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Gazans suffer as post-war rebuilding lags

More than six months since the war between Israel and Hamas, parts of Gaza look as if the conflict ended yesterday. Many who lost their homes still live in tents. Despite billions of dollars pledged to aid the reconstruction, little has actually reached Gaza so far. Special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now we turn to a story about life after war.

    Six months ago, Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce to stop the fighting which dominated much of last summer's headlines. The fighting stopped, the spotlight dimmed, and Palestinians in Gaza have spent the time since struggling to rebuild their lives.

    Special correspondent Martin Seemungal traveled to Gaza, and found reconstruction efforts have barely begun.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    In parts of Gaza, what were once whole towns are now piles of rubble. It looks like an enormous earthquake ripped through here. But this is all the result of the ferocious summer war between Israel and Hamas, seven brutal weeks, Hamas militants launching thousands of rockets at Israel, Israeli jets and drones retaliating with bombs and missiles.

    In some places, Israel sent in its tanks. Months later, and it still looks like the day after. This is Shejaiya in Gaza. The Israeli border just two kilometers from here. So, this area was hit very hard during the war. It's estimated hundreds of people were killed. Thousands of families are still homeless.

    Uma al-Kasi lives in a tent in the ruins of the home that had been in her family for generations.

    "We came back just after the fighting stopped," she says. "There is still no electricity, nothing to have a normal life."

    In Southern Gaza, Marwan Abu Jamas' house is now a crater full of wreckage. There is no electricity here either. His family of eight lives in this makeshift shelter. It is cold at night and he says one of his sons is very sick.

    "I can't make much money," he says. "I need the money to rebuild, but I have to buy medicine for my son. It's more important than rebuilding my home."

    Yaya Khyali works for an Arab relief organization trying to ease the suffering of Gazans. An expatriate Palestinian from Oman, he arrived determined to help.

  • YAYA KHYALI, Relief Worker:

    Because I heard too much about destruction. But when I came and visit here, we visit Beit Hanoun, and we visit this area, Shejaiya, actually, until now, I am getting bad dreams every night about these places that no words can explain destruction.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    For the people actually living like this for so many months, the situation is intolerable, and they are getting angry.

    "I blame the government," she says. "I asked one of the government members to come stay with us to see how we live."

    When people talk about the government here, they mean the government of national unity between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It's an interim arrangement agreed to in June of last year.

    Mofid al-Hasayna is the minister of public works. And like other members of the consensus cabinet, he doesn't belong to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. He has a daunting task, supervising the rebuilding of Gaza. He is frustrated and surprisingly candid about it.

    MOFID AL-HASAYNA, Palestinian Minister of Public Works and Housing: As a minister in this, in Gaza, for this consensus government, we're going to fail. We're going to fail as a government.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    So, how does it make you feel when you hear the people of Gaza, your own people, blame the government?

  • MOFID AL-HASAYNA:

    It makes a pain inside of me, to be honest. I feel very ashamed about that. As a minister, I wish that the earth to open and take me.

    ROBERT SERRY, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process: Everybody knows that this unity government, unfortunately, so far is something of a — more of a make-believe government. It doesn't have any authority.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Robert Serry is a U.N. peace envoy to the Middle East. He says Hamas remains the real power in Gaza, but he isn't blaming Hamas for the slow pace of reconstruction.

    Several weeks after the fighting stopped, the world's donor nations gathered in Cairo to talk about rebuilding Gaza. There were big promises in Cairo, pledges worth $5.4 billion, but just a fraction of that has showed up in Gaza. It's estimated that only between $150 million and $200 million has actually reached Gaza so far, and it's been over six months.

  • ROBERT SERRY:

    One of the reasons why we see so little movement is that donors have actually not been translating these pledges into projects, into really putting the money there where it is most needed now in Gaza.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Elena Naja also blames the Palestinian government and is furious with those Arab countries that made promises, but have failed to deliver.

    There is some reconstruction, but mostly minor road repairs. Israel is partially opened the tightly controlled border crossings. Food and fuel supplies have been flowing in for many weeks, a significant turnaround since the days before the war. The biggest supermarket in Gaza City gets regular shipments. Owner Hazim Ashi says things are much better than they were four months ago.

    HAZIM ASHI, Gaza supermarket owner: Yesterday, I brought product from Israel and from West Bank.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Moti Stolovich is a major with the Israeli Defense Force. He is stationed at a border post just outside Gaza and is part of the IDF team monitoring the crossings into Gaza.

    You just got a message. What did that message say?

  • MAJ. MOTI STOLOVICH, Israeli Defense Forces:

    I got a message from my office. We're going to be actually inside Gaza tomorrow. So, we have 582 trucks planned for tomorrow, which includes construction materials and other civilian going to Gaza.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Serry is often a harsh critic of Israel, but he says there are encouraging signs.

  • ROBERT SERRY:

    I have seen a change in the Israeli attitude after the war. I think the war made at least some in Israel realize that continuing a blockade, continuing to squeeze Gaza is leading to — from bad to worse.

  • MAJ. MOTI STOLOVICH:

    We believe that there is a big difference between civilians and the militants in Gaza Strip. We understand there is some risk in this process, but the idea is to allow civilians to have a normal as possible a life in Gaza Strip.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    The U.N. and others continue to press Israel to lift its blockade entirely, allow Gazans to use the port and let civilians travel outside. Both Israel and Egypt have closed the crossings to civilian traffic. It is seen by many as an attempt to weaken Hamas.

    Those restrictions and the slow pace of reconstruction are raising serious concerns.

    Adnan Abu Hasna, is with the U.N. based in Gaza.

    ADNAN ABU HASNA, UN Relief and Works Agency Spokesman: We have noticed that the anger is rising and rising. And we are afraid that the calmness will end and we are heading towards a new round of violence is coming.

  • ROBERT SERRY:

    Like the cease-fire itself, which is still very fragile, with Hamas shooting daily rockets not into Israel, but now into the sea, as proof of — that Hamas is also rearming itself. All these things are not helping.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    So you would really like to see Hamas guarantee some kind of short-term, long-term stability?

  • ROBERT SERRY:

    I'm calling on Hamas actually to make a choice in the interest of the people. Commit yourself to a real, stable cease-fire, and that we need at least three years to reconstruct Gaza.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Three years, and that's if work starts tomorrow. There is no sign that's happening. For now, they can only do their best to make life amid the rubble a little more bearable.

    For the NewsHour, I'm Martin Seemungal in Gaza.

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