The first winter storm sent water into Ghalia al-Attar’s house through cracks in the tin walls and roof, while the widow, her children and grandchildren spread buckets on the floor.
His home was among the tens of thousands that were damaged during the 11-day war in Gaza in May between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the isolated and impoverished territory. Hundreds of houses were completely destroyed and reconstruction efforts have yet to take off.
Families like al-Attar’s have arranged things the best they can, but winter in the coastal territory brings cold nights and periodic storms.
“I’ve never seen a worse night than that,” al-Attar said the next day, as she and her relatives spread blankets and mattresses on ropes to dry.
The agricultural city of Beit Lahiya, near the border with Israel, was hit by Israeli airstrikes during the war. Several houses in the surrounding area were damaged and trees were cut down by shrapnel.
Israel says it only targeted military targets and did everything it could to save civilians, but of the more than 250 people killed in Gaza, more than half were civilians, according to the UN. Thirteen people died on the Israeli side.
According to the United Nations, some 56,000 homes in Gaza were damaged in the conflict and more than 2,100 were completely destroyed or so severely damaged that they are uninhabitable. Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes during the war, often in populated areas where it said Hamas was staging strikes, while Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets at Israel.
Gaza has endured four wars and an Israeli-Egyptian blockade punishment since 2007, when Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent militants from rearming, while critics see it as a form of collective punishment.
Naji Sarhan, a Hamas-led Housing Ministry official, says residents need $ 170 million to rebuild, but only $ 13 million has been disbursed so far. That covered some repairs, but the funds are not considered sufficient to cover the rebuilding of the houses that were destroyed. The World Bank, which helps coordinate international aid to Gaza, has provided similar estimates of what is needed to rebuild.
“Donor countries are tired,” Sarhan said. “There are houses that were destroyed three times. In every war, this or that house is destroyed, then rebuilt, and then destroyed. “
Many families whose houses suffered minor or moderate damage have remained in them, often because they cannot afford other accommodation. But after months without repairs, and with the arrival of the rainy weather, the cracks are widening.
Qatar, which is Gaza’s main donor and a political ally of Hamas, has allocated $ 50 million for the reconstruction and repair of homes. Egypt has pledged $ 500 million for infrastructure and housing, but it is unclear how much of that financing has materialized. Sarhan said Hamas officials are in talks with Qatar to increase their contribution.
Israel has eased the blockade as part of an informal ceasefire brokered by Egypt and is issuing 10,000 permits for Palestinians in Gaza to work in Israel, primarily in construction and domestic work. That will provide a vital cash flow to Gaza, where unemployment hovers around 50%. Building materials are allowed for those who can afford them.
The morning after the storm, some houses in Beit Lahiya were still flooded. Ali al-Attar, a cousin who married and moved into his own home in January, plunged into 12-inch-deep water while removing his furniture and moving it to his parents’ home. He tried to rescue wet carpets that reeked of brackish water.
“We hope to rebuild this house and improve it, but I can’t,” Ghalia said.