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A Year After War, Gazans Persist at Rebuilding — With Help of Aid Groups

17 Jul 2015 – By Paul Jeffrey

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (CNS) — Fawzi Abu Jame’a had finally finished building his family’s dream home just eight months before the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic party that governs Gaza. Unable to work because of diabetes, Jame’a had borrowed money from friends to buy the last materials he needed, but he believed it was worth it. His two children could play inside without being seen by Israeli soldiers watching from the border less than a mile away.

Then came the war, and Jame’a’s house soon fell to a barrage of bombs, mortars, and weaponized bulldozers that pushed through the rubble ahead of advancing Israeli ground troops. He fled with his wife and children in the middle of the night, with no time to grab even their documents, escaping to a U.N. school some two miles away. That became their home for the next month before he arranged to move into a friend’s crowded apartment.

But now he’s back home. His house remains a pile of rubble, on which he still owes almost $2,000. But in a vacant space beside it, he has moved into a house built by Catholic Relief Services, the international relief and development arm of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

CRS is building hundreds of what it calls “transitional houses” throughout Gaza, where more than 10,000 houses were completely destroyed in last year’s conflict. They are designed to last at least five years, after which residents hope they will be able to move into a more permanent dwelling. Yet in a land where residents have experienced three wars in the past six years, people such as Jame’a will most likely have to stretch the word “temporary” as long as they can.

“It’s an excellent house, and with a window it’s not too hot. I feel fortunate, as a lot of people here still have nothing,” said Jame’a, who has already added a patio, kitchen cupboards, and several other improvements.

His next task is buying some furniture, as all of his old furniture was destroyed.

“And then I’m going to see how I can rebuild my house. I’ve got the land and my brothers live nearby and will help me. If necessary, we can live in this house for 20 years until we build a new home. But we will build it,” he told Catholic News Service.

The CRS housing program is funded from the organization’s own budget, along with contributions from other sources, including Catholics in France and the United Kingdom, and Mormons and Muslims in the United States.

Deya Al Baba, a CRS shelter specialist, said getting victims of war out of crowded shelters and into decent housing is a critical contribution to helping Gaza begin to recover.

“Palestinians in Gaza consider their house as their paradise. They spend most of their lives building a new house to provide adequate and dignified space for their children. There are no green spaces to let their children play outside, so the house becomes a place for the children to play, learn, cook, eat, watch television, all the normal things of life. So when they lose their homes, they are heartbroken and depressed. Their home is their life, their dream,” he said.

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