Six months after Gaza was devastated by a 22-day Israeli military offensive, rebuilding has barely begun. This is on top of a near-total blockade that Israel imposed in 2007 that has kept most goods and supplies out of the Strip.
The range of destruction is breathtaking. Schools, health clinics, houses and the basic infrastructure of both public services and government have been destroyed. The building housing the Palestinian parliament has been reduced to rubble, and legislators are forced to meet in a tent outside.
Israeli officials claim that both the siege and the military offensive are aimed at dislodging Hamas from power. But to people on the ground, it feels like an assault on every aspect of life here.
The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), responsible for the welfare and development of Gaza's refugees, who make up 80 percent of the population, has felt the effects in all areas of their work.
"The siege is near total," says John Ging, Director of UNRWA in Gaza. "In terms of its restrictions on supplies allowed into Gaza, in essence what is allowed to come in are the basic humanitarian supplies." Among the large list of prohibited materials are life-saving medicines and many food items. No concrete, tools, or other building materials are allowed in.
"We are talking about 388 patients who have died," because the siege kept them from leaving to get treatment, says Dr. Bassem Naim, Palestinian Minister of Health. "We are talking about absence of medicine. Seventy medicines where the stock is zero," he says.
"There is an intense desire to rebuild, and there is no shortage of skilled labor. Billions of dollars of aid from countries around the world, including the US, have been pledged. But scarcely a single house has been repaired, and people are still living in tents, or with family members, or in shelters. "We are running out of time," says John Ging. "We need to move from keeping people alive to giving them a life."
Jordan Flaherty is a writer and community organizer based in New Orleans.
Lily Keber is a documentary filmmaker and teacher living in New Orleans.
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