This one is from Gaza where during the 2014 war, Israel’s missiles and shelling caused the destruction of over 250 factories. Who will pay for reconstruction?
This story was first published on AJE.
Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip – Jameel Abu Ghalion could only watch as his tile factory burned to the ground.
The Eretz Tiles Jameel Abu Ghalion factory was hit by an Israeli missile on July 23, and neither Abu Ghalion nor local firefighters could immediately get close to the building as it was too dangerous to enter the area in Gaza’s northern town of Beit Hanoun.
“There is no hope now in Gaza. I will not rebuild this time,” Abu Ghalion said. “We have no money and what if it happens again?”
This wasn’t the first time Israeli forces destroyed the factory; originally built in 1979, it was also destroyed in 2003, after Israel invaded northern Gaza.
With no insurance to cover damages and little hope of Israeli compensation, the family re-mortgaged a building they owned in Gaza City at the time to finance re-construction of a smaller factory.
“I was very angry then,” Abu Ghalion told Al Jazeera. “I rebuilt it just to prove that I could do it again, that they could not destroy us.”
Today, Abu Ghalion estimated his losses at over $1.8m.
“Imagine, I had closed the door and locked it just a few days before,” Mahmoud, Abu Ghalion’s youngest son, told Al Jazeera. “And now, I could just walk in; [there is] no door, no lock, no walls, nothing. It was a terrible moment for all of us. We still cannot believe it.”
At least 1,960 Palestinians have been killed, and almost 10,000 others have been injured, since Israel’s military operation in Gaza began on July 8, according to the United Nations. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also died, along with two Israeli citizens and a Thai worker.
In an e-mail to Al Jazeera, the Israeli army spokesperson’s office stressed that its current military operation in Gaza “has been carried out in a measured and proportionate manner in the face of relentless Hamas terror”.
“We are determined to achieve the goal of Operation Protective Edge – the restoration of quiet for the residents of Israel for a lengthy period while striking significantly at the terrorist organisations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
But Ali Hayek, chairman of the Palestinian Federation of Industries (PFI) in Gaza, said that in addition to the devastating civilian death toll, the war has had a severe impact on the local economy. “This war was also waged to destroy the social and economic fabric of Gaza,” he told Al Jazeera.
PFI estimated that over 250 factories and construction sites were hit in Israeli bombings, leaving roughly 60,000 people out of work. The Israeli army has repeatedly denied targeting the factories.
“From food processing to pharmaceuticals and construction, Israel targeted our major plants,” Hayek said. “They did it for no other reason than to destroy our economy. This is a massive crisis for us. It looks as if Gaza was hit by a tsunami.”
According to Mahmoud Abu Rahma, director of communications at the Al Mezan centre for human rights in Gaza, international bodies must intervene to secure compensation from Israel. “The United Nations and the European Union must make it clear to Israel that it cannot destroy civilian property without military necessity and then not pay reparations,” he told Al Jazeera.
After Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, it was the EU that compensated many Gazans, Abu Rahma explained. “Now everything is destroyed again, will the EU continue to foot the bill?”
To seek compensation, Amendment 8 to Israel’s Civil Wrongs Law (Liability of the State Law) stipulates that Palestinians must file claims within 60 days of an alleged incident, and that these claims must be brought forth by lawyers in Israel.
It also requires that claimants pay a deposit, which will be deducted from court costs if the case is unsuccessful. Claimants also must present evidence in person, thereby requiring Palestinians from Gaza to secure permits to enter Israel.
But Israel is expected to re-classify Gaza as “enemy territory“, a designation that would absolve Israel of liability for damage incurred during its military operation.
In 2007, Israel declared Gaza a “hostile entity”, which made securing permits for Palestinians to leave Gaza more difficult. As a result of these Israeli restrictions, “the right to receive a legal remedy is denied in practice”, stated Adalah, a legal centre for Palestinian rights in Israel. “These obstacles turn a right that is guaranteed in law into a theoretical right that cannot be realised, and which leaves the victims without legal remedy.”
Meanwhile, in Gaza City, the Abu Ghalion family’s expectations of receiving compensation are low. Their factory previously employed 72 staff members, all of whom are now without work. “These 72 employees have families too,” Jameel said. “The average here is five children per family; that means that we were providing for over 500 people. What will happen to them now?”
“It is very difficult to understand what to do, what to expect, to make any plans. We still feel like we haven’t quite understood what has happened to us,” his son, Mahmoud, added. “At this point, we just hope to get out alive.”