"Gaza’s Gritty Mixture of Dirt, Despair Produces Houses of Mud
June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Standing on a breezy dune in the Gaza Strip, Nidal Eid, amateur homebuilder, provided his own recipe for mud bricks: Take four parts dirt, one part sand and enough water to form a thick paste. Scoop into a shoebox-size mold. Remove and dry for three days in the sun.
It’s an ancient construction material that is suddenly fashionable in Gaza because there is precious little else available. More than four months after an Israeli invasion left buildings and infrastructure in ruins, almost no reconstruction has taken place.
“This kind of house is out of the far past,” Eid said. “Welcome to the land of the pharaohs.”
The failure to rebuild Gaza shows how its residents are trapped in a web of conflicting Palestinian, Israeli and foreign demands. The result is a climate of alienation among the enclave’s 1.5 million residents that has soured many of them on Hamas, the Islamic party that rules Gaza, and a rival faction that controls the West Bank.
Eid’s house in Rafah, near the Gazan-Egyptian border, was destroyed by bombs. Israel said it bombarded the border to demolish tunnels being used by Hamas to smuggle in arms and rocket parts from Egypt.
In March, international donors meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, pledged $4.23 billion to finance rebuilding. None of the money has been spent. The donors, as well as Israel and Fatah in the West Bank, are unwilling to put rebuilding in the hands of Hamas.
“You can say almost no reconstruction aid is reaching Gaza,” said Hamada A. al-Bayari, humanitarian affairs analyst for the UNOffice for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Gaza.
Eid, who has five children, can’t afford the $150 in apartment rent he is paying on a monthly income of $200. “If I wait for the politicians to solve this problem, I will never have a house,” he said.
Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, has ruled Gaza since June 2007, when it routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Israel invaded Gaza to put an end to Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel. The assault, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, shattered houses and apartments belonging to 5,000 families and partially damaged another 5,000, according to Hamas’ Social Affairs Ministry.
Commercial building material is also blocked because Israel says it can be used to repair tunnels and construct weaponry. Israel began to periodically close the Gaza frontier when Hamas won 2006 parliamentary elections and imposed a full blockade on trade after Hamas took control of the strip.
Hamas officials say that aid should go through unimpeded regardless of political differences with Abbas’s Fatah group.
Gazans “are denied help because we are in power,” said Ahmed Elkurd, 60, Hamas’ Minister of Social Affairs, in his Gaza office.
Hamas’ Economy Minister, Ziad el-Zaza, estimated only a dozen people have turned to mud housing, although the Hamas government is promoting it on television. “We are studying the matter and then we will leave it to the private sector,” said el-Zaza, 53, in an interview in Gaza.
Gone is any notion that Hamas could duplicate the effort by Hezbollah, the Lebanese party and militia that fought a 33-day war with Israel in 2006. With aid from Iran and Qatar, it rebuilt south Lebanon and parts of Beirut.
“Gaza is not Lebanon,” said Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s al-Azhar University. “It’s closed off.”
Abbas loyalists and Hamas officials all say a first step in unblocking aid is a power-sharing agreement, which they have been discussing for months in Cairo.
“Without some sort of reconciliation, it is impossible to pressure Israel and the donors to open the borders,” Hisham Shkoukani, an official with Abbas’ Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, said in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the nominal Palestinian capital.
In the meantime, hundreds of Gazans are living in tent encampments. Others have taken refuge with relatives. The landscape is dotted with destroyed housing. Hamas’ parliament met on March 13 inside the ruined legislative building.
Eid was a policeman in Abbas’ government before the Hamas takeover. He still gets a salary from the Ramallah headquarters.
The economics of rebuilding favor mud, Eid said. A five- kilo bag of cement smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt costs 200 Israeli shekels or about $50 -- a 10-fold increase from when trade crossed borders.
A cartload of dirt, on the other hand, enough for several walls, costs 200 shekels; two loads are enough for his 81- square-meter (872 square foot), one-story house, he said. “As you see, there’s plenty of free sand,” he added.
The best dirt comes from tunnels under construction in Rafah, and Israel occasionally bombs there. “Of course, you don’t want to be getting a load when the Israeli bombs come, but otherwise, that is where the easy dirt is,” Eid said.