Palestinians in Gaza try to build new foundations from the ruins of old ones

engineers until he proved they were tougher than cement blocks, and is now having a brick-making machine built that will shape them more precisely and bake them more quickly than the current ten days drying in the sun.

Supporting pillars will be of clay bricks with a core filled with concrete rubble and clay. Ceilings will be domed so the bricks will hold themselves in place without the need for cement. A plaster of lime and charcoal powder together with water run-off slopes should prevent the whole structure disintegrating in the winter rains. By his calculations the school will cost barely half as much to build as a conventional cement and concrete structure of the same size.

We are looking at it as if these closures will continue for 100 years. We have to work. We cannot stay like this,” he said. “But it is a big challenge.”

McCarthy writes that he is not the only Gazan looking at resourceful new ways to skirt the blockade. A few miles further south, in Al-Bureij refugee camp, Shawkt Najar, the head of environmental health at the local municipality, has designed two new vehicles built from scrap metal, one to collect rubbish, the other to fix street lights. The two are trailers pulled by the municipality’s one working tractor and replace a now broken-down, 16-year-old Volvo rubbish truck which could not be properly repaired or replaced because of the blockade.

The trailers, painted bright yellow, are simple but effective, relying on recycled hydraulic pistons powered by the tractor. They head out each day, for rubbish collection in the morning and light repair in the afternoon, trundling through the narrow alleys of the camp, home to 38,000 people. “We feel proud that we found a way to defy the situation,” said Najar. “It is difficult, but we must survive. When people see this collective punishment against them they have to find ways to live their lives.”

After the war in Gaza nearly $5 billion in aid was pledged by the world to help the Palestinians, particularly to rebuild Gaza. Because the blockade prevents the entry of much-needed materials there has been barely any reconstruction.

Israel as well as some international aid agencies, particularly those relying on U.S. government donor money, and the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, on the West Bank, are also reluctant to do anything that might strengthen Hamas.

Hamas has tried to launch its own reconstruction program, offering cash handouts of a few thousand pounds to those whose homes or businesses were destroyed. Ibrahim Radwan, the Hamas deputy minister for public works and housing, said outside help was welcome but should be coordinated with the Islamists’ de facto government — though there is little chance of that happening.

His team has carried out detailed surveys of all houses damaged during the war, assigning each a code and listing the scale of the damage, its cause and the size of the property involved with a view to an eventual compensation payment. They estimate 4,000 houses were totally demolished and 50,000 partly damaged — perhaps 10,000 of which were severely damaged. So far his workers have not done much more than clear some rubble and tried to repair some buildings. ”

Hamas retains its core of support, but McCarthy writes that some Gazans are now speaking more openly of their frustration with Hamas. Perhaps in acknowledgment of this, Hamas has quietly but noticeably moved to halt rocket fire by militants into southern Israel, which Israel said was the reason for its January war and which even some Hamas moderates have admitted privately for years was a dangerously mistaken policy.