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Hamilton man rebuilds life in Gaza after war with Israel

It’s been a month, but Baraa Abu Dagga is still looking at a charred pit where his family’s home used to be. He says the family's home was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike last month, during the 50-day war that saw the most intense fighting between Gaza militants and Israel’s military.

17,000 Gaza housing units were destroyed or severely damaged during the war: Shelter Cluster

Palestinians attend a victory rally organized by the military wing of Hamas, at the debris of destroyed houses in the northern Gaza Strip. (Adel Hana/Associated Press)

It’s been a month, but Baraa Abu Dagga is still looking at a charred pit where his family’s home used to be.

“It’s been really difficult – looking at our house,” he told CBC Hamilton from Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. “It’s totally bombed.”

He says the family's home was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike last month, during the 50-day war that saw the most intense fighting between Gaza militants and Israel’s military. Abu Dagga and his family all hold dual Palestinian-Canadian citizenship. The 18-year-old spent six years living in Hamilton, but returned to Gaza to be with his family and go to school.

Right now, nine people are staying with his uncle and grandfather while they wait for construction crews to rebuild their home. “We’re just here waiting,” he said. “But the government isn’t helping much.”

Palestinians gather around the remains of an office building tower that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City before the current ceasefire went into effect. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

But he knows that’s because of the sheer volume of destruction crews are facing, he says. With a population of 1.8 million, Gaza is a densely populated coastal strip of both urban and agricultural land that still bears the scars of previous rounds of fighting.

Over 2,100 Palestinians and 71 Israelis were killed

In its report issued last month, a committee that supports people affected by conflicts and disasters called Shelter Cluster said 17,000 Gaza housing units were destroyed or severely damaged during this summer's war.

The report, which was co-chaired by the UN refugee agency and the Red Cross, says 5,000 units still need work after damage sustained in the previous military campaigns. In addition, it says, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units.

“It’s going to be really difficult for them,” Abu Dagga said. “There are a lot of homes that are down and bombed.” Shelter Cluster says it will take 20 years for Gaza's battered and neglected housing stock to be rebuilt following the war between Hamas and Israel – an assessment based on the capacity of the main Israel-Gaza cargo crossing to handle 100 trucks of construction materials daily.

Any effort to rebuild Gaza will be hindered by a blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel since the Islamic militant group Hamas was elected in 2006. Israel has severely restricted the import of concrete and other building materials into Gaza, fearing that militants will use them to build rockets and reinforce cross-border attack tunnels.

Palestinian officials have estimated that reconstruction efforts in Gaza may cost upward of $6 billion. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

The latest war began after three Israeli teens were killed in the West Bank by Hamas in June, prompting Israel to arrest hundreds of Hamas members there. Rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities then escalated, and Israel launched a massive air and later ground campaign. The fighting lasted almost two months. According to the latest report from the United Nations, more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, died in the war. Israel lost 71 people, all but five of them soldiers.

Abu Dagga says the area is still “very dangerous,” but not nearly as bad as when the fighting was still ripping the area apart last month. “Now we’re not as afraid,” he said.

Egyptian mediators tried early on to get the sides to agree to a cease-fire.

Corrections

  • This story was modified on Sept. 9th to distinguish that Baraa Abu Dagga attributes the destruction of his family home to an Israeli bomb. The previous version presented that as fact. As well, the source for casualty numbers used in the story, the United Nations, has been added.
    Sep 09, 2014 10:58 AM ET

With files from the Associated Press and the CBC's Derek Stoffel

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