Gaza family becomes first to move into rebuilt home after war

A Palestinian family is first to return to a rebuilt home in their Gaza Strip neighborhood, offering a glimmer of hope for families displaced by last year's war between Israel and Hamas.

Adel Hana/AP/File
Um Alabed al-Zaza mops her new kitchen in a house that was completely destroyed during the last summer's war between Israel and Hamas, Gaza City. The four story house belonging to al-Zaza family is being rebuilt ad part of the family has moved in into renovated ground floor apartment.

The al-Zazas have much to celebrate these days, after returning a few weeks ago to their neighborhood in the Gaza Strip — the first Palestinian family to move back into a completely rebuilt home since last year's war between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas.

It was a much-anticipated homecoming. Their house was one of thousands of dwellings that were reduced to rubble in the war. A push to reconstruct the battered coastal territory has been sluggish, relying on international funding pledges that have only partially been fulfilled.

But the al-Zazas' move offers a rare glimmer of hope to the tens of thousands of Gazans who lost their homes in the war. The family's place in Gaza City's Shaaf neighborhood, one of the hardest-hit in the war, was among the first 170 completely destroyed homes that were approved for reconstruction under a U.N. mechanism.

"We are very happy ... it's our home," 50-year-old Atef al-Zaza, the family patriarch, told The Associated Press in his barely furnished new living room. "Our life is getting back to its pre-war normality."

About half a million people were displaced at the height of the 50-day conflict and 100,000 were left homeless, according to the United Nations. Israeli airstrikes and shelling flattened entire areas, leaving piles of concrete and debris. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, the majority of them civilians, according to U.N. figures. On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, most of them soldiers.

Many of the displaced Gazans fled to U.N. facilities serving as makeshift shelters or moved in with relatives elsewhere in the strip. After the war, some opted to return to their shelled-out and damaged homes, leaving about 17,000 still displaced 14 months after hostilities ended.

The U.N. says some 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in the war. Mufeed al-Hasayneh, the Palestinian Minister of Public Works, said that of the 130,000 houses that sustained minor and moderate damage, most have been repaired, while others still await funding from donor pledges.

At a conference held in Cairo shortly after the war, international donors pledged $2.7 billion to rebuild Gaza, but more than a year later, only a third of the sum has been received, al-Hasayneh said.

"We only ask for the money that was promised at the conference. We don't ask for more," al-Hasayneh said.

The coastal territory is under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade that has for years limited the entry of goods, especially construction materials like cement or steel that Israel says Hamas uses to construct tunnels and other military infrastructure.

But under a U.N.-brokered mechanism supported by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, construction materials are allowed to enter Gaza under strict monitoring to ensure they are not diverted to Hamas. COGAT, the Israeli defense body that handles civilian issues with the Palestinians, said up to 850 truckloads of materials, including building supplies, currently cross into Gaza every day. Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas seized control of the territory.

A rift between Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the West Bank, has also bogged down reconstruction efforts.

Still, some progress has been made. Qatar is rebuilding 1,000 housing units and Kuwait is expected to fund the rebuilding of a similar number of houses soon. Saudi Arabia promised to pay for the rebuilding of another 800 units, al-Hasayneh said.

In the Shaaf neighborhood, workers were busy this week building the frames of other homes being reconstructed. The beige- and peach-painted walls of the new al-Zaza home stand out amid the surrounding gray rubble.

During the war, most Shaaf residents fled because of heavy Israeli artillery and tank shelling. Al-Zaza left his four-floor house where he had lived in with his wife, 12 children and brothers since 1986, and moved in with a daughter.

The house they left was later hit in an airstrike, although it remains unclear why. It's located behind the al-Wafa hospital, which Israel says was used as a Hamas command center.

During a brief cease-fire, the family came to check up on the home and found it reduced to a pile of rubble in a wide crater.

"It was an indescribable scene," said al-Zaza, who is unemployed and subsists off aid. He lost all hope, but that pessimism faded when he received money in June to start rebuilding.

Al-Zaza says he was so eager, he urged the builders to work around the clock to complete the house. The funding covered the rebuilding of the house's structure, so al-Zaza spent money from his own pocket to give it some resemblance of the old home.

He painted the interior walls of the guest room with bright stucco and added gypsum decoration to the ceilings. In the living room, the walls' lower halves were covered by glazed ceramic tile. With the first floor complete, the family finally moved in in September, and al-Zaza's relatives are expected to move into the three upper floors once they are finished.

Since the reconstruction money doesn't cover furniture and the al-Zazas' belongings were destroyed in the airstrike, the family now uses plastic chairs, a plastic table and a woven straw mat in the living room. For the kitchen, they bought a used refrigerator and a washing machine.

With a roof over his head, al-Zaza says he isn't bothered.

"Happiness has been in our hearts as soon as we entered our home," he said.


Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Gaza family becomes first to move into rebuilt home after war
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today