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The ‘Flattening’ of Gaza
A main water line was severed when Israeli bombing destroyed a central Gaza bridge. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS
GAZA CITY, Dec 25 2012 (IPS) - On Nov. 17, four days into Israel’s eight-day assault on the Gaza Strip, deputy Israeli Prime Minister Eli Yishai publicly called for the Israeli army to “blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water”.
The following day, Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, called for Israel to “flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing”, adding, “there is no middle path here – either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip.”
Now, nearly a month after the Israel-Hamas cease-fire, the government and international bodies in Gaza are still assessing the total damage caused by Israeli bombings on infrastructure throughout the Strip.
Preliminary estimates put direct damage at 250 million dollars, with another 700 million dollars in indirect damages, according to Hamas Government Spokesperson Taher al Nanu.
In more tangible terms, the vast destruction and varying levels of damage include: bridges, thousands of homes, hundreds of U.N. shelters, tens of mosques, many government buildings, media offices, financial institutions, hospitals and health centres, two stadiums, a training centre for disabled athletes, water and sewage and electricity networks, over 100 schools, Gaza’s “life-line” tunnels, and innumerable roads.
During the Israeli bombings, Al Jazeera reported that 400,000 people were without electricity after five different transformers were hit.
After the cease-fire, the extent of damage on the electrical network became clearer.
In addition to the five known damaged transformers, another 32 throughout the Strip were destroyed or damaged by Israeli bombings, according to the Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation (GEDCo).
“We reconnected most of the damaged lines during the attacks. But we need to correct those temporary repairs because they were not done according to technical standards,” says Usama Dabbour, from GEDCo’s external relations department.
“There are still approximately 5,000 people without power throughout the border regions. We cannot reconnect them because it is still too dangerous to go there, despite the cease-fire,” he says.
Damages also include severed electrical wires, felled poles, GEDCo vehicles, and a tank-shelled company warehouse.
“We have 5.5 million shekels in direct damages, and 7.7 billion Israeli shekels in indirect damages,” says Dabbour.
This is not the first time the Israeli army has targeted Gaza’s electricity network.
“Every time the Israelis declare war on Gaza, they damage the electricity network,” says Dabbour.
According to the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP), the 2008-2009 Israeli bombings of Gaza inflicted 10.4 million dollars in damages to the electricity network.
Since the 2006 bombing of Gaza’s sole power plant, the entire Strip has been under scheduled and non-scheduled daily power outages, sometimes lasting longer than eighteen hours at a stretch.
The Strip’s water and sanitation networks were also hit by Israeli bombs.
Ibrahim al-Aleja, communications officer at Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), notes that damage to water and sanitation networks extends throughout the Strip.
Some of the most severe damage, from Beit Hanoun to Rafah, includes underground piping blasted apart by Israeli bombings of civilian streets, homes and in open areas. Reservoirs were targeted. “They destroyed a reservoir in Khoza’a, east of Khan Younis. It was no threat to the Israelis,” says al-Aleja.
Two waste water wells in the same village were also hit by bombs.
In Khan Younis, Israeli attacks damaged a storage facility holding 350,000 litres of water, as well as a major line in the Amal neighbourhood of Khan Younis, says al-Aleja.
Parts of central Gaza’s Nusseirat and Mughraqa towns are still without water.
“When the Israelis bombed a bridge between the two areas, they destroyed a water pipe underneath it. There are still 20,000 people without water in that area,” he says.
Bassam Abu Dahrouj (14) climbs down the steep slope of the severed bridge. The Nov. 21 Israeli bombing marked the fourth time this bridge has been destroyed, the teenager says.
“Over half of the families in Mughraqa use this bridge, and children use it to get to school,” says Abu Dahrouj. “Now, they have to use a long detour.” Some, however, don’t bother with the detour. As he speaks, two children climb up the cement wall of the valley the bridge crossed.
But “In winter, the Israelis open their dams and flood the valley. It gets very high and no one can cross the valley at that time,” he says.
Further west, the coastal road bridge linking central Gaza to the north is likewise severed. Tangles of concrete and metal rods, building materials hard to come by in Gaza under Israeli siege, lie in heaps, some of the metal being pounded out for re-sale in construction use.
On the south side of the demolished bridge, a line of shared taxis ventures onto the muddy valley floor, opting for a bumpy but shorter detour than that of Gaza’s north-south Salah el Din street many kilometres east. A temporary fix, it will be unusable during the winter months when heavy rains flood the valley.
Early estimates include 20 million dollars in agricultural damage, 136 schools and kindergartens damaged or destroyed, and 450 houses destroyed or severely damaged, leaving 3,000 people still displaced, according to the U.N.
Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai, who on Nov. 17 called for the annihilation of Gaza, said following the 2009 Israeli war on Gaza that “even if they fire at an open area or into the sea, we must damage their infrastructures and destroy 100 houses”.
The Hague Relations and the Geneva Conventions prohibit “the unnecessary destruction of the enemy’s property”, and the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.