One hundred years of reconstruction in forgotten Gaza
About ten months ago the people of Gaza found themselves again in the middle of another war. The last assault on Gaza started in July 2014 under the name of "Operation Protective Edge". But after that, has Gaza been forgotten again?
Only six days before the aggression, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old boy, was burned to death in East Jerusalem, in what has been described as a revenge attack. A few weeks earlier three Jewish teenagers – Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah – went missing in the
|In the long-term a political solution is necessary.|
West Bank. Their kidnapping led to the Israeli army's operation Brother's Keepers in the West Bank.
Human Rights groups condemned the operation as a form of collective punishment. +972mag reported that five Palestinians were killed, 350 arrested and 1,000 homes searched during the operation, before the bodies of the three young men were found. Already in May 2014, two Palestinian men were killed by Israel's army on the commemoration of Nakba Day, which again is partly viewed as being the reason for the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers. All these events can be seen as final triggers that led to yet another war between Israel and Palestine.
The cost of war and blockade
The war lasted for about seven weeks and ended with a ceasefire on 26 August 2014. In September 2014, UN OCHA reported that 2,131 Palestinian were killed during Operation Protective Edge, 1,473 of them have been identified as civilians, 501 of them as children. On the Israeli side, 71 people were killed, overwhelmingly soldiers, but also 4 civilians.
In Gaza 18,000 housing units were either totally destroyed or severely damaged leaving about 108,000 people homeless. As of 7 April 2015, the 87th Gaza situation report published by UNISPAL (United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine) reported that around 60,000 of Gaza's families were able to repair their damaged houses with the support of UNRWA. Some ten thousand families, whose houses had been totally destroyed or severely damaged, received a one-time financial compensation.
Not one of the totally destroyed houses has been reconstructed. Under the Gaza Construction Mechanism, Israel is supposed to allow material for the reparation of damaged houses into the Gaza Strip, but how to "process for rebuilding totally destroyed homes remains yet to be agreed upon". Import of construction material into Gaza is only possible for UN-led projects.
Despite all of this, with the Middle East facing many complex conflicts and humanitarian tragedies, sometimes Gaza seems forgotten. Though not by all: on 31 March and 1 of April a seminar by the UN on the Assistance to the Palestinian People – under the theme "speeding up relief, recovery and reconstruction in post-war Gaza" – was held in Vienna. For the participants of the seminar Gaza is not forgotten.
Some participants, like Mohammad Shtayyeh (President of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction) and Dana Erekat (Ministry of Planning and Administration Development), pointed out that only half of the sum of US$5.4 billion that was pledged by different states at the Cairo Donor Conference last year was actual new funding specifically for Gaza. The whole sum includes budget support, development support, as well as humanitarian support for the next three years for all of Palestine. Only about 14 percent of the newly pledged money specifically for Gaza has until now been disbursed. Around 80 Percent of this newly pledged support came from Arab States.
Frode Mauring explained that the UNDP is helping to remove the 2 million tons of rubble that has been left by the destruction of houses and infrastructure. 145,000 tons of rubble have so far been removed and 55,000 were crushed and could be used for road reparations. He sees the blockade as the main problem for the Gaza Strip, but also underlines the importance of a functioning united Palestinian governance.
The 87th situation report on Gaza describes the experience of an average UNRWA primary school student as someone, who has "lived through three cycles of renewed military conflict in the past seven years, witnessing death, destruction and displacement, and has never left the Gaza Strip, unless perhaps for medical treatment".
Humanitarian aid will be very important for short-term assistance – and countries should disburse the money they have pledged for at the Cairo Conference – to the Palestinian people, but in the long-term a political solution is necessary. A political solution has to include a functioning Palestinian unity government, as well as an end of the occupation and of the blockade of Gaza.
Gaza was almost totally razed to the ground in 2014, but already before that it was in dire straits: the siege has a tremendous impact on the wellbeing of Gaza's inhabitants and its economy. Already two years earlier the UN questioned whether Gaza would be liveable place by 2020. Nasser Qatami, the Palestinian deputy minister of labour, said at the Vienna seminar that at the current pace of progress it would take 100 years for reconstruction.
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.