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Palestinian architect says the destruction must become part of Gaza's reconstruction

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We've been speaking to Palestinians about their vision for a future in Gaza. Today, we hear from Yara Sharif, a Palestinian architect in London. She's co-founder of the Palestine Regeneration Team and Architects for Gaza.

YARA SHARIF: Over 60% of the buildings in Gaza have been destroyed. But it's also the heritage, the culture, the collective memory. So it's important for us to rethink how to rebuild, how to accommodate one of the highest densely populated spots on Earth. Do we go vertical? Do we go horizontal? You've got an urban fabric. You've got a coastal fabric. You've got a rural fabric. Each one requires a different way of looking at it.

FADEL: If you could say more about that and whether you can rebuild what is lost when it comes to the collective memory of a place.

SHARIF: Historic buildings have been destroyed. But also, there is kind of a - cultural social practices within the neighborhoods that have been taking place that we lost - the culture of living under roof, the culture of the bamboo huts that the Gazans are very famous for, the informal market that is on the beach with its corn and barbecue, very important, very little details of every day. With this destruction, we have lost a lot of those aspects because also the visual memory has been overtaken by images of destruction and ruins and nothingness. At least we need to be aware of what we've lost. Maybe we need to even mark those spaces that have been lost that we will never be able to reclaim.

FADEL: What do you envision if you could have what you wanted in a future Gaza?

SHARIF: I don't think it is fair for anyone to come and kind of dictate a top-down plan to say, OK, this is the future of Gaza. This has to be done. When we think about reconstruction, we were thinking about innovative building materials, but maybe also build on the creative initiatives that the local residents have already been doing. Gazans have been very creative. They've already tested out a lot of innovative materials that are sustainable and more responsive to the climate and to the daily practices, but also to the difficulties of the siege. We need to bear those in mind, like how could we work without cement? How could we work with earth? How could we work with clay? All these are aspects that the Gazans have already thought about.

FADEL: But you were saying sustainable materials and creative ways, partly because things like cement are subject to blockade and that you can't get them in to build.

SHARIF: Yes. Cement is not allowed. It has not been allowed. But also, there is another aspect, is that the city is left in ruins, and we should equally see ruins as a building material. Whether it is the reconstruction bars from the damaged concrete buildings to the corrugated metals from the refugee camp, the bricks, everything that we could get hold of becomes a building material that either can work towards rebuilding home or towards rebuilding schools.

FADEL: But Sharif says she's worried about permanent displacement. She's seen far-right-wing Israelis post about resettling Gaza. A conference was even held a few days ago that far-right government ministers attended calling for just that. Now, the prime minister of Israel, though, says there will be no permanent presence, although he wants Israel to control security.

SHARIF: I'm very scared. You see a lot of these settler colonial projects that are putting up schemes for erasing the city and starting with these kind of new resorts.

FADEL: She says any reconstruction in Gaza must be led by Palestinians who live there.

SHARIF: Any scheme that is going to come from the outside is going to create just another faceless city.

FADEL: Yara, thank you so much for joining us and for speaking with me.

SHARIF: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

FADEL: That was Yara Sharif, senior lecturer at the University of Westminster.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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