ANERA’s Bill Corcoran in Gaza: With Israel refusing “permission” to import rebuilding materials into war-ravaged Gaza, “my biggest fear is that.. the rebuilding of Gaza will fall off the radar, and this will drag on and on” says Corcoran.
By Barbara G.B. Ferguson, Arab News, 18 November 2014
About 13.6 million people have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter as winter starts, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR reported on Tuesday.
This shocking report, says Bill Corcoran, overlooks the dire circumstances Gazans also face as winter approaches.
Not only is this the third war for Gaza in five years, but the most destructive, said Corcoran, the president and CEO of the Washington-based ANERA, or American Near East Refugee Aid agency, which supports those in need in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan.
Israel’s fifty day bombing offensive in Gaza devastated the infrastructure of this fragile land. According to a UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA situation report, published Aug. 26:
- 10,224 Gazans were injured, including 3,106 children
- 2,104 people were killed, 69 percent of the deaths civilian
- 475,000 Gazans displaced as a result of Israel’s bombing campaign
- 500,000 children, said the UN report, unable to start a new school year in September
- 17,200 homes were destroyed or severely damaged by the Israeli bombing
- 58 hospitals and clinics were damaged
Of these, 10,000 homes were totally destroyed, Corcoran told Arab News. “The difference between this war, and the one in 2009, it is four times worse in its destruction.
“Previously, the Israelis targeted Hamas and government buildings. This time they destroyed houses, factories and apartment buildings.”
Israel’s refusal to not give approval for US government grants for ANERA, and other NGOs, has exacerbated the problems there. “As of now, Israel has not given permission for cement and metal pipes, which are the materials we need to rebuild Gaza.”
“The US government approves our projects, including water and sewers, and then they have to pass it by Israel. Not only the project, but also, the specifications for all the materials we need.”
Israel must agree to anything US NGOs want to import to Gaza. “At this point, we’ve not received any approval from the Israel. They say ‘we’ll get back to you.’”
The attitude of many of our donors, including those in the Gulf, said Corcoran, is that they say they want to help, then add: “Why should we give you money, when Israel won’t let you rebuild?”
Once there is a protocol with Israel, they say they’ll help. “My concern is that the longer they wait, the more the world will forget the desperation here on the ground.”
WINTER IS COMING
Aside from shelter, ANERA’s president worries about Gaza’s infrastructure: “With the winter, you get rain; and the current sewer system can’t hold up, we’ll have sewerage in the streets and we’ll have problems with fresh water.”
Since the July bombing, clean water is unavailable in many Gazan neighborhoods, Corcoran explained. “In partnership with US AID, we shipped in bottled water by the truckload from Ramallah to Gaza.” After four weeks, they started shipping tanker trucks of water to individual neighborhoods.
Many of these people had their homes destroyed, which also included everything under the streets; “and water pumping stations, one after another, were destroyed.
“Entire neighborhoods do not have water. We’re talking about over 250,000 people who are entirely dependent of water coming in from tanker trucks,” he said.
TENTS’ ‘NAKBA’ MEMORIES
Where will Gazans live this winter? Corcoran said this poses a particularly touchy issue, as the Gazans who lost their homes refused to live in tents.
“They would not go into tents, symbolic of 1948 ‘Nakba’, when Israel annexed their land and over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes. Tents remain a bitter symbol. “So, Gazans are setting up corrugated tin and wood buildings for some protection.”
Due to Israel’s importation restrictions, no massive programme for shelter has been implemented, said Corcoran, “There are different programs in the planning, but they are all waiting for final approval from the Israel.
“The Turkish government has offered to import prefabricated homes, but again, they’re waiting for the permission of the Israelis,” he said.
“Everything needed for rebuilding Gaza depends on Israel approval,” said Corcoran, while again reiterating that winter is approaching in the region. “The US government says they’re working with the Israel trying to find a speedy solution, but it is too slow for the people there on the ground.”
‘UTTER DESTRUCTION’ FOR MILES
The devastation reminds Corcoran of tsunami countries, where he previously worked. “There is utter destruction for miles, in some places, there is nothing to repair, it is totally destroyed.”
A huge frustration NGOs are facing, said Corcoran, “is that we normally don’t’ have to wait for building permits to begin reconstruction; but this time Israel says that it’s a security concern for them.”
WE HAVE MONEY, BUT NO PERMITS
The situation is stymied on the ground, said Corcoran. “Many international organizations have told me that (they) have money, but they don’t have cement, so none of us can repair clinics or preschools, or any buildings — because we don’t have the building materials.”
“My biggest fear,” said Corcoran “is that because of political turmoil in Palestine and Israel that the rebuilding of Gaza will fall off the radar, and this will drag on and on.”