Gaza coming to grips with mass devastation that could affect Palestinians for several years

Scale of destruction exceeds 2 previous Hamas-Israel fights

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Ev­ery­where you look there is de­struc­tion: mosques, fac­to­ries, schools, hos­pi­tals, uni­ver­sities and thou­sands of houses shat­tered into piles of bricks, glass and metal. Roads man­gled by mil­i­tary tanks and bull­doz­ers. Ci­ties with­out elec­tric­ity, pitch black at night. The main sew­age plant dis­abled, pol­lut­ing the tur­quoise wa­ters of the Medi­ter­ra­nean.

And amid the ru­ins, more trag­edy looms. Caught be­tween Is­raeli air­strikes and Ha­mas mor­tars and rock­ets, en­tire fam­i­lies have been wiped out, and their so­cial safety nets de­stroyed. Nearly one-third of Gaza’s 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple have been forced to flee their houses, and many are now home­less. Tens of thou­sands of chil­dren are be­lieved to be suf­fer­ing from psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

As a tem­po­rary cease-fire held for a sec­ond day, Pal­es­tin­ians were com­ing to grips with a deep­en­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian and en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis that threat­ens to af­fect Gaza for years. The scale of de­struc­tion and loss over nearly a month of war, Gazans and in­ter­na­tional aid work­ers say, is far more dev­as­tat­ing than that left af­ter the two pre­vi­ous Is­rael-Ha­mas bat­tles, in 2009 and 2012.

“I am 70 years old, and I have not wit­nessed a war any­thing like this one,” Mu­hammed al-Astal said as he in­spected the re­mains of his cream-col­ored house, which had been dev­as­tated by Is­raeli shells. “This is not war. This is erad­i­ca­tion.”

As ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan Wed­nes­day in Cairo to se­cure a broader truce be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas, the re­build­ing of Gaza emerged as a key el­e­ment of a solu­tion to the cur­rent con­flict. Under dis­cus­sion is an in­ter­na­tional do­nor con­fer­ence to raise funds and a re­con­struc­tion di­rected by the Western-backed Pal­es­tin­ian gov­ern­ment of Mahmoud Ab­bas, which lost con­trol of the coastal en­clave when Ha­mas seized power in 2007.

Bil­lions were also spent on re­con­struct­ing Gaza af­ter Is­rael’s 2008-2009 Oper­a­tion Cast Lead of­fen­sive against Ha­mas. Back then also, schools, fac­to­ries, bridges, mosques and more than 6,000 homes were badly dam­aged or de­stroyed, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. But five years later, many of those struc­tures ha­ven’t been fully re­built. Now, the cur­rent con­flict has brought even more wreck­age.

Speak­ing Wed­nes­day in front of the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly, Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon said, “The mas­sive deaths and de­struc­tion in Gaza have shocked and shamed the world. We will build again, but this must be the last time to re­build,” the U.N. chief said."This must stop now. We must go back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.”

Pal­es­tin­ian of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that air­strikes and shell­ing have wrecked 10,000 houses and se­ri­ously dam­aged 30,000 more. As many as 80 mosques have been dam­aged or de­stroyed. Many farm­ing ar­eas and in­dus­trial zones, filled with the small man­u­fac­tur­ing plants and fac­to­ries that an­chored Gaza’s econ­omy, are now waste­lands.

“Most of the life has been de­stroyed,” said Mo­feed Al-Hasayneh, the Pal­es­tin­ian gov­ern­ment’s Gaza-based min­is­ter of pub­lic works and hous­ing, add­ing that it could take “seven to eight years” to re­build the houses and other struc­tures with­out as­sis­tance from the world.

Even in­ter­na­tional re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tions, ac­cus­tomed to work­ing in hard-hit war zones, have ex­pressed shock at the scale of the dam­age. “I’ve never seen such mas­sive de­struc­tion ever be­fore,” Peter Mau­rer, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, said in a tweet Tues­day af­ter vis­it­ing Gaza.

With the lull in the con­flict, aid agen­cies are scram­bling to as­sess the dam­age and de­ter­mine how best they can help, if the cease-fire holds.

On Tues­day, aid worker Mathieu Eb­besen-Goudin ar­rived with his team in the east­ern Showka en­clave of Ra­fah, near the Is­raeli bor­der, where veg­e­ta­ble and fruit farms have been oblit­er­ated. Is­raeli tanks were vis­i­ble across the bor­der, throw­ing up dust. Is­raeli forces pum­meled the area last week when they searched for a sol­dier ap­par­ently ab­ducted by Ha­mas fight­ers, but who Is­rael later said had died in bat­tle.

“The har­vest for this year is lost. We have to re­ha­bil­i­tate all the lands,” said Eb­besen-Goudin, head of mis­sion of Pre­miere Ur­gence, a French re­lief agency. First, though, the farms needed to be cleared of un­ex­ploded ord­nance, he added, which could take months, even a year. The farms pro­duced po­ta­toes, to­ma­toes, zuc­chini, ol­ives and oranges, mostly for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion.

Even be­fore the war, Gazans lived pre­car­i­ously, par­tic­u­larly since Is­rael im­posed an eco­nomic block­ade of the strip af­ter Ha­mas took con­trol. Now, many fam­i­lies have fallen over the preci­pice, los­ing farms, live­stock and their homes.?

Moussa Abu al-Rous, 45, could al­ready see his fu­ture as he stood in the rub­ble of his flat­tened house near Ra­fah. His one-acre farm, where he had ol­ive and or­ange trees, is now a field of bull­dozed dirt. Mr. Rous, who has six chil­dren, said he doesn’t know how he will pay for his son’s col­lege ed­u­ca­tion or take care of his fam­ily. “How am I go­ing to feed them?” he said. “The win­ter is com­ing. Where are we to live?”

In Gaza City, Ali al-Hayek, head of the Pal­es­tin­ian Busi­ness­men As­so­ci­a­tion, went to in­spect doz­ens of fac­to­ries, par­tic­u­larly those in the bor­der ar­eas where most bom­bard­ments and clashes oc­curred. He said 100 to 120 fac­to­ries, in­clud­ing some that pro­duced med­i­cine, were de­stroyed. “Thou­sands of work­ers used to work in these fac­to­ries,” said Mr. Hayek, shak­ing his head.

Gazan chil­dren are also fac­ing a grim pre­dic­a­ment. The United Na­tions says 138 schools have been dam­aged by shell­ing. More than 250,000 Pal­es­tin­ian evac­u­ees are shel­ter­ing in U.N.-run schools, mak­ing it un­likely that classes will be able to start this fall. The U.N. Chil­dren’s Fund es­ti­mates that about 400,000 chil­dren are in need of psy­cho­log­i­cal ther­apy.

The knock-on ef­fects of the con­flict are vis­i­ble ev­ery­where. An Is­raeli strike on the en­clave’s pri­mary power plant caused elec­tri­cally driven wa­ter pumps to stop func­tion­ing, forc­ing peo­ple to wait in lines to get po­ta­ble wa­ter for do­mes­tic use. Fuel prices have shot up, driven by de­mand from Pal­es­tin­ians with gen­er­a­tors. And then there is the dam­age to Gaza’s main sew­age treat­ment plant.

On Tues­day, the stench was over­pow­er­ing. Flies were ev­ery­where. There were only two tech­ni­cians at the des­o­late plant, which needs elec­tric­ity to treat waste­wa­ter and pump it into the sea. In ad­di­tion, air­strikes also dam­aged a pipe­line, the tech­ni­cians said. Even if the elec­tric­ity re­turns, it is un­likely that the Ger­man-built plant will quickly re­sume op­er­a­tions: It is usu­ally main­tained by en­gi­neers who fly in from Ger­many. “Now, 55,000 cu­bic me­ters of sew­age is be­ing sent ev­ery day into the sea with­out treat­ment,” said Saeed al-Heeki, one of the tech­ni­cians.

Aid work­ers warn that even if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity fun­nels in the bil­lions of dol­lars needed to re­build Gaza, the money will not make a long-term dif­fer­ence un­less there is a du­rable peace be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas. “If there’s not a po­lit­i­cal solu­tion, we will re­con­struct, and in two years you will have an­other war,” said Mr. Eb­besen-Goudin. “And Gaza will be de­stroyed again.”

united nations - israel - Middle East - Mahmoud Abbas - Palestinian territories - Ban Ki-Moon - Palestinian territories government - Gaza Strip - Hamas


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here