“After 70 days, I held the new keys in my hands”

21 October 2015
The Zaza family was able to reconstruct their home, destroyed in the 2014 summer conflict, with support from UNRWA. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam
Refugee family the first in Gaza to complete the reconstruction of their totally demolished home, with UNRWA support

More than one year after the devastating conflict, the Zaza refugee family is the first in Gaza to complete the reconstruction of their totally demolished home, with support from UNRWA.

Atef al-Zaza, his wife Fatima and their 12 children lost their home in Sha’af, in eastern Gaza City, in the summer of 2014, when it was completely demolished during the 50 days of hostilities. Their extended family took them in until UNRWA provided the family with transitional shelter cash assistance. They were then able to temporarily rent an apartment for the next 11 months, after which they moved into their newly reconstructed house.

After UNRWA social workers and engineers visited Atef’s home, they assessed and categorized it as totally demolished and uninhabitable. In June 2015, the governments of Israel and Palestine reached an agreement on a Residential Stream of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) to allow for the reconstruction of totally demolished homes. UNRWA submitted applications for refugee families with totally demolished homes who had their documentation ready. After approval, they were able to commence the reconstruction process. The Zaza family was one of 190 refugee cases submitted through the new GRM Stream. One hundred and seventy of these cases have been approved, including Atef and Fatima’s family.

Atef was determined to struggle against the depression and despair that overwhelmed so many people in Gaza after the conflict, and he started to race against time to reconstruct the family house. He explains: “I wanted to give back to my family the intimate place they used to have before. I was challenging myself to finish reconstruction before the Eid holidays. After 70 days, my house was completely reconstructed and I held the new keys in my hand; at that moment, I felt relieved and happy, and I wanted to give the keys to my wife and show her the house and everything in it.” 

“When I heard that our name was included in the list of families who would receive payments from UNRWA to purchase reconstruction materials, I felt excited and full of hope. The war is still inside us, burned into our souls, but I wanted my family and me to move on,” Atef recalled.

As soon as he received the first payments from UNRWA, Atef ordered all of the reconstruction materials he needed to reconstruct the family house. “I was very confident that UNRWA would pay me for all the installments I was eligible for,” he commented. “I stayed with the labourers day and night – watching, monitoring and supervising them; they were all positively encouraged by my attitude and wanted to help me to reconstruct my house.”

Now, when Atef walks through his old neighbourhood, he feels happiness, despite the destruction still visible everywhere.

“What we went through was difficult, a nightmare, but this time it seems to have concluded with a happy ending; when I first saw my new home, I felt that now we finally have our normal life back again,” Atef said.

UNRWA engineers have confirmed 140,190 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 130.65 million (excluding programme support costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the hostilities, as of October 2015.

Due to lack of sufficient funding, to this day 13,167 refugee families whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged and uninhabitable remain displaced.