BYTE LAHIA, Gaza (AP) – The first winter rainstorm poured water into Galya al-Attar’s home through cracks in the walls and a tin roof as the widow, her children and grandchildren laid buckets across the floor.
Their home was among tens of thousands damaged during the 11-day war in Gaza in May between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules an isolated and impoverished territory. Hundreds of houses have been completely destroyed, and reconstruction work has not yet begun.
Families like the al-Attar family have remedied the situation as best they can, but the seaside winter brings cold nights and occasional rainstorms.
“I’ve never seen a night worse than this,” al-Attar said the next day, as she and her family spread the blankets and mattresses on the clothesline to dry.
The farming town of Beit Lahiya, located near the border with Israel, was hit by Israeli airstrikes during the war. Several nearby houses were damaged and trees were injured by shrapnel.
Israel says it only targeted military targets and made every effort to spare civilians, but of the more than 250 people killed in Gaza, more than half were civilians, according to the UN. Thirteen people were killed on the Israeli side.
According to the United Nations, some 56,000 homes throughout Gaza were damaged during the conflict, and more than 2,100 homes were either completely destroyed or damaged to the point of being uninhabitable. During the war, Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes, often targeting densely populated areas where it said Hamas was carrying out attacks, as Gaza fighters fired thousands of rockets into Israel.
Gaza has survived four wars and the harsh Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007, when Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent the rearmament of militants, while critics see it as a form of collective punishment.
Naji Sarkhan, an official with the Hamas-run Housing Ministry, says residents need $ 170 million to rebuild, but so far only $ 13 million has been spent. This covered some of the renovations, but funds were not considered sufficient to cover the costs of rebuilding destroyed houses. The World Bank, which is helping to coordinate international aid to Gaza, has provided similar assessments of what is needed for recovery.
“The donor countries are tired,” Sarkhan said. “There are houses that have been destroyed three times. In every war, this or that house is destroyed, then restored, and then destroyed. “
Many families whose homes were only slightly or moderately affected stayed, often because they could not afford other housing. But after months without repairs and with the arrival of rainy weather, the cracks widen.
Qatar, a major donor to Gaza and a political ally of Hamas, has committed $ 50 million to rebuild and renovate homes. Egypt has pledged $ 500 million for infrastructure and housing, but it is unclear how much of that funding materialized. Sarkhan said Hamas officials are in talks with Qatar to increase their contribution.
Israel has eased its blockade as part of an unofficial Egyptian-brokered ceasefire and is issuing 10,000 permits to Palestinians in Gaza to work in Israel, mainly in construction and side jobs. This will provide a vital flow of money to the Gaza Strip, where the unemployment rate hovers around 50%. Building materials are allowed for those who can afford them.
The morning after a downpour, some houses in Beit Lahiya were still flooded. Ali al-Attar, a cousin who got married and moved to his own place in January, made his way through 30 centimeters deep water as he took out his furniture and carried it to his parents’ home. He tried to save the wet carpets that smelled of brackish water.
“We hope to restore this house and put it in order, but I cannot,” Galia said.