Gaza’s unsung heroes: The working class

Mahmoud Nasser

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 5, 2023

Gaza has 2.1 million inhabitants. And its population is growing rapidly.

These 2.1 million people need space to live, space, which as the years go by, becomes more scarce.

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The people of Gaza have nowhere else to go, very little ability or opportunity to emigrate, or even move within occupied Palestine due to Israel’s now 16-year-old siege.

And yet, even though Gaza is broken in so many ways, it still builds and rebuilds, after every destruction visited on it. Broken and besieged nations aren’t supposed to develop in any way, but Gaza is different.

Walking around here, you see new construction on every street corner, leaving you only to wonder at the speed in which a building is erected and completed.

The sense that one might feel from the outside that Gaza is only falling apart is not so apparent on the ground. These buildings represent a nation developing, a concerted attempt to combat the population density crisis in any way possible.

Gaza should no longer be thought of as a place of destruction.

Yes, there have been a series of major attacks since December 2008, and numerous small escalations along the way. These could easily bring any nation to its knees.

But not Gaza, not the Palestinian people.

A ray of hope.

In January of this year, the Hamas-led government in Gaza launched its “Bottleneck” project in Beach refugee camp. The project is to widen the congested and very narrow streets in the camp, which connects southern and northern governorates.

The project is not without critics. Having to move, yet again, from the houses they came to think of as homes, even in a refugee camp, leaves some angry.

A better functioning Gaza is an important goal, but these residents are praying this will be the last time they are forced to move.

Still, the people of Gaza are a steadfast lot, and in confronting the population density crisis with a construction boom, new heroes have emerged.

These unsung heroes work with their hands. They lay the bricks to ensure everyone has a place to live.

These laborers are sadly invisible. No one looks twice at them or gives them the respect they deserve, earned through their sweat and effort.

Their wages average between $300-$500 a month, barely enough to put bread on their families’ tables, but in line with Gaza’s average wage of around $350 a month.

I spent some months photographing a group of construction workers. I got to hear their stories and their struggles as they combat life in Gaza.

In the town of Beit Hanoun, located in the northernmost part of the Gaza Strip, houses are built swiftly. There I followed a group of workers, with whom I would share countless cups of coffee.

What was most astonishing was the speed at which they moved from one house to the next. One month, they were building a house from the ground up; the next they had already moved to another.

The topic most broached in our conversations was how much things have changed for the worse in Gaza. Wages are a fraction of what they were due to the dire economic state of Gaza.

Unemployment is around 50 percent.

Poverty afflicts over 50 percent of Gaza’s population.

These laborers, hospitable to a fault and unfailingly friendly, work their days away, looking for respite from Gaza’s reality.

This is the struggle of the working class in Gaza, a struggle seen in their faces, their clothes, and the calluses on their hands.

Mahmoud Nasser is a Gaza-based photographer and writer