Political bickering stalls Gaza rebuilding

Tens of thousands of homes damaged in the 2014 war remain unfixed, as pledged aid fails to materialise.

'The process is slow,' says Gaza City cement warehouse manager Sami Abu Obaid [Hatem Omar/Al Jazeera]

Gaza City – Inside the el-Sheikh Radwan warehouse in Gaza City, thousands of bags of cement are piled high on wooden pallets. 

Outside, a handful of residents wait with horse-drawn carts, hoping their names are on a list of people approved to buy cement to fix their homes. But lately, not much cement has been moving, warehouse manager Sami Abu Obaid told Al Jazeera.

“The process is slow, but we’re not sure why exactly,” he said in a recent interview, noting the Palestinian government must send lists of names vetted by the United Nations to the warehouse before it can dole out cement. Thousands of people have been approved to buy cement, but Obaid said there have been delays in receiving information on how much each person should get.

Donors want to send money to help Gaza, but first they want to see peace between Fatah and Hamas.

by - Mufeed al-Hasayneh, Palestinian public works minister

“Some people get one package and some get 200, depending on the level of reconstruction,” Obaid noted. Nearby, at a larger warehouse in Shujayea, a black market has even developed out front, with people selling their cement at inflated rates to others who are desperate to buy. 

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The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people throughout Gaza need cement to repair their homes, with the damage ranging from minor to catastrophic. In Shujayea alone, entire neighbourhood blocks levelled in the 2014 war remain strewn with the rubble of fallen homes.

“There’s really no reconstruction. It’s really depressing,” resident Eman Almanassra told Al Jazeera. “[It feels like] there’s no hope for reconstruction; it will take years.”

Many residents in the war-ravaged territory blame the sluggish pace of reconstruction on the ongoing political bickering between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – which, along with the failure of donor countries to deliver much of the $5.4bn in aid pledged for Gaza at the Cairo conference last October, has undeniably stalled progress.

Earlier this month, the Palestinian unity government said it would need control over Gaza’s border crossings to properly facilitate reconstruction, prompting a furious Hamas official to accuse the government of “dragging their feet” and forsaking Gaza

Meanwhile, Hamas spokesperson Taher al-Nono has accused Israel, which enables the transfer of construction materials into Gaza, of deliberately slowing down the process.

“The cement coming from the Israeli side, the quantity is not enough to fix the houses,” Nono told Al Jazeera, noting hundreds more trucks should be allowed to get across the border every day.

“It’s double punishment. They destroy the houses, then they don’t let us rebuild… They want to put more pressure on the people in Gaza, push them not to think about resistance, to think 100 times before launching rockets or resistance against Israel.”

Businesses suffering
Al Jazeera spoke with several local craftspeople about the economic challenges of running a business in a region still struggling to rebuild:
“It’s almost like there’s no work… I grew up learning this work. It’s like losing a part of my body or soul, but there’s nothing that can be done.”
-Pottery shop owner Subry Atallah
“The whole city is in a very bad circumstance. It was bad before the war and it got even worse afterwards. [Today], we sell products at cost and don’t get any profit.”
-Bamboo furniture shop manager Tarek Khalaf
“The last month we worked before the war, we made almost 4,800 shekels. After the war we barely made 2,000… [But] we have to keep going.”
-Nedal Ammar, project coordinator for a shop that sells items embroidered by deaf Palestinians

Hadar Horen, a spokesperson for Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit, did not directly address these comments, but told Al Jazeera that Israel “is working to advance the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and on a daily basis enables the transfer of building materials into Gaza”. 

The mechanism for rebuilding the Gaza Strip, which was created jointly by the UN and the Palestinian and Israeli governments, “includes means for the oversight of supplies in order to prevent their misuse for terror activities”, she added, noting more than 1,000 truckloads of reconstruction supplies, including more than 600 truckloads of cement, have entered the Gaza Strip since October.

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To date, about 60,000 damage assessments have been conducted in Gaza by UN agencies, according to the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which is tasked with monitoring the reconstruction process and reporting its findings to the Palestinian government. Of those, more than 23,000 households have already procured materials, UNOPS says.

A UN official, who declined to be named, told Al Jazeera that this process was “significantly disrupted” for several weeks late last year amid allegations that Israel was being given access to the locations of damaged homes and could ban people from receiving cement on the grounds of political affiliation.

“These objections were based on ill-founded bases,” the official said. “Information indicating the quantities of materials allocated and the recipients can be accessed by [Israel, which] can object if assessment entries contain inconsistencies… Not a single [person] has been barred from access to date for any non-technical reason.”

Reconstruction is lagging primarily because of the lack of external funding, the official added. The failure of donors to meet their Cairo conference pledges has not only hindered the rebuilding of individual homes, but has also delayed the reconstruction of vital infrastructure such as roads, schools and water reservoirs.

Mufeed al-Hasayneh, the public works minister with the new Palestinian unity government, agreed that the pledged funds are desperately needed – but in order to facilitate that, he said, the political bickering must end.

“Gaza has been destroyed. As a government this is very tough for us. As long as money comes in, we are doing the best we can do… [But the political factions] have to understand each other and not have problems,” he told Al Jazeera. 

“Donors want to send money to help Gaza, but first they want to see peace between Fatah and Hamas.”

Follow Megan O’Toole on Twitter: @megan_otoole

Source: Al Jazeera