For the past three and a half months, Israel has prevented the transfer of construction materials to Gaza’s private sector, causing harm to the economy. Here are five stories looking at how the ban has impacted people’s lives.
Mukhles al-Ajrami, 33, father of four, is a former Palestinian Authority police officer and today, unemployed. He is on the UNRWA waiting list to receive a housing unit. His home was destroyed in 2004, in an operation conducted by the Israeli army to raze tunnels in the Rafah area. Mukhles has two brothers who have families of their own. Together with their parents, the extended family has 18 members. They are supposed to receive four housing units in a project funded by UNRWA, but construction has been put on hold because of Israel’s decision to stop the entrance of construction materials to the Gaza Strip. In the meantime, al-Ajrami receives 100 dollars per month from UNRWA, an amount that falls short of covering the rent in his temporary home, which averages 200 dollars a month.
Al-Ajrami describes his life as a “Situation of distress. Like a refugee, or an immigrant inside the Gaza Strip”. Al-Ajrami has moved five times over the last decade. He does not have enough money to buy furniture for his family, and cannot afford to renovate his rented apartment.
“We are dependent on construction materials coming from Israel”, he says. “I can’t bear to go to the construction site and see that nothing is moving forward, and know that we have to wait longer for a home of our own because the crossings are closed”.
Abdallah Awad, 48, father of six. Awad is an engineer and the director of the al-Saad trading and construction company. The company had been contracted to build a seven-story, 15-apartment residential building, on a 310-square-meter area.
Work began in August and was scheduled to be completed in nine months. According to the contract Awad signed with the landowner, he was to pay a 100-dollar penalty for every day of delay in completing the project. Work on the project grounded to a halt in November because of the shortage of construction materials. All 40 of Awad’s workers – from the project engineer to the site security guard – have been out of work.
“Work on the building began around the same time the construction material shortage in the local market started. In order to finish it quickly, I had to buy cement for a much higher price than I had planned, and the company absorbed the loss”, says Awad. “Because of the price hike, we had to stop the work when the second floor was built. The apartments are meant to be built on the site of the former home of the landowner who was supposed to move into one of the newly built apartments. Now he and his family have nowhere to live”.
Mahdi Barghout, 21, lives with his family of 11 in the a-Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City. Barghout used to work as a tiler with his father. Since August, which was just about the time that the construction material shortage in the Gaza Strip really started being felt (cement especially is needed for tiling work) Barghout and his father have been out of work.
To compensate, Barghout started working as a small scale wholesaler of sewing supplies and jewelry, which he stored in the yard of the family home, but he lost his merchandise in the storms that hit Gaza about a month ago.
The storm damaged more than just the business. Rainwater flooded the first floor of the family home. Construction of the second floor had not yet been finished, but when the first floor flooded, the family had to seek temporary shelter on the unfinished second floor, without drinking water, a shower or windows and exposed to the cold.
The day after the flood, the family was evacuated on boats used by the local civil security services to rescue residents of Gaza. They moved to a nearby apartment, owned by a relative. When Barghout and his brothers went back to their house on the following day to pump out the rainwater, they discover that raw sewage had mixed with the water, overflowing during the storm as a result of Gaza’s poor infrastructure.
Zuheir Daoud, 47, father of six. Daoud is an engineer and owns the al-Ghad al-Jadid engineering and building company in Gaza. Due to the lack of construction materials, work has been put on hold and the company’s employees have been out of work.
Al-Ghad al-Jadid had been contracted to build the new seven-story lecture wing at al-Aqsa University but the project was delayed because of the shortage in construction materials. Daoud says the shortage is “crushing private sector companies, which will end up crushing Gaza’s entire economy. The economy is mostly based on construction materials, upon which many other sectors in Gaza are dependent”.
The construction of the wing began in April 2013 and was scheduled to be completed in June 2014. The project’s termination date has now been postponed indefinitely. The crew consisted of eight engineers and about 70 laborers, who were paid an average of 70 shekels a day. They are now all out of work.
The reduction in the amount of construction materials brought into Gaza through the tunnels started to be felt as early as the beginning of June, when work on the building’s foundation was completed. In October, activity in the tunnels, which served as the major route for transporting construction materials, stopped, and with it, work on the project.
“I’m worried by the fact that I can’t plan my work day and by the uncertainty about tomorrow and the days to follow”, he says. “The situation has also affected every aspect of my personal life. I try to use my car as little as possible to avoid the high price of gas. I even try to be frugal with the company’s phone calls so that I can use the money for other, more urgent needs. The workers and I were proud of this project. We used to say that our children would study in those halls and get degrees”.
Hasan Shanino, 24, is the eldest son in a family of eight from the al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. He needs one ton of cement in order to be able to get married and move out of his parents’ home. About a year ago, Shanino started building a small apartment for himself and his future wife above his parents’ home – about 60 square meters (646 square feet) in size. He’s now one ton of cement short of finishing tiling the apartment.
The couple got engaged about five months ago and set the wedding for the spring, assuming that the apartment would be finished by then. According to custom in Gaza, a couple can get married and move out of their parents’ homes only into their own apartment, where they can live together. The lack of building materials in the Gaza Strip has delayed the completion of the apartment, and thus too the wedding has been put off indefinitely.
Shanino tried to hunt down the final ton of cement that would allow him to get on with his life. He searched all the stores and even registered with the local government’s ministry of finance to put himself on the list of eligible candidates for receiving the scarce construction supplies, but all in vain. Even if a ton of unclaimed cement cropped up somewhere in the Gaza Strip, Shanino would most likely not be able to afford it, as the high demand and limited supply have led to a dramatic price increase.