A report by the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) has estimated that, one week after Israel’s 50-day long assault on Gaza came to an end, 108,000 Palestinians were made homeless because Israeli bombardment either totally destroyed their homes or damaged them so severely as to render them uninhabitable.Of these, just over 58,000 remain sheltered at United Nations schools – making it impossible for the school year to begin on time for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian schoolchildren living in Gaza. The remaining 50,000 have doubled up with relatives and friends whose homes were not as badly damaged in the Israeli assault.
The number may actually be far higher than the UN OCHA estimate, since over half a million were estimated to have been displaced during the onslaught.
In contrast, no Israelis were made homeless from damage by Palestinian rocket fire during the 50-day-long incursion, as the Palestinian rockets did not have the firepower to be able to do much more than cosmetic damage to the buildings they struck.
Israeli bombs turned whole neighborhoods into rubble, including Khuza’a, in the Khan Younis district of southern Gaza, and Shuja’eyya, in eastern Gaza.
The 108,000 Palestinians with no homes to return to, after the Israeli assault, are in addition to the 71,000 Palestinians who were without permanent shelter before the attack began. Many of those had lost their homes in the Israeli bombing campaign of 2008-9, but had not been able to rebuild since then due to an Israeli blockade that prevented the import of building materials into the Gaza Strip.
Joe Catron, an international observer in Gaza, wrote Wednesday on the ElectronicIntifada.net website about interviews he had with Gaza residents who had been rendered homeless by the 50-day long assault.
Asma al-Rumi spoke to him at UNRWA Boys’ Prep School A, in central Rafah — near Gaza’s border with Egypt, where she and her family have lived since 18 July, saying,“We won’t know until they make a decision at UNRWA. After they go see our home, they might give us some money to rent another place until they fix it. Or they might give us a tent.”
“It’s an awful experience,” al-Rumi said. “Living here is not a life.”
“Now it is better than before,” she added, referring to the many residents who have returned to intact homes. “Before there were many people, in a small space, with a lot of diseases. It was crowded, with a lot of noise and a lack of clean water. There was only one meal a day. We had to buy the rest ourselves. They didn’t give us enough blankets or mattresses to sleep on.”
Showers, she said, were only installed in the school’s bathrooms ten days before the ceasefire. And the shelter’s administration can make it difficult to lead what remains of a normal life, she said.
“They come every night to count us, how many people are still here,” she explained. “If one of your family is absent, they don’t give him meals on other days. When we talk with them about it, they say it [the instruction] isn’t from them, but the people in charge, in higher positions.”
But her family’s lot is better than many, she said. Their house, though heavily damaged, with a demolished roof and cracked walls, windows and water tanks, is still standing and can be repaired. Displaced Palestinians need relief efforts to prioritize their actual needs, she added.
“They bring us things like shampoo. We appreciate this, but we don’t need it. We need them rebuilding our homes.”
Catron noted that an assessment by the Shelter Cluster, a consortium of UN and international aid agencies, estimated it will take 20 years, under current Israeli import restrictions, to rebuild Gaza’s devastated housing stock, including 5,000 units damaged during earlier military offensives.