GAZA - At last, Nael Zeyara has a steady job in construction, thanks to the smuggling of cement through Gaza's network of tunnels to Egypt, an underground supply line that boosts the Israeli-blockaded enclave and creates jobs.
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Zeyara, 30, has been out of work for four years.
"I lead a tough life with a wife and four children in a rented house," Zeyara told Reuters as he worked.
"Six or seven months ago I got my job back when supplies began to flow again," he said. Zeyara earns about $19 a day.
Thanks to hundreds of tunnels in the sandy soil of the border zone, a construction boom has buoyed Gaza's otherwise crippled economy, according to a United Nations report.
Israel allows construction materials into Gaza for the use of
international relief agencies, including the building of houses and
schools. It has recently permitted the import of limited quantities to
rebuild some factories destroyed in 2009's Operation Cast Lead.
UN report said that in an economy severely depressed for most of the
past decade developments in the first half of 2011 provided some
"Employment jumped by more than 47,000 jobs in
first-half 2011, or 24.7 percent, to an estimated 237,475. The broad
unemployment rate declined to 32.9% from 45.2% in second-half 2010," the
report said.Tunnels outstrip overland supplies
Gazans say the tunnels have enabled them to bring in all of their needs "from the needle to the rocket."
underground business continues to flourish, undeterred by dozens of
deaths from Israeli air strikes or cave-ins, and now far outstrips
overland imports from Israel that enter Gaza via carefully supervised
official crossing points.
"Despite the easing of restrictions on
the Israeli-imposed blockade, tight controls of the crossings from
Israel into Gaza are a significant factor behind the growth in the
tunnel economy", said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations
Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA).
for the import of building materials in September show that 46,500
tonnes of aggregate arrived via the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel
into Gaza, whereas 90,000 tonnes came through the tunnels.
9,195 tonnes of cement came through Kerem Shalom, against 90,000 through
the tunnels. For steel rods, 1,418 tonnes transited Kerem Shalom versus
15,000 via the underground route.
UNRWA says Gaza's jobless rate
is still one of the most severe in the world and a "reversal of
deepening poverty and aid dependency among ordinary people in Gaza is
unlikely." About 1.7 million Palestinians are estimated to live in the
narrow coastal enclave.
The Hamas administration says many
factories that had closed doors in 2007, when Israel tightened its
blockade after Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to President Mahmoud
Abbas, have now re-opened and re-hired their employees.
building increases, the bigger the number of people who will join the
labor force," said contractor Majed Sabra, supervising at team of 10 at a
construction site.Exports Restricted
restricts the import by Gaza of construction materials such as cement
and steel, which can be used for military purposes by Gaza's armed
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have used the tunnels to import rockets which are fired sporadically into Israel.
construction seems to be going on in every street. New roads have been
paved, others are under construction and modest shopping malls have been
inaugurated using private and Hamas money.
Gaza's "expanded activity due to the tunnel economy" but says the
situation of about half a million Palestinian refugees in the territory
remains a concern.
UN and Palestinian officials say Gaza will not
see real progress without freedom to export. Israel allows limited
exports from Gaza at the peak season for cut flowers and strawberries,
shipped fresh to Europe.
The flow of building materials also has a social impact.
have built some houses for people whose marriages had been delayed
because they could not build a house or expand the building at their
family home," said Sabra, 42.
Hussam Breika, a businessman, he
and his brothers were building a large home to unite them all under one
roof, as Gazans traditionally live.
"Right now, each brother
lives in a different area of Gaza. A family house is different. Family
ties get stronger," said Breika, who imports food products and soft
drinks via Israel.