef says. "Fatah is one of many Palestinian political factions. We are at odds with them now, but it doesn't mean that they are our enemies."