Page last updated at 08:00 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Gaza slowly begins rebuilding

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Gaza City

Men cooking over open fire
People have been forced to cook over fires because of gas shortages

Parts of Gaza are unscathed. Parts are rubble. For those parts, much of the emphasis this week has been about how to get aid into the territory.

Where, for example, do you raise the hundreds of millions, probably billions of dollars needed to rebuild it after the war? Who handles it? Where do you channel it?

But in the meantime, how are the people of Gaza going about rebuilding their homes and their businesses?

The muezzin at the Salaam mosque, east of Jabalya, was not waiting. You normally hear the call to prayer, when it has been tinnily amplified through a loudspeaker.

But for these midday prayers, the muezzin was only audible to those close by. He had a beautiful voice, the notes held long, the quarter-tones gently wavering.

He stood, eyes closed, on the roof of his mosque, which was now just a couple of metres above the ground, on a pile of rubble. Prayers are now held on that large, jagged slab of concrete.

Deep privations

Across the street, are the remains of the Qadr family house. It is now just an ugly heap of dust-strewn grey masonry, the only splash of colour a torn sheet and a cracked bathroom tile.

Now, up a steep path to the top of the rubble, there is a corrugated iron shack. It is a few metres square, with sheets for walls.

"My family - my children, my grandchildren and my brothers' family - we number 80," the head of the family, Qadr Mohammed Qadr told me. He is a tall, 70-year-old man, sitting next to the small iron shack. "Now, 20 of us sleep here, each night."

His home was, he said, destroyed on 14 January. He returned as soon as the Israeli troops withdrew.

Muezzin calling worshippers to prayer
The muezzin's call to prayer does not travel far

The privations are deep, he said, his citrus orchards have been destroyed, but he needed to return, because "this is my land." He had to be where four members of his family had died.

Mr Qadr received a daily supply of water. And the UN provides a one-off payment of about $150 for a family which has been made homeless. But complete rebuilding - that will take years.

The UN relief agency said that it is years behind schedule on previous reconstruction projects, because of Israeli border closures. And it is not just houses that need to be rebuilt.

Fights for gas

A further short walk across the churned land, is a filling station for propane gas canisters. It used to be enclosed. Now it has one-and-a-half walls. The pipeline was destroyed. A pump has been punched with heavy machine gun fire.

It is a place that thousands of families rely on for their cooking gas.

As we arrived, fights were breaking out. After an early morning bomb explosion, in which an Israeli soldier had died, the Israeli authorities had closed the border crossing points. The gas supply had run out.

Customers vent their fury at the owner - a man so tired and fed up that he did not want to give us his name, and who at one point told the assembled disgruntled customers that it would have been better if the Israelis had completed the job and laid waste to the entire area.

Prayers held on ground near the mosque
Prayers are held near the ruins of the mosque

The owner and his workers had only just finished repairing the station so that it was operational. One of the workers, 29-year-old Mohammed Jarada, watched the melees from what little shade the station forecourt now provided.

Mr Jarada said he was the only breadwinner for his own family of 12, and despite being an employee at the gas station, his family were cooking on firewood.

The Israeli authorities said that they had closed the crossing points because of the attack on their soldiers. Who did he blame?

Mohammed's eyes fixed on the middle distance: "In this state of chaos, in this state of anarchy," he said, "I can't blame anybody. Everyone is blaming everybody else in the Gaza Strip."

The customers drifted off, without their canisters. Around them, the sound of reconstruction continued, the jarring pound of metal posts being hammered into the ground, the rhythmic scrape of mortar being smeared over breeze blocks.

One of the two men building the wall shone a rueful smile in our direction. "Until the next time," he said. There is a resilience and a resignation about people in Gaza.

Yes, the rebuilding has begun. Until, that is, the next cataclysm hits.

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