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Robert Shortt blogs on his visit to Gaza

People emerged from the rubble. Polite greetings at first and then the questions came.

Was I here to take measurements? When were the bulldozers coming? When the small crowd heard I was a journalist, things didn’t improve.

An elderly lady scolded me for asking questions. Would it not be better for me to help clear the rubble, she asked? Just let your camera shoot, another told me. The pictures will be more important than any questions.

I was standing in the Shejaia district of Gaza City. It’s an area which was heavily shelled by Israeli forces last summer. Today, it looks like the tanks have just left.

Huge craters gouged out by missiles are filled with rubble and the detritus of life: Scraps of clothing, the odd shoe; a children’s toy.

Some people are camping in the ruins of their homes, despite the danger of unexploded bombs.

Others maintain a daily vigil, guarding against scavengers.

 The dull thud of sledgehammers can be heard as people break up collapsed concrete floors.

Donkeys pull carts piled with twisted steel rods literally torn from the wreckage. Such is the shortage of building materials, Gazans are recycling everything they can use. 

Over 113,000 homes in Gaza were damaged during last summer’s fifty day war with Israel. It was the third bout of hostilities in the past six years.

It was also the deadliest.

The UN estimates on the Israeli side, that 67 soldiers and four civilians -including a three year old child- were killed. On the Palestinian side, over 2,200 people were killed including over 1500 civilians of whom 551 were children.

Today, eight months on from a temporary ceasefire between Hamas and the Israelis, the patience of ordinary Gazans is running out.

52 year old Hamad Hamdi descended from his perch atop the rubble of his home to initially berate me and then with typical hospitality invite me to sip tea prepared on a camp stove.

“No one is going to help,” he tells me with grim fatalism.

He showed me the papers to his home which he keeps inside a plastic bag in his coat.

With a gesture towards the destruction surrounding us he asked: “Am I going to die before this is rebuilt? Are my children going to see it rebuilt?”

People blame the UN. They blame the Israelis. They blame the ongoing feuding between Hamas, the de facto government here, and the Palestinian Authority. 

100,000 people have been made homeless following last summer’s hostilities. Just under 6,000 of them are still being sheltered in UN run schools. Families are living in classrooms.

This year €4million euro of Irish Aid money will be funnelled through UNRWA, the UN Agency responsible for Palestinian refugees. Much of it will be spent repairing schools damaged last summer.

Seven UN schools were directly hit by Israeli fire resulting in 44 deaths and 227 injuries. Israel claims Hamas used school shelters to store rockets. But a report last week from the UN found the schools where rockets were located were empty and not the shelters where hundreds gathered only to come under attack once more.

The Israeli Defence Force is conducting its own investigation into several incidents last summer including attacks on UN shelters.

The night before we left Gaza, a rocket was fired into Israel. No one was injured. Israel fired back but again, no one was injured.

It’s a reminder that the tension which exploded with such ferocity last summer hasn’t gone away.

Robert Shortt

Prime Time’s report from Gaza will be broadcast on Thursday, 7th May on RTÉ One 9:35pm.  

This report was supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.

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