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Gaza Can’t Count On Israel – And Israel Just Can’t Count

Gaza Can’t Count On Israel – And Israel Just Can’t Count

Report - By Julie Webb-Pullman In Gaza

In response to a phone call from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon regarding the critical shortage of construction materials in Gaza, Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak has just announced a decision to increase their flow into the Strip.

Israeli military spokes persons have trumpeted the approval for materials for 18 schools and 1,200 housing units as representing “one of the largest construction projects in recent years.” (1)

What is wrong with their maths? 1,200 housing units will barely make a dent in the more than 100,000 housing units needed, according to multiple sources including UNRWA, the Ministry of Housing, and international organisations.

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Approving a paltry 1% of the materials required to fulfill one of the top three human needs for survival, that of shelter, is clearly manifestly inadequate.

But Ban Ki-Moon’s Middle eastern Envoy called it “a significant step” – either his maths is as bad as the Israelis’ or it indicates just how appallingly bad Israel’s record is, that 1% is considered ‘significant.’

It is exactly this sort of dissembling that makes international civil society so angry – and so determined to take the action that their governments and international bodies appear incapable of – breaking the illegal blockade of Gaza to deliver ESSENTIAL humanitarian aid to its suffering population.

And even if the israeli decision goes a millimeter in the right direction in principle, it is by no means a certainty in practice. As UNRWA’s Christopher Gunness noted, the time for celebration will be when the approval is matched by the actual arrival of the materials in Gaza. UNRWA spokesperson Adnan Abu Hasna pointed out in our recent interview that Israel has previously given verbal approval for projects, yet ten years later the materials have still not arrived.

In the meantime, The Gaza Ministry of Housing is doing what it can to help the homeless rehouse themselves and others. They have initiated a project aimed at yielding 24,000 units, making government land available at no cost in several locations.

As Sirin Elbohosi, an engineer at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing explained, “The Hamas government is providing government land because there is a need for 100,000 housing units. There are different types of arrangement, but all are designed to house the most needy.”

She explained that for individual families, ballots are held. Advertisements are placed in newspapers and other places, and people register for the ballot. The draws take place at the Ministry of Housing, and are by random generation using a computer programme. The lucky ones receiving a lot then build their own house, and are encouraged to build multiple units on one lot. I was invited to observe the ballot for 300 lots in North Besan.

“300 lots can yield 1,500 housing units,” she said. The Ministry has developed a design, “Core Unit” housing, which enables the core unit to be built, then lived in while additional units are constructed off it, either beside or on top. The Ministry monitors construction to ensure safety. Owners have 10 years to pay for their home, and if they pay a 20% deposit, they get a 20% reduction in the purchase price.

Another option is for groups, either of owner-occupiers or investors, to build apartment blocks of 9 – 12 floors. The needy are given the land, but investors must enter into an agreement with the government, which may be that they buy the land from the government, or that the government receives a certain number of the resulting housing units to allocate to the needy, or the investor builds and rents out but the government retains ownership of the infrastructure.

As Israel blockades materials for use by Palestinians, they have no choice but to use materials that come through the tunnels, at least tripling the cost of each house. Despite this, many homeless Gazans are so desperate they will pay whatever it costs, as the number of registrations for the ballots demonstrates.

That such a basic necessity as shelter should be reduced to a raffle is an indictment not only of Israel’s illegal blockade, but also of the inaction by the international community that enables it.

And they are the reasons that humanitarian responses such as the Freedom Flotilla are so necessary.

(1) There were 4,500 homes totally destroyed and 55,000 badly damaged by Operation Cast Lead in 2009, several thousand demolished in 2001-2, and there are 13,000 per year needed to cope with population growth since the blockade was imposed five years ago.


Julie Webb-Pullman (click to view previous articles) is a New Zealand based freelance writer who has reported for Scoop since 2003. She recently managed to get into Gaza during a brief period when the Rafah Gate was open.

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