Caravan-dwelling Gazans made homeless by Israel wary of winter

Caravan-dwelling Gazans made homeless by Israel wary of winter
4 min read
12 December, 2015
Gazans living in temporary shelters such as caravans cannot keep themselves warm when temperatures drop, as reconstruction of their homes destroyed in the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza is stalled.
Many Gazzan children living in caravans and tents will face hardship this coming winter [Anadolu]

Many Gazans whose homes were destroyed by the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014 were given "caravans" to use as temporary shelters.

Around 100,000 people were left homeless by the war.

Many were told they would not have to live in these makeshift homes for more than a year, during which their homes would have been rebuilt.

This promise has not been kept.

Due to the continuation of the blockade on Gaza, reconstruction efforts have failed. According to the United Nations, as of December this year, over 7,230 refugee families have not received any kind of support to rebuild their demolished homes.

Last week, cold temperatures hit the region including Gaza, in what many see as a sign of a harsh winter to come.

Caravan dwellers were hit hard by the cold spell. Some say they doubt they would be able to endure another bout of low temperatures.

Many fear the cold could even kill them, in the caravan cities straddling the Khan Younis, Rafah, Shujaiya and Beit Hanoun districts of the Strip.

They say blankets and heating fires are futile in the "refrigerators" they live in, as they describe their caravan shelters. The sick among them are particularly worried.

Rania Abou Moussa, 45-years-old, has a heart condition. She and her family have been living in a caravan in Beit Hanoun for more than a year.

She was recently hospitalised because of complications the doctor said had to do with the cold temperature.

"The temperature inside the caravan is lower than outside," she told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Rania says she tried to find an apartment for the winter, but could not find anything she could afford. She is worried most about the lack of the medicines she needs, and fears her health could further deteriorate because of the weather.

Tarps and firewood

Some caravan dwellers have been burning firewood for warmth outside their shelters, but some doctors warn this could make the problem worse for them because they go from warm to cold quickly as they enter the caravans.

In another caravan in Khan Younis lives Abu Ayyad. Abu Ayyad has asthma and the cold weather makes his condition a lot worse.

But Aby Ayyad is more concerned about his two-week-old daughter, and says keeping the caravan warm during cold spells is impossible.

"The air in our region is putrid and the constantly changing weather leads to disease," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Last year, winter storm Huda brought sub-zero temperatures and torrential rains to Gaza, causing several deaths and great hardship amongst families living in inadequate temporary shelters.

Aby Ayyad's six-months-old niece was one of those who died.

For his part, Abu Mohammad Radwan (53 years old) tried insulating his caravan in Khan Younis, using tarps held down by sandbags, "the only solution against storms" as he said.

"Life in these caravans is hard both in summer and winter. I am looking for ways to keep warm but nothing works," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Radwan lives with 6 other people in the caravan he was given last year. He is keen to follow the weather reports, which say Gaza's winter could be exceptionally cold this year.

Gaza winter shelter appeal

Some organisations are trying to address the lack of suitable shelters in Gaza.

One of them is the Palestinian Independent Commission on Youth Rights (PICYR), which says it helped over 50 displaced families move into temporary rented accommodation during the winter of last year.

GREAN Palestine, another organisation, is planning to partner with PICYR for a sustainable rebuilding project that will offer families more permanent solutions to their housing problem.

GREAN Palestine launched the Gaza winter shelter appeal to crowd-fund their campaign, but says progress has been painfully slow.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed
approached Alice Gray from GREAN Palestine.

"I visited a caravan park when I was in Gaza last year," said Gray. "I found the people there to be more angry and dispirited than anyone else I spoke to, including those living in cobbled-together shelters in the ruins of their homes."

The reason is because the caravans were not well constructed and leaked when it rained, according to Gray.

"There were no services up and running - no sewage, no water, no electricity."

She continued: "It was freezing cold and they didn't know how to warm the space... they felt that because they were in caravans, no one would then offer them any more help to rebuild their homes or move somewhere better."

"I heard more than once "we blame ourselves for accepting this, but we were desperate and we didn't know what else to do".