Palestinian-designed, self-build homes seen as key to Gaza’s recovery

From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
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From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
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From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 June 2021

Palestinian-designed, self-build homes seen as key to Gaza’s recovery

From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
  • Thousands of Palestinian homes were damaged or destroyed in May’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas 
  • Salem Al-Qudwa’s sustainable, minimalist homes aim to reconstruct the physical and social fabric of Gaza 

DUBAI: For Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, “home” is a concept that rarely conjures images of safety and stability.

Israel and Hamas have fought four short but savage wars since the militant group seized control of this sliver of territory in 2007.

With each wave of violence comes a fresh cycle of destruction and reconstruction, a “recycling of pain,” as Mohamed Abusal, an artist based in Gaza, told Arab News.

At the end of May, tens of thousands of Palestinians returned to their homes in Gaza to inspect the damage following 11 days of fighting — the gravest escalation in hostilities since the 2014 war.




Tens of thousands of Palestinians returned to their homes in Gaza to inspect the damage following 11 days of fighting and bombardment by Israeli forces. (AFP/File Photos)

According to Palestinian officials, at least 2,000 housing units were destroyed and 15,000 damaged by the latest bout of violence, further degrading the already fragile humanitarian situation in Gaza, long squeezed by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Gaza had not yet recovered from the 2014 war when the fighting resumed on May 10. Older buildings now stand like crumbling tombstones alongside newly shattered edifices. It is a sight all too familiar to residents of the territory.

To help redefine Gaza’s ravaged urban topography, Palestinian architect Salem Al-Qudwa has developed a series of designs for self-build homes, which are flexible, green and affordable.

The innovative design means the units can be built on sand or rubble and easily slotted together, allowing extended families to live under one roof — a potential lifeline for those widowed or orphaned by the recent fighting.

“These are homes that can empower the Gazan community,” said Al-Qudwa, a fellow of the Conflict and Peace with Religion and Public Life program at Harvard Divinity School.




Palestinian architect Salem Al-Qudwa

“The Israelis destroyed multi-story buildings and threw their inhabitants into poverty. They have lost everything. This is the problem right now, this endless cycle of destruction and reconstruction, but, more importantly, destroying the physical as well as social fabric of Gazan society.”

Al-Qudwa was appalled to see a repeat of the havoc wreaked on Gaza in 2014.

“Those attacks pushed Gaza back by several decades, destroying the infrastructure of many parts of the city and also the social fabric, which is crucial in relation to housing,” he said. “Now the conflict in 2021 is pushing Gaza back 50 years.”

The 2014 war destroyed around 18,000 homes, leaving an estimated 100,000 Palestinians homeless. However, the temporary wooden structures built by international aid agencies involved in post-war reconstruction were not conducive to the needs of large families and did not provide adequate temperature controls.

Instead of consulting with locals on how to proceed with Gaza’s reconstruction, aid agencies turned to foreign architects, “coming to replace our social structure with a mud house, a sandbag or a wooden shelter,” Al-Qudwa said.

COST OF GAZA WAR

* 77,000 - Gazans internally displaced by May conflict.

* 2,000 - Number of housing units destroyed.

As governments and relief agencies once again pour money into Gaza’s reconstruction effort, Al-Qudwa fears the same flimsy structures will be built, preventing residents from obtaining long-lasting homes that represent stability, permanence and hope for the future.

Al-Qudwa, who was born in 1976 to a Palestinian family in Benghazi, Libya, returned to Gaza at the age of 21 to study architectural engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza. He went on to obtain a Ph.D. from the Oxford School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.

In 2020 he moved to the US with his Palestinian-American family after being awarded a fellowship at Harvard Divinity School.

While working for Islamic Relief Worldwide, Al-Qudwa established the Rehabilitation of Poor and Damaged Houses Project, which designed homes ranging from modest single-room units to spacious houses with shared courtyards, for more than 160 low-income families.

“I helped them build a kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom and for them it was as if they had a castle,” he said.




House Design Prototype for the Gaza Strip allowing future vertical incremental expansion for families affected by the conflict. (Supplied)

The project was so transformative that it was shortlisted for the World Habitat Award and in 2018 was granted a commendation.

“The project undertaken with Islamic Relief allowed me to work towards characterizing reconstruction projects in terms of their feasibility,” Al-Qudwa said. It also taught him the value of taking into account what communities really want in the form of long-lasting, sustainable housing.

“It led me to ascertain the need for a simple architecture as well as a revaluation of traditional techniques for construction, in line with the participation of inhabitants in the process of designing and building their houses.”

Gaza’s minimalist architecture is a product of its dire circumstances. But Al-Qudwa views his homeland’s rudimentary urban landscape, and even its shortage of building materials, as an opportunity for a more positive social transformation.

Part of the challenge in Gaza stems from the Israeli blockade in place since 2007, which limits access to certain building materials.




Al-Qudwa views his homeland’s rudimentary urban landscape, and even its shortage of building materials, as an opportunity for a more positive social transformation. (Supplied)

Before the occupation, limestone was a common material used in local architecture. It is now far too expensive to import from the West Bank, making concrete from Israel the most popular material of choice.

Al-Qudwa is putting together designs for three five-story homes made of concrete, each with proper insulation and built on strong foundations — in marked contrast with the emergency and transitional structures on offer from aid agencies.

Unlike the monotonous block structures usually wrought from concrete, Al-Qudwa uses the material creatively, enlivening his designs with nods to traditional Arabic motifs, incorporating lattice screens, brick patterns, and even shared courtyards.

Each structure features a row of columns, which allow for additional floors to be added at a later date. “These are ‘columns of hopes’ because with columns you have the idea that something will be added to the structure within a certain period of time,” Al-Qudwa said.

As he has shown through his designs, there are many ways to create low-cost homes that are attractive and also preserve a sense of community, even when resources are scarce.




As Palestinians pick up the pieces from the latest carnage, Al-Qudwa’s work offers a glimmer of hope for a future that is more permanent, both structurally and psychologically. (Supplied)

Moreover, his new prototypes use solar water-heating units, gray-water recycling, and rainwater harvesting systems — all design elements crucial in a region that has long suffered from power cuts and water scarcity.

Al-Qudwa’s sustainable designs run against the grain of other local reconstruction strategies, most notably Rawabi, meaning “The Hills” in Arabic, the first city planned for and by Palestinians in the West Bank near Birzeit and Ramallah.

Stretched across 6.3 square kilometers, the monotonous, block-style structures are arranged in rows, similar to those found in Israeli settlements thrown up in the West Bank.

As Palestinians pick up the pieces from the latest carnage, Al-Qudwa’s work offers a glimmer of hope for a future that is more permanent, both structurally and psychologically.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
Updated 13 June 2021

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
  • The Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate

JERUSALEM: Israeli lawmakers are to vote Sunday on a “change” coalition government of bitter ideological rivals united by their determination to banish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
The crunch Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate likely to trigger a fifth general election since 2019.
Netanyahu, who is battling a clutch of corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has pushed Israeli politics firmly to the right over the years.
On Saturday night, around 2,000 protesters rallied outside the 71-year-old’s official residence to celebrate what they believe will be his departure from office.
“For us, this is a big night and tomorrow will be even a bigger day. I am almost crying. We fought peacefully for this (Netanyahu’s departure) and the day has come,” said protester Ofir Robinski.
A fragile eight-party alliance, ranging from the right-wing Jewish nationalist Yamina party to Arab lawmakers, was early this month cobbled together by centrist politician Yair Lapid.
On Friday, all coalition agreements had been signed and submitted to the Knesset secretariat, Yamina announced, a moment party leader Naftali Bennett said brought “to an end two and a half years of political crisis.”
But the ever-combative Netanyahu has tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority.
If the new government is confirmed, Bennett, a former defense minister, would serve as premier for two years.
Coalition architect Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party and is a former television presenter, would then take the helm.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.
The improbable alliance emerged two weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.
“We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility — and I believe we will succeed,” Bennett said Friday.
Sunday’s crucial Knesset session is due to open at 4:00 p.m. local time (1300 GMT), with Bennett, Lapid and Netanyahu all set to speak before the vote.
Netanyahu has heaped pressure on his former right-wing allies to defect from the fledgling coalition while attacking the legitimacy of the Bennett-Lapid partnership.
He has accused Bennett of “fraud” for siding with rivals, and angry rallies by the premier’s Likud party supporters have resulted in security being bolstered for some lawmakers.
Netanyahu’s bombastic remarks as he sees his grip on power slip have drawn parallels at home and abroad to former US president Donald Trump, who described his election loss last year as the result of a rigged vote.
The prime minister has called the prospective coalition “the greatest election fraud in the history” of Israel.
His Likud party said the accusations refer to Bennett entering a coalition that “doesn’t reflect the will of the voters.”
Sunday’s vote arrives hot on the heels of police crackdowns on Palestinian protests over the threatened eviction of families from homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, a month after similar clashes fueled the latest war between Israel and Hamas.
It also comes amid right-wing anger over the postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march.
Netanyahu favored finding a way to allow the so-called “March of the Flags,” originally scheduled to take place last Thursday, to proceed as planned.
He took that position despite the original route envisaging the march unfolding close to flashpoint areas including the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, where clashes last month triggered the Gaza conflict.
The premier’s insistence saw his opponents accuse him and his allies of stoking tensions to cling onto power via a “scorched-earth” campaign.
If Netanyahu loses the premiership, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity in regard to his corruption trial.
The controversial flag march is now slated for Tuesday and ongoing tensions surrounding it could represent a key initial test for any approved coalition.


Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign
Updated 13 June 2021

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign
  • A total of 338 patients are in intensive care rooms, according to a June 11, 2021 report by the country’s Ministry of Health
  • Tens of thousands of people in the Sultanate have been vaccinated in private hospitals, as part of the country’s inoculation effort

DUBAI: Oman has reported an increase in daily coronavirus cases amid the start of mass vaccination campaign in the Sultanate.
Hospitals have exceeded the limit allocated to coronavirus patients in Intensive Care Units, reaching 157 percent in two hospitals, local daily Times of Oman reported.
A total of 338 patients are in intensive care rooms, according to a June 11, 2021 report by the country’s Ministry of Health.
Oman’s daily infection rate has more than tripled in the past 30 days, with the number of people testing positive with COVID-19 approaching 2,000 this week.
“The indicators of this wave are very worrisome, and this recent spike in numbers is because of gatherings that took place during Eid,” Dr Faryal Al-Lawati, a Senior Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the Royal Hospital, told local radio station Shabiba FM.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in the Sultanate have been vaccinated in private hospitals, as part of the country’s inoculation effort.
Private hospitals and clinics have contributed to the campaign against COVID-19 by offering vaccinations to walk-in patients and those who have registered in advance.
“Those who wish to get vaccinated at private hospitals will need to pay a fee, which depends on the type of vaccine they choose to take,” the report said.
A doctor at Badr Al-Sama’a Hospital, a private medical center that is taking part in the immunization campaign, said: “the cost of the vaccine will be borne by patients. Those who want to take the vaccine can walk in to any of our clinics, where they will be administered a vaccine of their choice, provided it is in stock.”
After taking the vaccine, patients will be required to wait 15 minutes at the hospital, where they will be examined for any symptoms.


Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
Updated 13 June 2021

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
  • A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — vied for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament

 

ALGIERS: Voter turnout was low midway through the day as Algerians voted on Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a “new Algeria.”

Tension surrounded the voting in the gas-rich North African nation. Activists and opposition parties boycotted the election.

Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, with police stopping weekly marches and arresting dozens, the latest a Hirak figure and two journalists. The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, a press freedom advocate, were freed early Saturday, three days after their arrests.

The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite.

A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament. Islamist parties all offered candidates.

FASTFACT

The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, were freed early on Saturday, three days after their arrests.

It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power. Tebboune was elected eight months later, vowing to remake Africa’s largest country but with no sign of abandoning the preeminent though shadowy role of the army in governance.

“We are looking for change,” voter Mohammed Touait said at a polling station. “I am 84 years old, and today I woke up at 8 a.m. because I still have hope for change.”

The Constitutional Council announced on Saturday that it would be 15 days before results of the balloting are known because of the number of candidates and the need to ensure against fraud, which marked past elections.

The participation rate among Algeria’s 24 million voters was 10 percent midway through the day, the electoral authority announced.

The president, at the start of the day, brushed off as irrelevant the number of people who vote.

“What is important is that those the people vote for have sufficient legitimacy,” Tebboune said after casting his ballot in Algiers.


Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
During the session, chaired by the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Saad Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
  • Supreme council meeting warns of ‘suffocating crisis’ facing the country

BEIRUT: The Supreme Islamic Sharia Council, which represents the Sunni community and its leaders in Lebanon, has renewed its support for Saad Hariri, the prime minister-designate, amid an escalating dispute over the failure to form a government in the country.

After a lengthy meeting on Saturday, in which Hariri participated, the council warned that “any quest for new definitions regarding the constitution or the Taif Agreement is not acceptable under any of the arguments.”
It was earlier reported that Hariri might announce during the meeting that he was stepping down from the task of establishing a new government entrusted to him by parliament last October.
The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun, together with his political team represented by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.
The meeting, which was held in Dar Al-Fatwa and attended by former prime ministers, said that the blame for delaying the formation of the government lies with those “who are trying to invent ways and methods that nullify the content of the National Accord Document, which enjoys the consensus of Lebanese leaders who are keen on Lebanon’s independence, unity, sovereignty and pan-Arabism.”
During the session, chaired by the grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government and steps he has taken to overcome them.
Those present at the meeting expressed their fear that “the suffocating crisis facing Lebanon will deteriorate into an endless abyss amid the indifference and random confusion that characterizes the behavior and actions of leaders who control citizens.”

BACKGROUND

The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun.

The dispute over the formation of the government is a “futile debate,” they added.
Hariri later described the discussion as constructive.
“The country is witnessing a political and economic deterioration every day,” he said. ” What matters to us is the country at the end of the day.”
One of the participants in the meeting, who declined to be named, told Arab News that “Hariri presented the options before him, including resignation, but the attendees rejected the matter and pressured him to adhere to his constitutional powers and wait to see what Berri’s mediation might result in.”
The source said that “the importance of the statement issued by the meeting should not be underestimated because it is a statement issued by Dar Al-Fatwa and condemns the president and his son-in-law.”
Fouad Siniora, a former prime minister, said that the problem of forming the government is internal, and Aoun must respect the constitution. “Aoun violates the constitution every day and does not act as the one who unites the Lebanese,” he said.
Siniora said that “Hezbollah is hiding behind the president and MP Gibran Bassil. It wants the government-formation paper to remain in its hands to use as a negotiating card. Hezbollah is a major problem and a source of pain.”
Mustafa Alloush, vice president of the Future Movement, said that “there is pressure from the Sunni community on Hariri not to quit his assignment and not to hand over the government formation to people working as proxies.”
He added: “Dar Al-Fatwa’s statement gave a clear sign of support to Hariri, and dialogue is continuing between Hariri and former prime ministers.”


Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
Zakira Hekmat aims to promote education, language learning, cultural programs, capacity building, and awareness campaigns among refugees. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
  • Zakira Hekmat recognized by IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration after working with UNHCR

ANKARA: The Ankara-based IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration has recognized an Afghan doctor for her work helping refugees.
Zakira Hekmat, 33, was awarded $2,000 by the center, led by Metin Corabatir, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) former spokesperson in Turkey.
Hekmat, herself born an internally displaced person in Jaghuri district in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, said she considered herself lucky, which had driven her to help other Afghan refugees.
“I think that by giving back to my own community, I can best heal the pain of displacement, ruination of my homeland, and the suffering of my people,” she told Arab News. “I was lucky enough to have a house to live in and a university to attend when I first came to Turkey, but not everyone was lucky like me. So, I wanted to help them with all my capabilities because I know they face many challenges.”
Hekmat’s Afghan Refugees Solidarity Association (ARSA), which she started in 2014, worked tirelessly throughout the coronavirus disease pandemic to help people in need, including with those who lost homes and jobs or were left vulnerable, and she was recognized in 2020 by Washington-based charitable organization HasNa as one of its Peacebuilders of the Year for her work.
She graduated high school living under the Taliban while doubling up as a teacher due to a shortage of female staff in her area. Hekmat then briefly attended Kabul University as an undergraduate before leaving for the medical faculty of Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey, and then working at an immigrant health center in the city, predominately serving refugees, many coming from neighboring Syria fleeing the country’s civil war..
Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society.

FASTFACT

Zakira Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society. 

Now her focus is on refugees, especially widowed women, refugee girls and children, by promoting education, language-learning, cultural programs, capacity building, child-focused activities, translation services for refugees and conducting awareness programs.
ARSA, she added, had worked on dozens of voluntary projects with the financial support of the UNHCR and the Turkish government, including setting up a network of 370 refugees volunteers in 58 cities across Turkey to help newly-arrived refugees to settle into their cities, and producing and distributing items to protect them from the pandemic.
“By teaming up with our local volunteers, we produced protective masks and soap (to help prevent) contagion, and we distributed them free to NGOs in need across the country as well as to the refugees themselves,” Hekmat said. Her network produced about 1,000 face masks per day, she added.
In addition, with the UNHCR, ARSA helped around 600 needy Turks and Afghans by providing them with essential supplies for the winter, and delivered hygiene kits to over 6,000 families.
“I don’t care much about the country of birth, but I attach high importance to the country where I can breathe and live freely,” Hekmat said. “We can only overcome stereotypes and prejudices against refugees if we listen each other and come together around a cup of Turkish tea.”
Her current work also focuses on child protection, stopping underage marriages and domestic violence, and promoting social cohesion and awareness campaigns about asylum-seekers. She has also launched a project for women refugees to design accessories and other handicrafts.
“They produced about 600 items (so far) and we provided the raw material for them. It became a source of livelihood for them and served as a pathway to self-accomplishment,” she said.
Corabatir said Hekmat had acted as a bridge for more than a decade between each Afghan refugee and UN agencies in Turkey, and had tried to solve their problems with an extensive network she established herself over years in the medical sector and through her charity activities.
“We intend to raise awareness about these charity works and introduce these people to the attention of the authorities. She also showed to her peers that they have rights to enjoy as refugees. It is essential that these people inspire other refugees for raising awareness and leading social change in their communities,” Corabatir said.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and about 330,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers of other nationalities, including Afghans and Pakistanis, according to the latest data of the UNHCR.