‘We will not give up’: Palestinians in Gaza rebuild from scratch

Many of the commercial, innovative sites targeted by Israeli forces were invaluable resources for the blockaded enclave.

Palestinians sit in a makeshift tent in the rubble of their homes destroyed by Israeli air raids in Gaza [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Gaza City – Years of hard work, sweat, and effort went into Mohammed Abu Matar’s 3D printing company, Tashkeel 3D.

His was the only facility in the entire Gaza Strip able to manufacture staple medical supplies such as stethoscopes and tourniquets, items desperately needed by Gaza hospitals but difficult to obtain under a 14-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

A plethora of materials and supplies have been banned by Israel from entering the Gaza Strip for years because they are classified as “dual-use”, making Abu Matar’s 3D printing a way to circumvent the blockade and print essential, life-saving items at a low cost.

But on May 18 at 6am, Israeli air raids flattened the building that hosts his lab, a tragedy for Abu Matar and his team of three.

“When I heard the news, all of my memories of that place ran in front of my eyes like a movie. It was my childhood dream,” Abu Matar, 35, told Al Jazeera.

“Israel doesn’t allow the entrance of any sophisticated printers or machines into the Strip, so we had to start from scratch and build those capabilities on our own. That included material, machines, research that were destroyed.”

In this file photo from 2017, Abu Matar is seen in Gaza City demonstrating his 3D printed stethoscope [File: Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

Unable to import it, Abu Matar and his team built the first 3D printer in Gaza by themselves in 2014 by scraping together spare parts and following open-source designs online.

They put together CNC processing machines and 3D scanners that had not been available until then in Gaza.

Since 2017, Abu Matar estimates they put in resources worth more than $150,000, but it is definitely not about the money.

“It cost us a lot of research and brain work. It’s invaluable,” Abu Matar said.

Abu Matar and his team had contracts with various clinics and NGOs including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which relied on them for 3D-printed medical devices.

“It means the world to me when I know that my technology and projects help patients in Gaza,” he said.

The remains of Abu Matar’s laboratory is seen in Gaza City [Courtesy: Mohammed Abu Matar]

A fragile ceasefire has taken hold in Gaza since early Friday after the Strip experienced the worst military assault in years, which saw at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, killed in Israeli air attacks.

Many of the commercial and innovative sites targeted by Israeli forces during the 11-day bombardment were invaluable resources for the blockaded enclave. Israeli forces also destroyed a bookstore belonging to Abu Matar’s father-in-law, who kept rare books unavailable anywhere else in Gaza, Abu Matar said.

‘Start from zero’

In the eastern Gaza Strip where the industrial area is located, 18 factories were targeted by Israeli air attacks, according to Bajes El Dalou, director of its investment department.

Ten of the factories were destroyed and eight badly damaged, affecting 200 employees who now no longer have work, El Dalou told Al Jazeera.

“I don’t think there was any intention [for Israeli air attacks to target factories] but to break our will as people and destroy us. That’s something we’ve gotten used to,” El Dalou said.

When Nihad al-Sawafiri heard that his furniture company was destroyed on May 17 in the industrial area near the al-Muntar border crossing – known as Karni to Israelis – it was like “a dream that vanished all of a sudden”, he said.

Before launching his company, he searched for the safest location in Gaza for his business.

A Palestinian business association informed him there were treaties and international agreements in place that had secured the eastern part of Gaza as an area safe from Israeli attacks where businesses could grow, al-Sawafiri told Al Jazeera.

“But still, it was attacked and I lost my business. Imagine working hard for 30 years and you lose that overnight. It’s a catastrophe,” al-Sawafiri said.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to rebuild the business again, but at least if things go smoothly and the reconstruction money gets back into Gaza, it will take me six months to start from zero again.

“Money and businesses can be compensated but human life cannot, so I’m glad we came out of this war alive.”

A Palestinian woman cooks as another sits in the debris of their homes destroyed by Israeli fire in Gaza [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

‘It’s all vanished’

Mohammed Fora, 28, was the owner of a barbershop in the eastern Shejaiya district of Gaza City, which Israeli fighter jets destroyed on May 16.

Fora and his brother started the business to provide for their family, including their brother who has a physical disability and needs constant treatment.

“Now, it’s all vanished”, Fora told Al Jazeera.

He will have to rebuild it from scratch, but it cost him $15,000 some 10 years ago, and it was a difficult process.

“I’ll wait for the Gaza reconstruction committee to compensate me, but that often takes months if not years. Right now, my brother and I have been looking for separate manual jobs like reconstruction workers. We have to go on, or else we can’t survive,” Fora said.

“We don’t want anyone to feel sad for us, but at least let us live. Just leave us alone. I’m disappointed in [the international community]. It’s just lip service. If they care enough, they would have done [something] a long time ago.”

He noted his barbershop was destroyed when Israeli air raids struck the graveyard next to it. “Why would you target the dead? It’s an irony that even the dead shouldn’t feel comfortable,” Fora said.

For Abu Matar, he is just grateful he and his loved ones survived the attacks.

“During this war, no one expected to get out alive,” he said. “Losing my business – to which my team and I have put so much effort and resources – was a great disaster, but human lives are absolutely more precious.”

A crowdfunding page may help get his lab working again. Within 36 hours, donors put up about $27,000, more than half the target sum.

“We were all saddened by the news [when we heard it was destroyed], but we also understand that our company’s seeds were of defiance and challenge to this occupation, and we are going to go the extra mile to rebuild what Israel has destroyed,” Abu Matar said.

“My message is one of hope and challenge. We will not give up. We will continue and we will build our company again. Gaza is all about defiance and making the impossible possible. We’ll do it.”

Source: Al Jazeera