Saturday, February 28, 2009

Industrial Wastelands - Amira Hass

Haaretz, February 28, 2009 - ....Abu E'ida's [concrete and construction materials] company produced and supplied 35% to 40% of all concrete used in the Strip before the crossings between Israel and Gaza were hermetically sealed that summer. The family, which has been in the concrete business since the mid-1980s, has ties with the Israeli firm Nesher, which also manufactures and sells cement, with the Shapir and Reichman quarries, and with companies in the metal works industry, such as Elkayam.

Abu E'ida stood a good chance of being awarded rebuilding contracts. The only problem is that his company's plants were destroyed by Israel Defense Forces tanks and bulldozers sometime between January 5 and January 18. The pumps and the conveyor belts were demolished, along with the silo and the laboratory, the control rooms and the cement scale, the ventilation, electricity and water systems, the cement mixers and the trucks and cars. His four factories (two family-owned, two in partnership) were located in the northeast part of the Gaza Strip, in an industrial zone that sprang up on both sides of the eastern road, on the slopes of the hill on which stands I'zbet Abed Rabbo, the easternmost neighborhood in the city of Jabalya.

Over the years, about 60 workshops, industries and packing houses were built along this road, manufacturing a wide array of products: concrete, iron, cinderblocks, tiles and electrical appliances. Interspersed among the industries were cowsheds, sheep and goat pens as well as chicken coops. The whole area was greened by orchards, groves and fields. Some of the industries, such as the plant that produced biscuits and ice cream, owned by the al-Wadeya family - who are also the exclusive distributor in Gaza for Tnuva, the giant Israeli food company - date back to the late 1950s and early '60s.

Now, both sides of the eastern road are littered with ruins: piles of smashed concrete, mangled steel, broken planks. Protruding from beneath the wreckage are crushed trucks, cement mixers and shattered pumps, lacerated rolls of sheet metal, overturned power generators, scorched cars, torn pipes and puddles. There is a lingering smell of death emanating from the carcasses of animals crushed to death here....

No ordinary destruction

According to Ali al-Hayek, head of the Palestinian Union of Businessmen and the owner of factories that manufacture cinderblocks, "It was not an ordinary soldier that blew up and destroyed all these buildings." Hayek, who has taken dozens of photographs of the different arenas of destruction, added: "Only an engineer knows how and where to attack a building made of concrete so that it will collapse completely, and not fall on the destroyers. A simple soldier will be afraid. This is an army that spent about three hours in every factory and demolished it or blew it up without coming under attack. It's not a five-minute wrecking job."

Hayek and his counterpart in the Palestinian Federation of Industries, A'mer Hamad, are convinced that the destruction was directed against Gaza's economy and also against the prospects of reconstruction. "The army knew the location of every plant, every workshop, every cowshed, and with all its soul set out to destroy them," Hayek said.

Hayek and A'mer Hamad are among 17 Gaza businessmen who will attend Monday's conference of donor countries for the reconstruction of Gaza, as part of the delegation put together by the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah. With the conference in mind, they are busy making final calculations of the extent of the destruction. They will report that the IDF destroyed 600-700 factories, small industries, workshops and business enterprises throughout the Gaza Strip. Some were destroyed completely, others seriously damaged.

Of the 255 Gaza plants connected to the construction industry (concrete, tiles and sidewalk stones, asphalt, marble, cinderblocks), 63 were hit directly - 29 were reduced to rubble and 34 partially damaged. "Partial" damage ranges from $6,000 to $1.5 million. Total damage ranges from $300,000 to $12 million (the latter sum was sustained by Abu Jiba's cement factory). The total damage done to the 63 enterprises is estimated at $36 million. Hayek and Hamad will tell the conference that even if all political obstacles are removed, the fact that the leading plants of the construction industry were destroyed will in itself delay the rebuilding process....

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