Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for beating the Israeli blockade

With cement imports banned, one Gazan has fallen back on an ancient method of building

On the one hand it's the ultimate in "de-development." But on the other it's a testament to Gazan ingenuity which has somehow been undimmed by three bloody weeks of war and two years of total economic blockade.

Certainly there is no prouder home-owner in southern Gaza than Jihad al Shaer, as he sits on his palm-lined verandah looking out on his desert garden, its path neatly fenced with half buried tyres, and already blooming with water melon, tomatoes and aubergines. But it's the three-room family house itself which he completed within weeks of the end of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in January that is the source of his pride. It's built almost entirely with mud.

Mr Al Shaer, 36, first became interested in the multi-millennium-old technique of building mud houses when he visited Bangladesh during a religious trip in the 1990s. "This was what our ancestors did before us," he says. "But I never thought I would be doing it myself." Last year, when his parental home, in a town whose chronic housing shortage is compounded by the relentless demolitions along the border with Egypt during nine years of conflict, became too overcrowded, he realised he needed somewhere else to live. Money was in short supply and cement, which Israel has not allowed into Gaza since Hamas seized full control by force in June 2007, unaffordable. But thanks to the multiplication of smuggling tunnels under the border, mud was abundant. It was also free apart from the £32 a truckload it cost to transport it to his 300 square metres of land on what was, until 2005, the Israeli settlement of Morag. Using a shoe box to mould mud, sand and water bricks strengthened with corn husk straw, leaving them to dry for three days, and making a timber roof frame, allowed him to install his wife, his four daughters and infant son in a new house for around $3,000 (£1,877) compared with the $25,000 for conventional construction. Pausing only for the three weeks of war, when bombing made it too dangerous to make the four- kilometre journey from his home, he completed the job in just two months.

Mr Al Shaer is delighted with his low-energy methods. "This is natural, not man-made," he says. "God has created this mud so people can live. There is no technology. This will be an alternative way for people to survive". But his financial incentive to go green also tells you something about how the siege of Gaza has been more effective in hurting the legitimate economy than Hamas, widely believed to be taking a cut from the tunnel economy.

Mr Al Shaer was, and on paper still is, a driver with a once flourishing local motor oil distributor which imported its lubricants from South Korea until the blockade meant the workers had to be laid off. Some $500,000 dollars of the company's oil is stuck at the Israeli port of Ashdod while inferior but usable oil continues –despite three weeks of intensive Israeli bombing of the tunnels – to flow under the border. Mr Al Shaer suggests, without apportioning specific blame, there are business "interests" in Gaza still doing well out of the tunnel-economy.

"If I own three tunnels," he says, "I won't want the crossings to open." But he is is no doubt who is to blame for the blockade of all but basic humanitarian supplies. "Israel is always looking for an excuse not to allow anything to come here," he says. "They want us to worry about day-to-day life and not think about our political rights."

Experts from the Hamas de facto government have been to Mr Al Shaer's house to see whether it could be a model for the huge task of post-war reconstruction. That task – of which rebuilding the 4,000 multiple-occupied homes totally destroyed by Israel's military operation is only a part – has yet to begin because of the Israeli-imposed blockade on all building materials, even glass. But it may not be as easy as that. With a wife and seven children living in three storerooms, Mr Al Shaer's friend Nidal Eid is desperate to complete his own mud house, but he cannot afford increasingly scarce timber for the roof frame, which has now shot up from £192 last year to around £960.

Mr Eid was inspired to follow Mr Al Shaer's example because he lived for 20 years in his parents' mud home in the coastal Sinai town of El Arish. Even though he had to skimp on straw because that has gone up to £4.80 a sack, he is convinced it will be sturdy enough to withstand rain and war. After all, he says "an F16 can destroy a house made of stone." For the blockade which has stopped his wood, "I have to blame the occupation [Israel]" But he adds: "And the Gaza government, because they are not making an agreement with the other factions. If there was a unity government, there would be no siege."

Mr Eid says that he is now thinking of leaving Gaza if it becomes possible. "I want co-operation with Israel but Israel won't accept that," he says. "We just want to live like other people in the rest of the world." Mr al Shaer, agrees, arguing that his mud house is a symbol. "This shows we can live in a simple way," he says. "We are Palestinians, not terrorists or beggars. We don't need outside support, just open borders."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence