In a place were most everyone has a hard-luck story, Ibrahim Abu Shatat could write an entire book. Two of his homes were destroyed by Israeli...
RAFAH, Gaza Strip — In a place were most everyone has a hard-luck story, Ibrahim Abu Shatat could write an entire book.
Two of his homes were destroyed by Israeli troops, he has been jobless six years and his family of nine has lived in the storage room under Rafah’s soccer stadium for three years.
Yet Shatat may be one of the few Gazans who see a ray of hope. Partly through his persistence, construction has begun on 300 homes in the sand dunes next to the former Jewish settlement of Rafiah Yam.
Along with a neighboring school, they are the first major construction projects in or near a settlement since Israeli soldiers and settlers pulled out of the Gaza Strip in summer 2005. And one of those homes will be his, Shatat said.
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The Israeli withdrawal raised Palestinian hopes for new homes, schools and businesses, and an easing of the overcrowding in the Gaza Strip, an impoverished coastal territory where about 1.5 million live.
“When the Israelis left, we demanded that the Palestinian government give us a piece of land,” said Shatat, 47.
But internal Palestinian turmoil, the conflict with Israel and a lack of money have kept the abandoned settlements looking almost exactly as they were the day the Israelis left.
Israel, in agreement with the Palestinians, flattened about 1,600 settler homes. The rubble is being removed from only three of 21 settlements.
But there is progress on the barren patch that was a no-man’s land outside Rafiah Yam, in southwest Gaza near the border with Egypt.
The Israeli departure raised the prospect of land-hungry Palestinians flooding into the former settlements.
But while many are impatient for housing, security guards have kept out would-be squatters in most cases.
Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, said the government had been allocating former settlement land for universities, hospitals, recreation facilities and housing.
The projects have been slow for several reasons. The Palestinian government has never been known for its efficiency. And several months after the Israelis left Gaza, Hamas, the radical Islamic movement, came to power, which prompted Western countries to cut direct financial aid.