Rafah, Gaza Strip — The dirt under Yousef Hamida’s feet became an unlikely resource: He is using it to build a home, a result of Israel’s refusal to allow construction materials into the Gaza Strip.
The farmer, who is among thousands of Gazans left homeless by Israel’s recent military assault, spends his days making bricks from mud and straw. He hopes to complete a two-bedroom house for his wife and three children on the family’s small plot of land in southern Gaza in the next few weeks.
“All I want is to have walls that can shelter me and my family — and here we are,” said Hamida, 32, as he packed the mud into brick molds.
Hamida’s home is a sign of Gaza resourcefulness — and a striking symbol of how little has changed since Israel ended its fierce three-week military operation in January.
The offensive, meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks, destroyed 2,500 homes, badly damaged 1,000 others and left 30,000 in need of minor repairs, such as replacing broken windows, the U.N. estimates.
Four months later, nothing has been rebuilt, despite international pledges of $5.2 billion in construction aid. Israel will not allow badly needed building materials into the coastal territory, citing security concerns.
Israel and neighboring Egypt kept Gaza under blockade since the militant Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007. Since then, they allowed in humanitarian aid and small amounts of commercial goods.
Israel will not let in large shipments of raw materials, fearing Hamas will use cement, metal and other basic goods to reinforce its weapons-smuggling tunnels and build rockets.
Israel defense officials also say Hamas is bringing in cement through tunnels, though smugglers say Egypt clamped down on the shipments in April.
The blockade forced thousands of Gazans to live in sprawling tent camps as they wait to rebuild their homes. Many others have used thick plastic greenhouse panels to replace smashed windows and old tin sheets weighed down with rocks to cover holes in roofs.
But mud brick homes are for Gaza’s lucky few. Most residents in the crowded strip live in apartment blocks and only a handful own land.
Hamida’s home was destroyed in an airstrike that targeted tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons underneath the nearby Egyptian border. Since then, he has been living in a rented apartment in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
Running out of rent money, he met two neighbors building mud homes and decided to make his own.
One neighbor has finished. The three-bedroom structure has a small kitchen, electricity, mud-brick beds and crevices in the smoothed-down walls for lamps. A family with nine children already lives there.
Hamida’s mud-brick home will cost $3,500, a fraction of the cost of a concrete home. It will be ready in weeks, and could last for generations.
“Our grandfathers lived in mud houses and some of them are still standing,” Hamida said.
The building technique is simple: One friend hauls soil in a handcart, Hamida mixes it with water and straw, stomping it with his feet. He then packs it into a mold and leaves it to harden for a few days. The two-brick thick wall is cemented together with wet mud. Another friend is sorting out the sewage pipes, and Hamida will wire up his house when he’s done. The windows will be wooden slats.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers say they intend to build a school, a clinic and a mosque out of mud-clay bricks but haven’t begun yet, said Hamas Housing Minister Yousef al-Mansi.