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After a year of war on the Gaza Strip, reconstruction no nearer

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(Image via shahidblog.com)

Displaced Gazan families have lost faith in the international community coming good on their promises to rebuild their homes, which were destroyed by Israel last year, writes Dr Ibrahim Natil.

THOUSANDS OF PALESTINIAN FAMILIES living in the Gaza Strip were affected by the last Israeli military operation there during the summer of 2014.

This operation created a new environment of destruction, family displacement and overloaded surviving families with devastating psychological problems. It left 19,000 homes destroyed, 100,000 Gazans homeless and over 2,100 dead. The majority of those killed were Palestinian civilians, compared with 76 Israeli fatalities — all of whom were soldiers. Those displaced people lost not only their homes but also their dignity, when they found themselves without any shelter.

Shortly after the Palestinian resistance groups and Israel agreed to a ceasefire, governments from all over the world pledged $3.5 billion to rebuild Gaza. Israel, the UN and the Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed to monitor the materials for use by the displaced families. The Israeli restrictions on building materials, however, continue to cause delays to this day. Gazans reconstructed just 2,000 out of the 19,000 homes destroyed last year. No single home has been fully rebuilt. It looks as if the 'Gaza reconstruction will take a century to complete due to the Israeli blockade'as reported by Oxfam earlier this year.

Challenges to the Temporary Ceasefire

This very slow mechanism of recovery is another serious challenge to the current fragile ceasefire. These circumstances do not contribute to Hamas’ transformation in playing a real role in future peace building activities in the Gaza Strip,  although there have been various leaks regarding indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel facilitated by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has met Hamas leaders more than once in Doha. The current delays in rebuilding destroyed homes has deepened the wounds of displaced communities, who are in desperate need of an urgent, fair, rapid and effective reconstruction process that respects international human rights and humanitarian law (IHL).

This complicated and hostile environment imposes huge challenges to local communities, the PA, UN agencies and the morality of the free world. It has already increased pressures and demands on the work of local and international organizations, including UNRWA, to achieve their agenda of peace and development. This has created massive new challenges for the PA, Hamas, international organizations and NGOs in Gaza, as they struggle to meet citizens’ needs and demands transparently and efficiently, not least because resources are sorely lacking after 10 years of blockades.

The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr Nickolay Mladenov, following his first visit to Gaza on 29 April 2015, said:

“No human being who visits can remain untouched by the terrible devastation that one sees here in Gaza, and as shocking as the devastation of the buildings might be, the devastation of people’s livelihoods is 10 times more shocking."

Peace, relief and development processes, therefore, face a variety of serious challenges owing to the highly hostile political environment and absence of human security at all levels. The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip have been living in very inhumane and risky circumstances since 2006. The region is isolated from the rest of the world by closure and a complicated range of restrictions on the movements of both people and goods. Gazan society also faces a very high level of unemployment, youth drug addiction and a lack of resources. The Coastal Strip will face a very serious problem as Gazans may effectively be unable to access usable water by 2020. The entire population is dependent on international assistance. In addition, they also suffer from serious psychological problems because of the three large scale Israeli military offensives that caused a major loss of life amongst youth, women and children, and the destruction of an already impoverished infrastructure.

Despite the consensus between Hamas and Fatah to support a single government administration in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, headed by the academic Rami Al Hamdallah, the government has been seriously challenged by mountains of crises that have emerged since the devastating Israeli offensive during the summer of 2014. Hamas and Fatah are still locked into governing the Gaza Strip, paying the salaries of those employed by the former Hamas government, including the security forces and civil servants, who are mostly Hamas members. In practice, Hamas still controls the Gaza Strip at all levels despite the consensus government. The inhabitants now live under a new barrel of powder that could explode at any time, owing to the deadlock between Hamas, the PA and Israel, and the absence of a peace process, as well as economic, financial and human security.

Reviving the Hope

Last week, the Gazans remembered hopelessly the first anniversary of the end of the Israeli assaults — the so called “Operation Protective Edge”. They had hoped that their homes would already have been built by this time, but unfortunately, international donors could not commit to their pledges of reconstructing the Gaza Strip because Israel has imposed a siege on the area for about 10 years. On the occasion of ending the Israeli operation last year, 36 aid organizations working in the Palestinian Territories and 400,000 people launched a public call to end the blockade on Gaza. 

In their turn, the Palestinian civil society organizations have taken a role in an international advocacy campaign to raise the voices and demands of displaced communities, despite their administrative and financial resources. The Human Rights and IHL Secretariat is working with the Society Voice Foundation (SVF), a Gaza-based organization, to run a project to advocate the rights of displaced families whose homes were demolished by the Israeli war machine during the summer of 2014.

The SVF has just launched an advocacy campaign, nationally and internationally, to raise the concerns and demands of these families, who lost their houses. The SVF and its partners advocate the rights of displaced communities to a fair, rapid and effective reconstruction process respecting the International Human Rights Law (IHL). The SVF, its local supporters and its partners, in countries such as Belgium, Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands, are committed to raise the concerns of displaced people to various decision makers and relevant organizations. From this campaign, the local and international organizations working in Palestine hope that the international community will exert pressure on Israel to respect international human rights law (IHL) and lift the siege.

The current reconstruction of Gaza could take 17 years, considering that just 5 per cent of the required building materials have been allowed into the area in one year.

Dr Ibrahim Natil is visiting fellow at the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin. You can follow Dr Natil on Twitter @Natilibrahim.

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