by Anera President Bill Corcoran
With the buzz of drones overhead I was processed through Erez Crossing into Gaza. My baggage comprised two backpacks full of gifts from HQ staff for Gaza co-workers and water bottles for me. On the other side, the Hamas terminal had been obliterated by bombing, along with the luggage scanners and banks of computers for data processing. It was all replaced by a small trailer and some note takers with pad and pen. No bags were checked.
Once we left the terminal, I could see the full extent of the damage. I was shocked, even after having worked in Indonesia after the Tsunami.
Beit Hanoon (in the north) almost doesn’t exist anymore. Numbers are still being gathered, but an estimated 60% of the homes were made useless, at least for now. Once a fertile agricultural area, its destroyed fields can’t even be accessed now for fear of unexploded bombs. Animals by the hundreds were killed in their pens and coops. Water wells were damaged so irrigation is impossible.
Our partner, Al Najda Farm Cooperative, lost four tons of processed food when the refrigerator units were machine-gunned. They were distributing our food parcels when I arrived. Teenagers ran up to me thanking Anera for the food we have distributed. Many of the Anera food parcels were packaged in reusable plastic laundry baskets. This was part ingenuity and part necessity on the part of our staff. Gaza’s only cardboard factory had been destroyed. In fact, over 150 factories have been leveled, including those essential to rebuilding and food production. Experts estimate it will take a year for most of the power grid to be operational, provided that spare parts for repair are allowed into Gaza.
During the four days I spent in Gaza I saw our staff energized by the work they were doing, as their relief efforts reach more and more families and their damage assessments move forward. But they cannot completely ease their fear that the ceasefire may not hold. They also worry that if restrictions are not eased for the entry of building materials and the freer passage of people, then their future is bleak.
As I drove through different communities I was seeing the new normal of Gaza. Between Khan Younis and Rafah along the new Israeli buffer zone, villages like Khoza’a were 75% wiped out. Abissan was less so because it was more rural. But their fields are unworkable. Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC), calculates that just restoring production capacity will cost $500 million.
Many families spray-painted their names and cellphone numbers on their homes during the war. It was a way to claim ownership and also a means of notification if the house were damaged. Other homes now display bright plastic banners depicting a loved one who died there. Too many of these photos were of children.
Amid the despair and sadness, there is one image that remains with me from my trip to Gaza: an elderly Palestinian sitting with his grandchildren outside the remains of his house. When he saw me and Anera staffer Rania Elhilou snapping photos, he insisted that we sit with him on some broken white plastic chairs there and have some tea. Dignity and hospitality even amid the ruins. This is Gaza.