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

Published 10 June 2009

Tight Israeli and Egyptian economic blockade of the Gaza Strip prevents building materials from entering the Hamas-controlled area; Gazans have come up with ingenious ways of rebuilding their city

Necessity is the mother of invention. Politics and political arguments aside, the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip have a very difficult time. Under siege from both Israel and Egypt, there is little by way of economic activity. Moreover, the insistence of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup in the summer of 2007, to associate itself with the most extreme elements in the region such as Iran and Hezbollah and oppose the peace process with Israel, has created a situation in which materials needed for basic activities are regarded by both Israel and Egypt as dual-use materials and are not allowed into the Strip. After all, cement and iron may be used to build homes — but may also be used in building tunnels through which Hamas smuggles Iranian explosives and rockets.

During the past two years, therefore, ever since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, Israel has imposed a strict economic blockade, under which the import of any construction materials is banned. The Guardian’s Rory McCarthy writes that desperation has prompted innovation: Some builders are now using as their main building rough bricks made from Gazan clay.

The lay the foundations of new buildings, these builders use piles of concrete rubble, taken from the ruins of houses destroyed in Israel’s January war in Gaza.

McCarthy writes that it is a compelling demonstration of both the startling, backward slide in development in Gaza — and the ingenuity and resilience of its people, who Barack Obama said in Cairo last week were facing “a continuing humanitarian crisis” which “does not serve Israel’s security.”

Under Israel’s tight economic blockade, exports are banned along with all imports, including construction materials such as cement, metal, glass, and wood, except for a limited amount of food and humanitarian supplies. Egypt has joined in, keeping its Rafah crossing into Gaza largely closed too.

The closures have meant barely any rebuilding has taken place in Gaza since Israel’s devastating war nearly six months ago, which killed around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis and destroyed thousands of Gazan homes and businesses. The lack of equipment is even jeopardizing a landmark $75 million sewage project championed by Tony Blair, according to the World Bank.

An example of Palestinian ingenuity is the Mabarra al-Rahma school in Shujaiyeh, a three-story structure aimed to be a learning center for 500 disabled children. Maher al-Batroukh, the contractor, studied mud-built designs on the Internet to pick up long-forgotten techniques. He had the mud-bricks tested by university