Sunday, September 20, 2020

Reconstruction efforts in Gaza halt amidst global indifference

By Ruairi Henchy - January 28, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Gaza] [Gaza Blockade] [Operation Protective Edge]

Reconstruction efforts in Gaza will be halted due to lack of funding, announced the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA) on Wednesday.

The announcement comes despite a pledge by international donors of $5.4 billion in aid at money at a conference in Cairo last October. The months on, and barely a truck full of reconstruction material has passed into the besieged trip. Approximately 108,000 people in the Gaza Strip were left homeless after the July – September 2014 war, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

During last summer’s 50-day onslaught, Palestinian bomb disposal experts from the Ministry of Interior in Gaza estimate Israeli military forces dropped 20,000 tons of explosives, or the equivalent of 6 atomic bombs, on the Gaza Strip. The tiny coastal enclave, sandwiched between the Egyptian Sinai desert, the Mediterranean Sea and present day Israel measures only 360 square kilometres, and with approximately 1.8 million people it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. The scale of destruction was unprecedented, even for Gaza – a place which has come to be associated with war, death and devastation in the minds of people the world over. 

The esteemed American academic and political commentator, Noam Chomsky, when talking about Israel’s periodic wars on Gaza, often repeats the slogan: “Israel destroys, Gazans rebuild, Europe pays.” This time, however, it appears that despite initial promises, the usual suspects have not been as generous as before in footing the bill. At the Cairo aid conference, international donors promised a total of US $5.4bn to help rebuild Gaza, approximately $1.4bn more than the total $4bn sought by the Palestinian Authority. 

“This is a major breakthrough, a very important signal of solidarity to the Palestinian people in general and not at least to the people that are suffering so badly in Gaza, ”said Norway’s Foreign Minister, Boerge Brende, when announcing the final sum. 

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, highlighted the urgency of Gaza’s reconstruction needs, saying: “The people of Gaza do need our help desperately, not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now.” 

The director of UNRWA in Gaza, Robert Turner, announced on Tuesday 27 January, “$5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable… It is unclear why this funding has not been forthcoming… UNRWA has been a stabilizing factor in a very challenging political and security context and if we cannot continue the programme, it will have grave consequences for affected communities in Gaza.” 

“People are desperate and the international community cannot even provide the bare minimum – for example a repaired home in winter – let alone a lifting of the blockade, access to markets or freedom of movement. We’ve said before that quiet will not last, and now the quiet is at risk,” he added.

This note of caution was echoed by Khalil Al-Haya, a Hamas official, who Agence France Presse quoted as recently warning a meeting of the Islamic group’s officials of the growing threat of extremism in the area. “Our message to the world, which is scared of terrorism and extremism, is that the delay in rebuilding Gaza and the continuing blockade against it will make it a ripe environment for the spread of extremism and terrorism.” 

This warning comes a week after a demonstration at the French cultural centre in Gaza during which a small number of Gazan extremists waved ISIS-style black flags.

It is unclear which parties to the Cairo aid conference have failed to put their money where their mouths are, but regardless of where the fault lies, the facts on the ground attest that the majority of those left homeless since the war are still living in appalling conditions. In a recent report, Gisha, an independent Israeli NGO, outlines that only 3.9% of the required construction materials have entered Gaza in the past four months. The organization, which focuses on freedom of movement issues, argues that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) agreed upon between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following the cessation of hostilities last summer has totally failed in its stated goals, and that the flow of essential goods and construction materials coming through the Kerem Shalom crossing remains miniscule.

Despite the political grandstanding of many world leaders at the highly publicized Cairo aid conference in October, the reality for homeless Palestinians in Gaza remains unbearably grim three months down the road. An immediate reaffirmation of support from the US, EU and regional Arab countries for the reconstruction efforts, facilitated by an easing of the blockade of construction materials by Israel and Egypt is urgently required. Otherwise, the homeless of Gaza face many a cold night amongst the rubble of their former homes in the weeks and months ahead. 

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