With Israel’s blockade on Gaza making construction materials hard to come by, one Palestinian turned one of the few things Gaza has in abundance – sand – into a building resource.
But not all of them. Hassan Abu Kmeil, a young, crisply dressed engineer, harked back to his college years when he learned about an Iranian engineer who built makeshift shelters out of sandbags following an earthquake. Inspired by the Iranian’s slapdash building, Mr. Abu Kmeil realized that to build in Gaza, he need not look further than his coastal enclave’s only abundant natural resource: sand.
Abu Kmeil has built an after-school center for orphans, a villa, and changing rooms at a horse riding club – entirely out of sand. His workers fill bags with sand and mud and stack them one on top of the other before covering the structures in a thin layer of plaster. The buildings look like souped-up igloos, with multiple rooms and arched doorways.
“We had no other choice,” Abu Kmeil says, leaning against his after-school center, his ironed slacks covered in sand. “There weren’t other materials available.”
The structures, like sand castles, won’t last – Abu Kmeil says they have about a 35-year life span. And choosing to build from sand won’t last in Gaza, either: Smugglers are bringing in bags of cement in larger numbers through tunnels on the Gazan-Egyptian border, and cinder blocks made from recycled rubble are more readily available. Abu Kmeil’s workers have already begun a new structure, but this time they’re using cement and cinder blocks.
It leaves Abu Kmeil feeling bittersweet. Cement is preferable, he says, but to him the sand structures symbolize tenacity and creativity in the face of unusual conditions. When other engineers gave up, he placed his faith in sand.