Thousands in Gaza await compensation after homes destroyed

Nagham Mohanna

The National  /  November 11, 2021

Six months on from latest war, residents face a long wait before their homes are repaired.

Thousands of people are still homeless six months after Israel’s 11-day assault on Gaza, despite millions of dollars being pledged to rebuild the enclave.

Those apartments still standing are crammed with relatives as claims for damages go unanswered.

The war left Mohammed Shamalkh living with 18 of his relatives, many of whose homes were destroyed in the Israeli bombardment.

The $150 monthly rent is paid for by fisherman Mr Shamalkh’s meagre daily income of $3 combined with the $200 a month his father is given from relief charity Ghaith.

“I didn’t receive any compensation, I already submitted all the papers to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing and I’m waiting for their reply,” Mr Shamalkh, 31, told The National.

The government has told those who lost their homes in the bombing to register claims at Gaza’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing, which estimates the total cost of reconstruction at around $479 million. It said plans are in place to rebuild in three phases.

More than 260 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel were killed in the war in May. About 1,550 homes were destroyed in Gaza, with another 860 homes sustaining damage, resulting in the displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Billions were pledged after the war to aid reconstruction but much of the money is not reaching those who need it.

Qatar and Egypt pledged a collective $1 billion to rebuild the residential units destroyed in the offensive and some work has started on a coastal promenade in the north of the strip to prepare it for construction of a residential building.

“We prepared reports with the estimated losses and we contacted a number of Gulf countries, European countries and the US directly or by the international associations in the Gaza Strip,” Naji Sarhan, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Works, told The National. He said he was still waiting to hear back from some nations.

“The affected people will receive the compensation on three or four financial boosts where the donors will send it to them directly, or by conducting a bid process for contractors where the money will be sent from the donors to the contractors,” Mr Sarhan said, although he did not specify a timetable for payouts.

The military wing of Hamas, which runs the strip, is designated a terrorist group by nations including the US and the UK. This could add complications to the process of fixing the damage and donors look for other ways to disburse funds to those who need it.

Alaa Shamali, 35, was living in a nine-floor building of 46 apartments in Al Yarmook street in the middle of Gaza city.

“Israeli warplanes destroyed the building completely without knowing the reasons behind their attack” he said.

The local journalist was paying for his apartment in instalments and had paid $65,000 when it was destroyed. Now, his five children and partner pay their rent with donations from relief agencies and his meagre salary.

“I am afraid I won’t receive any compensation now, or it will take years to compensate me,” Mr Shamali said.

An added complication is the 14 years of Israeli blockade on the strip, including a five-month ban on the entry of building materials to Gaza. Lorries carrying construction materials were allowed to enter in early September.

Not only did Amjad Mortaja lose his home in the bombardment, he was storing savings to buy a new apartment but all was destroyed when the building collapsed under shelling by Israeli forces.

“I was keeping my savings in my apartment to pay for a new home but suddenly I lost everything: the money and my furniture and my memories,” the 40 year old said.

“All my dreams were dashed and I will wait till I receive any compensation.”