Hamas workers labor round-the-clock to develop seaport ahead of international aid convoy.
Using rubble collected by children, Hamas is enlarging and deepening Gaza’s makeshift port in preparation for a flotilla of activist boats attempting to break through Israel’s blockade.
Israel has vowed to stop the eight-vessel flotilla, comprised of four cargo and four passenger ships, from entering the besieged Strip.
But that has not stopped the sense of urgency among port workers. Dozens have been working around the clock, using rubble collected by children, to prepare the port for receiving what Gazans are calling the “Fleet of Freedom.” Organizers said the ships are expected over the weekend.
“The primary objective is to improve the port’s poor condition and make it ready to accommodate more and larger vessels because it is currently restricted to the smaller Palestinian fishing boats,” Yasser Shanti, the Ministry of Works undersecretary for the Hamas government, told The Media Line.
Hamas has ordered all its ministries to lend a hand in the project, Shanti said. Israel has sealed off the Gaza Strip since Hamas, blacklisted as a terrorist group by the West, seized control from the Palestinian Authority in June 2007. Israel has allowed humanitarian aid into the strip, but blocked virtually all building supplies from entering in order to prevent Hamas from rebuilding and fortifying.
Bulldozers, cranes and steamrollers have been busy spreading sand and flattening rubble along the makeshift jetty. One Hamas official confirmed that the building supplies were recycled from structures destroyed by the Israeli military during the confrontation with Israel in the winter of 2008-2009.
The official said children roam about the rubble all day collecting gravel, plastic and other building material. They then sell it to small factories where it is crushed and mixed to be reused in construction work.
Inside the harbor, workers used a pump to suck up the sandy bottom to make it deep enough for larger boats to dock. Hamas workers were able to patch together a makeshift raft the size of a house, capable of lifting 50 tons of sand.
“This considerable effort really requires a lot of time, and the continued siege of the Gaza Strip has prevented it,” Shanti said.
He added that the urgency produced by the imminent arrival of a fleet of international aid ships has helped push along the project.
A large breakwater has been constructed and work crews have been installing lighting around the harbor so that work can continue after dark.
“The Freedom Fleet’s ships can be easily received now,” proclaimed a Hamas official.
But despite the great efforts, the newly deepened harbor, which has lodged only fishing boats, does not appear to be capable of accepting large vessels. This is due to the fact that it lacks any permanently-fixed cement dock. Cement has been in short supply in Gaza since Israel barred it, along with other items, from entering the Strip.
Gaza’s fishermen observed the hustle and bustle with mixed emotions.
“I have been working in the fishing business for awhile now and it has been always a tough job, whether facing problems with Egypt and Israel when we are making a living in our water, or because the port was too poor to make our job easier,” said a resentful Kamal Abu-Jaber.
“And now just because some foreign boats are coming, all of a sudden the port is being altered and developed for them? Why? Don’t I deserve that too?” asked the 42-year-old fisherman. “I haven’t gone to work for two days because I am too mad.”
But Ahmed Al-Faraheen, 27, disagreed.
“That’s unfair,” he said. “We should be happy that the port is better and more developed now and just complete our job and show gratitude.”
Shanti admitted they were preparing for the possibility of having to anchor the larger ships in the flotilla deeper at sea and ferrying in supplies with smaller boats.
“The focus now is on processing roads, lighting and trellised structures allocated to receive the delegations and the provision of various services on the port,” Shanti said.
Hearing the fisherman’s rage, Shanti answered only that circumstances had changed priorities.
“Before, we didn’t have the time or the resources. We had been planning this development. This opportunity came up and so we started to accelerate the plan to receive the ‘Fleet of Freedom’. It’s in the interest of the port’s future and work will continue even after the international ships leave,” he explained.
According to Shanti, Hamas plans to develop the port and its facilities into a public space that can be enjoyed not only by the fishermen, but also by visitors and tourists.