Israeli limits stymie Gaza rebuilding
Without a shift in the Israeli policy that doesn’t allow building materials into Gaza, much of the $2.8 billion that Palestinians hope to raise at a donors’ conference Monday will be limited to humanitarians needs.
EAST JABALIYA, GAZA STRIP
Maamon Khozendar, chairman of Khozendar and Sons Company Ltd., is one of Gaza's most successful industrialists. He's a petroleum importer, and executes major construction projects around the Palestinian enclave.Skip to next paragraph
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What he'd most like to do now is help his fellow Gazans recover from the devastating 22-day war that came to an uncertain pause in late January. But rebuilding and rehabilitating Gaza requires the basics of the construction industry – cement and steel – that Israel will not allow in through their border crossings.
His dilemma presents a window into a core challenge faced by Palestinians and international donors as they gather in Egypt on Monday to pledge funds for postwar reconstruction.
"I have almost everything I need, except for gray cement and white cement," Mr. Khozendar says. "Without those two elements, you can't produce."
Without a substantial shift in Israel's policy, the $2.8 billion the Palestinian Authority (PA) hopes will be pledged Monday will probably not go beyond humanitarian needs. Until Israel and Hamas reach a negotiated truce, which is being worked on through Egyptian mediation, a whole range of reconstruction projects will remain theoretical.
The 10 Qassam rockets fired at Israel by Gaza militants Saturday underscore the shakiness of the pair of unilateral cease-fires each side declared in January. Following the latest strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised there would be a "painful, uncompromising response." Hours later, another Qassam launched from Gaza exploded off the coast of Ashkelon.
Even though the conference takes place amid much uncertainty over the state of Palestinian politics and the state of war in the coastal strip, Gazans themselves are desperate to begin rebuilding their lives.
2,800 Gaza homes destroyed
According to the most recent figures from the International Committee for the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the conflict destroyed more than 2,800 homes completely, and 1,900 partially, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. In addition to that, many symbols of government were damaged, from the parliament building to ministries to police stations.
None of those figures include losses to private businesses.
Khozendar says that his businesses alone suffered $2 million in direct losses. This includes a petroleum station in northern Gaza that got hit by a missile and a marble factory that was reduced to rubble by bulldozers. He says he doesn't count the 100 dunams of farm land destroyed in the fighting; bulldozers were used extensively by the Israeli army to "clean out" area where Hamas guerrillas were based.
"In my own home, I have plastic and nylon sheets on the windows, because all the glass broke in the bombing, and from where should I get glass?" asks Khozendar.
He says that what does come in is brought through the tunnels from Egypt, a system that financially benefits Hamas, which collects taxes on the goods.
"We need glass for 5,000 houses," says Khozendar. Small quantities exist, but because of the extreme shortages, the prices are prohibitive for most. A meter of glass was 45 shekels a few years ago; now it's 300 to 350 shekels. "The amount needed doesn't exist here, and this is one of the critical points to address if we are to rebuild and rehabilitate," he says.
"We're giving people hammers to break the cement and iron to break up the ruins and reuse it. From the rubbish, we can get maybe 40 percent of our needs. The other 60 percent has to be brought in," he adds.