FreeGaza Movement bio photo

FreeGaza Movement

Human rights group that sailed 5 times into port of Gaza.

Twitter Newsletter Facebook Youtube Flickr

Paypal Donation


Eva Bartlett | Electronic Intifada

14 October 2009

SHEIKH ZAYED, occupied Gaza Strip (IPS) – On a searing summer morning,

workers are adding layers to the mud-brick police station being

constructed in Sheikh Zayed, northern Gaza.


“We started building on 20 June,” says Mohammed al-Sheikh Eid, a

consultant engineer with Gaza’s Ministry of Interior. “Since this is

the first time we’ve built something on this scale with mud bricks, we

can’t estimate exactly how much longer it will take to complete. Maybe

another two months or so.”


He is confident, however, that they will finish before the winter

rains begin.


Since the war on Gaza ended, a number of houses have been built using

mud to create simple, square, two or three-room homes. The new Sheikh

Zayed police station is one of the larger and more ambitious projects.


An intricate series of thick-walled, deep-arched chambers form what is

on the whole a much more artistic rendition of the former square,

cement police station bombed during the attacks. When finished, the

station will be 550 square meters, including seven 3.5m by 3.5m office

rooms and eight long, arched-roofed chambers 3m wide and 8m long.


In contrast to Gaza’s basic new mud-brick homes, with their cracked-

earth finish inside and rough, straw-flecked outer layer, the police

station design replicates that of the elegant, traditional Palestinian

stone or brick buildings: neatly-packed rows of brick frame windows

and doorways in graceful arcs; with surprisingly smooth domes that top

off vaulted rooms and corridors. The one-level station, with its

multiple rooftop domes, resembles the architecture of Palestinian

homes from Nablus to Jerusalem.


The site, just off the coastal road serving Beit Lahiya, is open and

spacious, with a contrasting backdrop of cement block apartment

buildings, built long before the Israeli siege on Gaza, when cement

was accessible.


Engineer and site supervisor Sameh al-Khalout explains the small-scale

and hand-crafted construction process.


“The mud bricks take between one and two weeks to cast and dry,” he

says, gesturing at the rows of bricks drying in the sun. “Each brick

costs roughly one shekel [a quarter of a dollar] to make.”


Al-Khalout says the clay is brought from a nearby area of Beit Lahiya,

and the straw comes from local farmers. “We will put plaster on the

roof, to seal it and protect it from rain.”


Wood is temporarily used to buffer ceiling arches and windows until

the clay mortar hardens. The wood is then removed and used elsewhere

in the same manner.


Apart from these wood bracings, conventional and excessively expensive

building materials are not used.


Cement smuggled in via the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza is as much

as ten times the pre-siege price. A ton of cement costs 3,400 shekels

($850), compared to the 350 shekels it cost prior to June 2007.


Husam Toubil from the United Nations Development Programme says Gaza

requires 50,000 tons of cement to rebuild destroyed homes, and 41,000

tons for public buildings.


Al-Khalout says problems extend beyond lack of availability of

materials. “For most of our workers, this is their first experience

building with mud bricks.”


“Since we have to bring in clay, straw and gravel, and mix the mud

cement, make the bricks and then build the actual station, we require

more workers than we would using cement.”


In an enclosed Strip where unemployment is near 50 percent and poverty

has reached 90 percent, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade

and Development (UNCATD) report, the workers will brave the heat for

the chance to earn 40 shekels a day.


Since the siege on Gaza tightened in June 2007, almost no construction

materials have entered Gaza, according to the OCHA report. This is in

comparison to the pre-attacks, pre-siege import levels of 7,400 trucks

per month, from January to May 2007.


According to the United Nations Relief Web news, 3,900 truckloads

entered Gaza from January to May 2007. Over the same period this year,

six trucks were allowed in. These carried material for water projects,

greatly in need and long awaiting completion.


The Israeli authorities say the ban on building materials is to

prevent Hamas from using so-called “dual use” items for military



Yet, non-Hamas run agencies, schools, and healthcare centers are

facing the same blanket restrictions on import of cement, gravel,

wood, tiles, piping, paint, glass and steel bars, notes the OCHA



The mud brick technique, extended beyond the simple clay ovens

prevalent in Gaza to the building of houses, potentially meets some of

Gaza’s great construction needs.


East of Gaza city, in the al-Shejayia district, engineers have tackled

the challenge of a multi-level clay-brick building: a three-story

school for 600 disabled children is under construction, using a

combination of mud brick and rubble from the remains of homes and

buildings destroyed during the Israeli attacks.


According to a Guardian news report, engineer Maher al-Batroukh and

university engineers experimented with clay to create strong bricks.

When finished, the school will be roughly twice the size of the Sheikh

Zayed police station, with similar domed ceilings and plaster coating.


Noting the success of clay building endeavors, the Hamas Ministry of

Public Works is likewise pursuing the mud-brick alternative, with

plans to build multi-story houses and re-build destroyed public



While some are finding means to get around the Israeli ban on nearly

everything needed to re-build in Gaza, the on-going siege on the Strip

continues to hit daily life to an extent that the latest UN report

notes that closed borders and delays in allowing in goods are

“devastating livelihoods” and causing gradual “de-development.”


The OCHA report further cites the damage to education, including

overcrowding due to destroyed or damaged schools, and denied or

delayed education materials.


In an August 2009 statement, Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Humanitarian

Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noted that the

“deterioration and breakdown of water and sanitation facilities in

Gaza is compounding an already severe and protracted denial of human

dignity in the Gaza Strip.”


Gaylard, along with the Association for International Development

Agencies (AIDA), notes that the Israeli denial of entry of equipment

and supplies needed for the construction, maintenance and operation of

water and sanitation facilities since June 2007 has led to “the

gradual deterioration of these essential services.”


Further citing destruction from the Israeli attacks, the statement

says Gaza’s sanitation and water services are on the “brink of

collapse,” noting that the sparse supplies allowed in have been

“nowhere near enough to restore a fully functioning water and

sanitation system.”


About 60 percent of the population does not have continuous access to

water, the statement notes. Roughly 10,000 people in Gaza have no

access to the water network at all. This, combined with the 50-80

million liters of untreated and partially treated wastewater that is

being discharged daily since January 2008, compounds the water and

sanitation crisis.


Although some resourceful individuals have built homes despite the ban

on cement, these various reports highlight that the manifold problems

created by the ongoing siege and Israeli attacks on Gaza are too

extensive to be solved by improvisation and mud alone.


The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reports that 60 police

stations were destroyed or damaged during the winter 2008-2009 Israeli

attacks on Gaza.


The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

(OCHA) August 2009 report says more than 6,400 homes were destroyed or

severely damaged, and over 52,000 suffered minor damage from bombing

during Israel’s winter war on Gaza.


The OCHA report notes that the continued Israeli-led siege on Gaza has

prevented reconstruction or repair of 13,900 homes, including

approximately 2,700 homes damaged or destroyed in earlier Israeli

military operations, and of 3,000 housing units intended to replace

inadequate homes in crowded refugee camps.


Over 20,000 Palestinians remain displaced in Gaza, with approximately

100 families still living in emergency tents provided by aid agencies.


PCHR also reports that 215 factories and 700 private businesses, 17

universities or colleges, 15 hospitals and 43 health care centers, and

58 mosques were destroyed or damaged during the attacks. The United

Nations says that 298 schools were destroyed or damaged.


They all await reconstruction, as does Gaza’s shattered economy.