For many displaced families in Gaza, war is never over

For many displaced families in Gaza, war is never over
A severe housing crisis in Gaza, worsened by the Israeli blockade, has put insult to injury for families and children.
5 min read
22 October, 2019
Hundred of thousands of homes and buildings have been left totally demolished in Gaza [Gett
As winter approaches, Haneen Abu Mandil has to prepare her badly-built home to save her three little children from freezing weather and the upcoming storms.

The small home contains major defects and is substandard as it lacks requirements for safe and clean environment to raise children.

Consisting of one room to sleep in, mini kitchen with grave gaping holes that decorate the ceiling and a bathroom with a smashed window covered with plastic tarps, the helpless mother struggles to cope and live with her children in such a dangerous and unfit place.

"During summer, the scorching heat inside makes the place insufferable, and as mosquitos continue to bite my little children while they are sleeping, there is the very little I can do," she said in a broken voice.

"But what alarms me the most is winter as I am afraid my children might suffer from flu, sore throats and fevers like last year if it is not warm enough inside."

If the winds blow in the strong raining season, the small house might be literally ripped off of its crumbling foundation, and some parts of it might be tossed into the air.  

Haneen and her husband, Hussam were newly married when Israeli planes targeted Hussam's family home in Buriej. As a result of the Israeli attack, the house sustained severe damages, dispersing the four families that used to share the two-storey building.

The raid took place in August 2014, during the summer hostilities that erupted between Israel and Hamas leaving hundred of thousands of homes and buildings totally demolished or severely damaged by the Israeli raids.
The couple had to make do with their very small home, and due to financial constraints, they failed to improve the standards of their house. The uneven floor and badly-built walls and other issues are trouble signs that clearly indicate the poor home construction where the couple live with their children.

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Haneen's daily suffering of living with young children in a place that lacks the minimum standards for residential building guidelines has become a sad norm for many who have been suffering from the severe housing crisis in Gaza, exacerbated further by restrictions and relentless due to the Israeli blockade.

The Ministry of Housing in Gaza has issued intimidating figures in this respect that highlight the scale of the crisis. Some 25,000 inhabited apartments in the Gaza Strip are in immediate need of urgent reconstruction, while another 60,000 housing units need renovation to meet the standards for human residential buildings.

The ministry noted that the deficit in the housing sector in Gaza is now estimated at roughly 120,000 homes to meet the increasing need for the rapidly-growing population in the densely populated coastal enclave.

In an attempt to investigate the housing demands inside Gaza, the ministry has embarked on a project to scan cities, camps and all residential neighbourhoods in order to meticulously estimate the exact need of housing units.

So far, the ministry has received 41,000 applications for apartments from families throughout the Gaza Strip.

Naji Sarhan, the Deputy Housing Minister in Gaza said in a press release that the ministry has exerted tremendous efforts to alleviate the intricate crisis but the scarcity of funds allocated to back the housing projects along with the ongoing Israeli restrictions have further constructed their efforts.

For Samir Abu Khousa, 32, owning an independent home for him and his family is an impossible dream that remains out of his reach.

The married man lives with his wife and two children in one room in his family's home. He cannot afford building his own home in light of the soaring prices of building materials or even afford the sharply-risen costs of renting an apartment for his family.

"I struggle to make ends meet for my family and bring food for our dinner table each night," Samir said.

"With this small amount of savings, I cannot have a home for my own."

He applied for a request to have an apartment at the Housing Ministry two years ago. Delegation from the ministry's staff visited his family's home to look into his case; they had classified his case as a difficult one that needs an apartment.

"They promised to include my name with files of families that will receive an apartment. But, I have not heard from them yet. Each time, I go there they inform me that the construction's projects are yet to start. I do not know how long it will take me before I have a small independent apartment where I can raise my children in a comfortable environment," he said in anguish.

Al-Mezan said that the continuous Israeli blockade holds the blame for the aggravated housing crisis in the Gaza Strip.

It noted that the systematic Israeli policy of deliberately targeting residents' homes at every surge of violence, along with the suffocating restrictions imposed on entry of building materials has alleviated the suffering for the people of Gaza.

Meanwhile, Gazans are still cramped in overcrowded neighbourhoods in villages and refugee camps or struggle to cope with their badly-built homes. They see no end in sight to their displacement.

"I wish my children might lead a decent life when they get older, and live in a better place," Haneen adds.

"I want them to do very well at their school in order to pave their way for better future," she concludes with a smile.   

Isra Namey is a freelance writer based in Gaza. Her writings have appeared in the Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, Al Jazeera, and Middle East Eye.

Follow her on Twitter @IsraNamey