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Gazans rebuild with rubble as reconstruction delayed

The Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Gaza is contracting with local companies to crush rubble and turn it into construction material.
Workmen break rubble into pieces as they recycle salvaged construction materials from buildings destroyed during the May 2021 conflict between Hamas and Israel, at a rubble collection area in Gaza City's eastern suburb of Shujaiya on June 5, 2021.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Amid Israel’s partial closing of Gaza’s only commercial crossing since May 11 and the delay in the reconstruction process, Gazans are using war rubble to rebuild the enclave following the most recent conflict between Israel and military factions in Gaza, which ended with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire on May 21.

Crushers are being used near the border with Israel to produce construction material from the rubble of houses destroyed during the recent war.

Between the piles of rubble littering the borders, Mahmoud Samara, 37, operates his crusher.

Samara initially entered the construction field following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father. But he began to work on recycling rubble seven years ago, as it has become a more lucrative business in light of the many wars and destruction Gaza has witnessed since the Israeli siege was imposed in 2007.

On a daily basis, Samara receives 100 cups of rubble (one cup being 1.2 tons). He places them in the huge crusher and then in the sieve, which filters out the product and produces different types of gravel, from rough to soft or extremely soft-like sand.

Gravel is used to build floors, and concrete blocks are produced to be sold later on.

Samara told Al-Monitor, “We provide a high-quality alternative. We test the product made of the construction material we create to have the same local features to meet the needs of local projects.”

He added, “From each ton of rubble, we produce around 1.1 tons of gravel or around 100 concrete blocks that cost 18 agoras ($0.055) each, which is lower than the Egyptian price of 26 agoras ($0.08) due to the high cost of moving them to the Gaza Strip.”

The 16 workers at Samara’s crusher company clean the rubble before placing it in the crusher. Plastic, metal and other debris are removed from the rubble of houses. One kilogram of plastic is sold for 3 shekels ($0.92) and a ton of metal is sold for 1,600 shekels ($492), while a ton of scrap is sold for 200 shekels ($61.5).

After finishing recycling, the material is carried to the buildings under construction or to a factory to be reused if they needed recycling, such as plastic, which is used to produce plastic boxes, water networks and plastic bottles.

Meanwhile, Israel bans the entry of metal to Gaza without coordination of the specific quantities to enter due to the metal’s dual-use capabilities (civilian and military).

This is why metal is also recycled. Samara said, “Given the rise in metal price, we recycle it and remold it and create two types: scrap metal, and metal that is reused to create foundations and columns of new buildings.”

Mohammed al-Askari, director-general of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Removing the rubble is a key step to begin reconstructing the Gaza Strip. Egypt is currently helping us by sending new equipment to Gaza to remove around 270,000 tons of rubble.”

He added, “Rubble has many usages, and therefore, there had to be technical supervision from the Ministry of Public Works. Tenders were proposed to remove the rubble. Bases and foundations of destroyed houses are being used to reinforce the coast to face natural erosion, which the Gaza Strip has started to undergo.”

The Gaza Strip is suffering from a geomorphological phenomenon, which is the rapid and dangerous erosion of the coast. The environmental problem worsened after the building in 2016 of an Egyptian seaport on the Egyptian Rafah sea 2 kilometers to the south of the Palestinian borders.

The erosion of the shore led to the collapse of parts of al-Rasheed Street overlooking the sea, while some coastal houses were submerged.

Askari expects the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip to be done in the next two years.

Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Gaza Naji Sarhan told a local station May 27 that he expects the reconstruction of Gaza to kick off in the next three months.

Sarhan noted that the reconstruction project aims to rehabilitate around 1,200 housing units that were totally destroyed, 1,000 unlivable units and 40,000 partially damaged units. He said the cost of rebuilding the residential units destroyed during the recent aggression amounts to $165 million.

Meanwhile, the people affected by the war are waiting for their houses to be rebuilt. Bassam Atallah, head of the Palestinian Construction Industries Union in Gaza, said only those who are in dire need for reconstruction are proceeding with it at the moment. He told Al-Monitor, “The high prices of construction material due to Israel’s ban have negatively impacted construction. People are not resuming or initiating any new construction work unless they have a pressing need to do so.”

He added, “The local reconstruction efforts are helpful, but they are not enough to meet the needs. Besides, the quality of material used does not match that of the original raw material previously used.”

Mustafa Majed, 33, bought an apartment for himself, his wife and three kids shortly before the war. The apartment, which is not complete, is located in a residential building in Gaza City. After the war, it became difficult for him to resume construction and divide the rooms and finish them.

He resorted to Samara’s company to buy the construction essentials. He told Al-Monitor, “I bought recycled material from the destroyed houses to complete the construction of my apartment. They are lower in price than those on the market.”

Sami al-Amasi, director of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, told Al-Monitor that starting to rebuild the Gaza Strip will revive construction facilities and re-employ around 40,000 workers in the construction field, which has been largely paralyzed since 2015 due to the ongoing siege.

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