Scoop Exclusive From Gaza: Hamas On The Housing Crisis
|Thursday, June 23,2011 18:09|
|By Julie Webb-Pullman|
We have heard from homeless people and from UNRWA about the serious humanitarian situation in Gaza, resulting from the destruction of thousands of homes by Israel, and the inability of relief agencies to rebuild because of Israel’s refusal to permit the necessary quantities of construction materials to enter Gaza.
We will now hear from Narji Sahran, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Hamas government’s Ministry of Infrastructure, Public Works and Housing. I asked Narji what effect the Israeli siege has had on the work of his Ministry.
Narji Sahran - “It has a dangerous effect on our Ministry, both before and after the war. Our bulldozers and machines for road maintenance are very old and don’t do the job. We lack machines for roads and infrastructure, it delays and affects road maintenance, the roads all have holes and this is dangerous for the cars.
"People are just living in tents.
"Another effect is demolished houses, it’s a big problem because we don’t have cement, we don’t have aggregate, we don’t have steel bars. After the last war more than 4,500 houses were totally demolished and more than 50,000 partially demolished, plus more than 1,000 houses were demolished before the war. People are just living in tents in winter and summer, and now, three years later, we have built 200 units out of 4,500, so just very few because of the lack of material that is not allowed to get in from the borders – we use the ones in the market from the tunnels and this is very expensive. And also we cannot know the specifications of these materials, which also causes dangers for the people who build houses with these materials.”
JWP - Israel claimed it had eased the blockade after the Mavi Marmara massacre, I said. Has this actually occurred?
Narji Sahran - “No, maybe they let some more food but building materials are still under blockade, under siege. They allow some of these materials to get through for certain projects, for UNRWA and UNDP but very little, and for projects that have been stopped before the war. (link to UNRWA article) They have a veto for getting these materials for Palestinians to use.”
Regime change Israel’s goal
What is the point behind preventing building materials coming in, I ask. Narji replied that he thinks it is purely a political issue, with Israel believing that if they put pressure on the people, the people will put pressure on the government of Hamas, and get rid of them. But like UNRWA, he believes this tactic is having the opposite effect.
Narji Sahran - “They want to put pressure on the government of the Gaza Strip, but you know, this does not happen, the people co-operate with the government because they see the siege, the blockade of the government as on the people, all of them in one boat. Because of that the government is suffering and the people are suffering, so they are sharing the suffering together.”
He went on to say that the fear that Hamas might use the material is silly, because there is a little material in the market they can use anyway.
Narji Sahran - “We talk with the government here, we talk with the international organizations here, UNRWA and UNDP and we say we are ready to follow anything you want just to rebuild. We don’t want to interfere…a lot of NGOs come to us and they say “We need to rebuild 20 houses, give us the names” because we have the databank here in the Ministry, so we give them the 20 names and they build by themselves, and they tell us ‘We built for this one’ and they invite us to the celebration of the handing over of these buildings. So we don’t interfere and we are open to all international and national NGOs. We said we are ready to work under any system and they [Israel] refused.”
I asked about the system for allocation, given the allegations that Hamas members or supporters are favoured. Narji strenuously denied any form of discriminatory practices in the allocation of housing.
Narji Sahran - “We have criteria, we started with the people living closer to the borders,” he said. “Who has more family members, the economic situation – if the head of the household works or does not work, and also if he has another house he can live in. We have a lot of these criteria and we have priority areas, we don’t look to other than our criteria.”
He said most of the people rehoused so far are other than Hamas or don’t follow any political party, but are just ‘regular people’, the criteria are applied without discrimination on the grounds of political affiliation or anything else such as refugee status (refugee homes are supposed to be built by UNRWA) – “Whoever’s house has been in this area, we build for them,” he emphasized, saying UNRWA cannot build for refugees now because of the siege, so if there are refugees fulfilling the criteria, they build for them.
Israel is stronger than the United Nations
I wondered if UNRWA and other international organizations are putting pressure on Israel to lift the siege, given they cannot do their job under these conditions.
Narji Sahran - “I think they are not doing their job because you cannot imagine that Israel is stronger than the United Nations. Israel has to abide by the United Nations laws…UNRWA and UNDP and other UN associations are waiting for Israel to allow them, and this is not right. So I think the UN does not put pressure on Israel to allow materials to come in even for their them, not for the government here but for UNRWA itself.”
So what is the answer to this problem?
He responded again that it is a political issue, and that the UN should be non-partisan, but that as a member of the quartet, this is not possible. “They are following the system decided by Israel and the US, Russia and the Europeans, the general policies for that and I think the UN should do better than that, I think the UN should force Israel to lift the siege.”
Narji assured that the Hamas government has no objections to observing whatever systems, rules, regulations, processes and controls are imposed on the import of construction materials into Gaza, as long as they get in.
Narji Sahran - “What we need is just to reconstruct those homes that have been destroyed. It’s strange, you know, after World War II, in the World War the US was against Germany, they started to collect money to rebuild Germany. And the thing here, it’s different, the Israelis destroyed the Gaza Strip and everybody is just watching and looking and they are not putting pressure on Israel to rebuild the houses of those poor people. “
Will Freedom Flotilla 2 help put pressure on the UN and the governments of participating countries?
Narji Sahran - “Maybe, but I think things have changed slowly, not changed the way we want. If there is not large pressure on governments things will stay the same. After three years the changes are just a few, very few.”
The Arab Spring, Rafah, and Gaza Port.
JWP - Do you think the Arab Spring will affect the way Israel deals with Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories? I asked.
Narji Sahran - “Of course, I think this is the major change that will put pressure on the European governments and Israel to change its policy towards Gaza”
Will the opening of the Rafah crossing assist with getting materials through for reconstruction?
Narji Sahran - “No, because opening Rafah is just for passengers, it is not for materials. The problem we have is the materials, and I think the Egyptians will not open Rafah for materials in the short [term]…change after 40 years of that regime does not come in a short time. It will take a long time.”
Finally, is Gaza Port operational enough receive the shipments necessary for reconstruction?
Narji Sahran - “Why not? When I was a kid I was watching the cargo ships coming and waiting on the sea, then the small ships go there and take the cargo from the big ship and bring it to Gaza, so it can be done in this way. It needs a decision [from Israel] but there is no decision for that. If they make a decision then they will allow for tools to make the port here more suitable. They will allow the trucks to bring them from the West Bank to fix the port…it just needs a decision, then everything can be done.”
So there we have it.
Undisputed fact - there are 4500 demolished houses urgently needing replacement in Gaza, and more than 50,000 needing repair. No ifs, or buts.
Undisputed fact - Israel does not permit the requisite materials to enter Gaza, and has not done so for several years. No ifs or buts.
Undisputed fact – civil society initiatives such as the Freedom Flotillas and humanitarian aid convoys are the only concrete international efforts to break the illegal siege, and draw the necessary international attention to the failure of the UN and national governments to rein in the rogue state of Israel, and its collective punishment of the people of the Gaza Strip.
UN, you are not doing your job.
To help New Zealander HARMEET SOODEN bring relief to Gaza on Freedom Flotilla boat Tahrir, please donate:
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.