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Middle east

Blockade must be lifted to rebuild Gaza, say NGOs

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Guillaume AUDA , Special correspondent in Gaza

Latest update : 2009-03-02

Weeks after the Israeli offensive, Gaza is still reeling. NGOs say that construction materials and aid must be allowed into the enclave so Gaza can at last get back on its feet.

Nearly six weeks after the Israeli offensive ended, Gaza has not yet got back on its feet.

Destroyed roads, fallen buildings, whole parts of towns devastated by January’s offensive remain. The Palestinian body count topped 1,300.

In Al Atatra, in the north of the Palestinian enclave, everything is debris, dust and desolation. In this rural area, makeshift tents poke out from the ruins, battered by the elements, homes to families who have lost everything.

Even so, it is not unusual to see a Palestinian flag flying somewhere over the ruins. Pride may be on display, but the priority now is reconstruction.

Starting over

In the courtyard of the Moawiya school in Al Atatra, some 20 Palestinian workers are hard at work.

“These men are putting down the floor of a new classroom they’ve just made,” says Yves Lallinec, of the French NGO Chaîne de l’Espoir, who is overseeing the construction of a new school from prefabricated materials.

Heavily bombed during the conflict, one of the main wings of the original building is now useless.

“At least six classrooms on three floors were destroyed,” explains Lallinec. “Children in this area haven’t been able to go to school for the last two months.”

Lallinec, who has experience in managing emergency operations that demand co-operation in conflict zones, managed to get several lorries carrying construction supplies and nearly 50,000 hygiene and school kits for Gaza children into the area.

“We waited three weeks at the Keren Shalom terminal [south of Gaza] before we could even get a look at these goods, while the Israelis were checking everything," Lallinec says. "We’re happy with what we’ve got because it’s very difficult to get construction material into the area. I think this is the first school in Gaza that’s starting to be rebuilt.”

"Re-opening crossing points is the minimum"

Standing beside Lallinec, bright-eyed Rami Abu Jamus agrees. This young man coordinates the Palestinian and French sides of the project.

“When I heard that the goods were finally being allowed into the Strip, I immediately thought about the children,” says Rami. “I was really happy. I told myself that rebuilding was indeed possible. For me, a door of hope has opened.”

With these prefab classrooms, at least 500 pupils in this part of Al Atatra will be able to return to school.

But to rebuild Gaza and its economy, something more permanent is needed.

“Prefab is just temporary,” says Lallinec. “It seems that the Israelis have no intention of letting Gaza get itself back together. If they really wanted to, they would let the necessary materials through. Re-opening the crossing points is the minimum.”

“We’re not going to rebuild Gaza with banknotes”

For this project leader, as for Palestinians and a large part of the international community and its leaders, money from donors is not enough to rebuild Gaza.

“Pressure must be put on the Israelis,” insists Lallinec. “What do we do with the money? We’re not going to rebuild Gaza with banknotes! There needs to be a political agreement, but more important, cement, glass, metal, construction materials, basically. Nothing is getting in for the moment.”

Palestinians have estimated that nearly 3 billion dollars is needed to rebuild Gaza. But there’s another problem for the West – to ensure the money does not get into the hands of Hamas. The international community has absolutely no desire to deal with Hamas, but according to aid workers here, it will have to if it wants to help Gaza.

Date created : 2009-03-02