Saturday, November 14, 2009

Waiting for justice

Fourteen people cram into two connected tents covered with plastic sheeting to combat the winter rains. Although November and the beginning of cooler days, the heat inside the tents is choking. In time, the opposite will be true: the tent’s thin walls and floors without mattresses will render it unbearably cold in the coming cold months.

Until the Israeli massacre of Gaza last winter, Arafia al Attar and her husband Saleh Abu Leila lived in a two-storey home in Gaza’s northwestern Attatra region. A farming family originally from Gaza, they have now joined the 1948 and 1967 Palestine refugees, themselves becoming refugees in their own Strip.

Over 21,000 houses were or seriously damaged during the 23 days of Israeli attacks. UN reports say the homes completely destroyed number over 3,500, and those greatly damage barely stand at 2,800. But even those living in the 52,000 homes with ‘minor’ damages must contend with leaking rooves, cracked walls, shattered windows, and remnants of Israeli shelling.Since the end of the Israeli massacre of Gaza, nearly no building materials have come in; those that have entered have been for Israeli-approved projects, like the remaking of headstones for the Gaza war cemetary. The cemetary, for British and Commonwealth soldiers, sustained damage from shelling nearby. Other cemetaries serving the Palestinian population sustained much heavier damage, including direct targeting by tank missiles and the intentional bulldozing of walls, gravestones, shelters and trees.

But the rights to burial and the vital needs of Gaza’s new homeless have been mocked: while international bodies and many nations pleged billions to re-build Gaza, nothing has changed. Israeli authorities continue to block entry to cement and other necessary building materials. Glass, along with wood, piping and many other items, is considered potentially dangerous by Israeli authorities. The bomb-blasted windows of homes and buildings remain un-repaired one year later, the luckier families recovering with plastic sheeting.

Poor quality and expensive cement is smuggled in through the tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt, but this is out of reach for the vast majority, particularly those hardest hit.

It is only thanks to ingenuity and desperation that a small number have re-built homes, a police station, and a school using mud brick building techniques.

But that leaves what the UN says are 20,000 Palestinians rendered homeless still just that: without their homes and paying dearly for it. Some have been forced to rent homes wherever a vacant apartment can be found, paying $200 and over per month from incomes they either don’t have or cannot afford to fritter. The majority of others have crowded into family and relatives’ homes.

And hundreds of families, like the Attars, still remain in substandard shelters, which come the winter months will be inhospitably cold. Aside from the parents and one older child, the remaining 11 range from age 14 to 1 month.

This winter will mark the second winter spent in such conditions. Waiting.

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