Tent cities have sprung up around the country, as people frustrated with the high cost of housing in Israel and inspired by campers on the tony Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv are sleeping outside and blocking main roads in protest. Media coverage of the tent protests has captured the attention of Israeli government representatives, including the prime minister, who are scrambling to make campaign-style promises of more affordable housing.
Meanwhile in Gaza, a different kind of housing crisis continues to unfold, off the radar of most Israelis, including those protesting for social justice and housing rights here in Israel.
The housing crisis in Gaza, like the one in Israel, is the result of several factors. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The three-year, complete ban on entrance of construction materials from June 2007 – June 2010. It is estimated that each year around 13,000 new units are needed to meet the demand of natural growth
- Compounded by the ban on entrance of materials, the consequent total or partial destruction of over 60,000 homes during Operation Cast Lead
- Continued restrictions on the economy in Gaza which result in low purchasing power and which therefore translate to people not being able to afford the materials that do enter via illicit tunnels
The changes Israel announced in June 2010 to “ease” the closure policy (letting in otherwise banned construction materials for international projects approved by the Palestinian Authority) have not significantly helped alleviate Gaza’s housing crisis, as international agencies (the only ones who can get materials transported through Israel) have mainly addressed other urgent needs for re-building (hospitals, schools, clinics, civilian infrastructure, etc).
The flourishing tunnel trade in Israeli-banned construction materials, which incidentally also turns the local government a handsome profit in taxes, has helped those who can afford the materials coming through the tunnels to re-build or repair their homes, as well as develop or renovate a few hotels and resorts. By virtue of the fact that the tunnel trade is illicit and risky, the materials brought through are more expensive than those bought from Israel or the West Bank.
According to data from the Shelter Cluster, of the homes that have been completely demolished in Gaza – 3,502 during Operation Cast Lead plus 953 in other military operations and in other circumstances – only 198 have been re-built (4%!). Of those with major damage, approximately 43% have been repaired. Estimates for housing needs in Gaza run in the tens of thousands, for a population of 1.6 million.
We’re not asking Israel to build new homes in Gaza or provide incentives to contractors to build affordable housing. We’re just asking Israel to lift the closure of Gaza so that residents there can solve their own housing crisis.