HASS: Industrial wastelands 25Oct09 October 25, 2009

Jabaliya factory

by Amira Hass  -  Haaretz -  26 February 2009

The Abu E’ida company for concrete and construction materials could stand a very good chance of winning any public tender issued during the Gaza reconstruction process – if it ever gets under way. This family business manufactured the concrete and carried out the concrete works in the construction of Gaza’s power station (under joint American-Palestinian ownership). It also supplied the concrete used to build the sewage treatment facility in northern Gaza, known as the “Blair project” because of the former British prime minister’s role in securing the funding. After June 2007, this was the only infrastructure project in the Gaza Strip whose construction Israel allowed to continue.

Abu E’ida’s company produced and supplied 35-40 percent 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.

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.

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.

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.

According to calculations made by UNDP, the United Nations development agency, the total damage sustained by all the plants and industrial and commercial structures that came under IDF fire in last month’s offensive is $185 million. The damage done to Abu E’ida’s plants alone is estimated at $5 million.

Tayasir Abu E’ida, one of the brothers and co-owners, was a Fatah candidate in the 2006 elections. His brothers and cousins who share in managing the business hold special free-movement permits, which Israel grants to a limited number of businessmen. In contrast to the other owners whose plants were damaged, the extended Abu E’ida family lost not only its facilities but also eight of its nine homes, with their entire contents: furniture, clothing, computers, electrical appliances, documents, ID cards. Eight of the homes stood on the hill overlooking the concrete plants; the ninth – the first house to which the family moved, in 1972, from Jabalya refugee camp – is located to the west, in the heart of the I’zbet Abed Rabbo neighborhood.

This same family home that was not blown up – only seriously damaged, its contents savaged – served as an IDF base for almost two weeks. The graffiti on the walls indicates that the unit was from the Golani Brigade (soldiers drafted in January and March 2008). The inscriptions left by the soldiers on the walls of this lone house that was not destroyed included, for example, “Death to the Arabs,” “No patience, we want to liquidate them,” “We shall return” and “The eternal people does not fear a long road.”

The Abu E’ida family embarked on a long road in 1948, when the Israeli army expelled them from Be’er Sheva, and again in 1971, when the family’s home in Jabalya was demolished like many other refugee shacks which were demolished that year for military purposes – i.e., the widening of camp streets. Now, in 2009, the same army made this family homeless again. In the 1950s and ’60s, two younger brothers worked in construction and commerce in the Persian Gulf, sending all their earnings home to Gaza. They started to trade in citrus fruits, then bought land and in the 1980s switched to concrete, in partnership with an Israeli citizen. In December 1992, the head of the Civil Administration at the time, Brig. Gen. Dubi Gazit, awarded them an “authorized industry” certificate for their concrete manufacturing factory.

The sons of the two founding fathers pursued their studies in the United States and returned as engineers. All of them are partners in the management of the enterprise, which employed 85 workers. At the end of the 1990s, the family began to build mansions. “Others invested abroad, we invested here,” said Jihad Abu E’ida, proudly and sadly. Twice in the past the army entered their homes and took them over as military positions.

Despite the losses they sustained by the closure of the crossings, they continued to invest. They built a fish pond between the homes, as well as chicken coops and animal pens. “We spoiled the children,” Jihad Abu E’ida says. “Now they feel as though they are in prison, in the small apartments we rented. The whole family is scattered. Our personal cars were also destroyed. We take turns driving an old Subaru that I got from a friend who took pity on us. In the past, people came to us for help. Now my daughter has to get a gym suit from her girlfriends.” The family’s only consolation is that they do not owe a penny to Israeli companies.

Haaretz asked the IDF Spokesman for a comment regarding the destruction of the Abu E’ida and al-Wadeya families’ plants, as well as the general destruction of facilities along the eastern road. By press time, no response had been received.

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