Gaza City – A massive UN-supervised project to rebuild Gaza got underway earlier last week, but officials in Gaza and Ramallah are already doubtful that it will bring immediate aid to residents of the battered strip. The reconstruction plan calls for a highly intricate monitoring system, with restrictive measures on the import and distribution of building materials.
This comes at the behest of the Israelis, who have long barred the entry of basic construction materials – including cement, metal pipes and steel – into Gaza, insisting that they are ‘dual use’ items that Hamas could use to build underground tunnels for military purposes.
A new monitoring system will place security personnel and video cameras at distribution points for construction materials, and will vet both suppliers and buyers. And a central database, linked to the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, but available to Israeli intelligence agencies, will track material entering the Gaza Strip.
The details of this deal were revealed in a document named the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which outlined a UN-brokered agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Palestinian officials have said that Gaza will need almost $7.8bn in aid to rebuild after the recent Israeli offensive, which lasted 51 days and left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.
On Sunday October 12, donors pledged $5.4bn to rebuild the strip, but only $2.7bn is slated for reconstruction; the rest will support the PA’s budget over the next three years.
“It’s not enough. Gaza has been destroyed many times since 2000, starting with the second Intifada,” said Faisal Abu Shahleh, a senior Fatah member in Gaza. “Israel destroyed all of the infrastructure.”
Throughout the war, more than 60,000 houses were destroyed or damaged, forcing one in four Palestinians in Gaza to flee. Around 110,000 people remain displaced.
Approximately 1,000 industrial enterprises, including factories, were also affected. Close to 2.5 million tons of rubble will need to be removed, according to a 72-page Gaza reconstruction plan presented to donors in Cairo.
The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism includes an Israeli-Palestinian-UN “high-level steering team” to oversee monitoring.
A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry said the mechanism was designed to ensure reconstruction in Gaza is done without allowing Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities and “divert funds and products to violence.” “The process may well be slow, that remains to be seen – just today the first shipment of construction material entered the Gaza Strip,” Paul Hirschson said. “At this point we are hopeful that the mechanism as defined can be implemented and we will start to see better days.”
Complicated mechanisms are being created to manoeuvre around the problem, not address it. This means more money is wasted and Palestinians' dependency status is entrenched.
Israeli authorities are, however, worried about the likelihood of Hamas reneging on the agreement. “Given the poor record that Hamas has, Israel is not too confident in their good intentions,” Hirschson added.
In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas officials worry that Israel is the one lacking good intentions. The arrangement identifies “Israel’s security concerns” as a priority, giving it the final say on big projects: Only pre-vetted vendors will be able to distribute building materials to Palestinian government – approved contractors.
Although the war brought renewed popular support for Hamas, the movement fears that prolonged devastation will start to eat away at its popularity. In neighbourhoods like Shuja’iya, which suffered some of the worst bombardment, there is already growing anger and frustration toward the group.
Madi Hassanein, 35, lost most of his three-story house to an Israeli airstrike. He now lives with his two wives and six children in the single surviving room, beneath several tons of rubble which engineers told him could collapse at any time. “I’ve lost hope,” he said. “I place full responsibility on Hamas… what did they accomplish by causing this war? Look at how we are living. What kind of future is this for my children?”
Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman, tried to distance the group from the reconstruction efforts, suggesting that Hamas would blame the PA if things did not move swiftly. “We are not part of the rebuilding,” he said. “The agreement is between the PA and the UN, there are many issues with this deal. We’re not going to destroy it, because we want to rebuild immediately… but the PA is responsible for this.”
The anger, however, is not limited to Hamas: As the reconstruction lags, many Palestinians in Gaza are growing equally frustrated with its rival Fatah, and even with international organisations like the UN.
Last April, Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a national reconciliation government, in an effort to end their seven-year schism. So far there has been little unity, though: the two factions are arguing over issues such as who should pay public servants in Gaza, a worsening crisis that has left 42,000 people without salaries since April.
Their bickering has already politicised the reconstruction effort. “The people aren’t happy, and Hamas is responsible for that, which is why [the group has] tried to play it smart and say, ‘We’re not responsible,'” Abu Shahleh said. “To be honest, we’re not comfortable with these arrangements either … and if it goes badly, everyone will blame the [consensus] government.”
Critics say that the convoluted process risks prolonging reconstruction efforts. “Complicated mechanisms are being created to manoeuvre around the problem, not address it,” said Alaa Tartir, the programme director of Al Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. “This means more money is wasted and Palestinians’ dependency status is entrenched.”
Oxfam has already warned that under current restrictions and the rate of imports, it could take more than 50 years to build the infrastructure the people of Gaza need. “Any mechanism needs to be much more than slightly better than what’s currently in place,” said Alun McDonald, the relief group’s media coordinator in Jerusalem. “It will take more than a few truckloads [entering Gaza] every day… considering the enormity of the needs.”
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There is also widespread concern that, after three devastating wars in the past six years, any effort to rebuild Gaza will eventually be lost in a renewed military offensive. “You can’t keep sticking a plaster on Gaza, which is what we are doing with aid coming in,” McDonald said. “We need a long-term solution, which means the end of the blockade.”
Equally controversial is Hamas’ and Israel’s absence from the Cairo conference where details of the post-war construction efforts were discussed.
“They are trying to manoeuvre around Hamas, even though, like it or not, it’s the governing body in Gaza,” Tartir said. “They’ve also relieved Israel of its responsibilities and gave it another incentive to do what it wants, while the donors paid for it.”
Gregg Carlstrom reported from Gaza City and Dalia Hatuqa from Ramallah.
Source: Al Jazeera