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Gaza reconstruction: mission impossible?


Gaza reconstruction: mission impossible?

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In southern Gaza near the Israeli border, bulldozers are at work, levelling the land before the rainy season arrives.

Half of Gaza’s agricultural produce is grown in this area, but fields and irrigation systems were destroyed during the recent Israeli offensive.

Local farmer Abu Hani said: “This is the third time since 2000 that they have destroyed our land. If we don’t finish the work before winter, farmers won’t be able to work the land.”

Led by ICRC teams, the levelling work should allow farmers to sow ahead of the next harvest.

This is one of the few projects up and running in Gaza to repair the damage caused by the latest conflict, in which tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, and infrastructure was wiped out. Otherwise, reconstruction is at a standstill.

In addition to the blockade imposed by Israel after the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, a complex monitoring mechanism restricts the entry and distribution of construction materials from Israel into the Palestinian enclave.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli government fears materials such as cement or steel, will be used inappropriately.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon explained: “When you look at the tunnels built by Hamas you can see almost all the cement and building materials brought into the Gaza Strip these last years.

“We were told the cement was for the construction of schools, hospitals, public buildings, but in fact it was for the tunnels. Hamas must realise, they must not use materials for military purposes. If they stop we will be more cooperative.”

Only a few hundred tons of cement and steel have been delivered; it would take 6,000 tonnes per day to rebuild Gaza, say construction professionals.

Selected companies allowed to store and distribute cement are subject to strict safety standards, including the installation of surveillance cameras, and regular visits by international inspectors.

Mahar Khalil is a financial manager at the Al Shammaly company. He said: “Observers came, they checked the warehouse, we were told that the cement must remain here until they give us fresh instructions.

“Every day we have problems with people. We told them that we must respect the international mechanism to distribute materials, but they do not understand, because they really need the cement.”

Providers and recipients of materials are listed on a database controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the UN and the Israeli authorities.

Each construction project must be approved by Israel.

The building sector, which employs the bulk of the workforce in Gaza, has ground to a halt.

Fares Abu Amra is the manager of manufacturing company Al Nahda Company. He said: “Today the whole economy is paralysed, destroyed. As winter approaches, it will be very hard for those whose homes are destroyed, people will suffer a lot.”

The destruction of some 350 industrial sites left thousands of workers without employment.

This confectionery factory, the largest in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, generated 450 direct jobs and as many indirect jobs.

Even if it gets the green light to reconstruct, the plant is not ready to emerge from the rubble. said its manager, Manal Hassan.

She said: “Even if there is building material on the market, we need money, we need cash to buy it and to rebuild the factory and the building again. And we don’t have the cash or the aid from any party to start to work and make the repairs.”

In the eyes of the Palestinian Authority and some of the international community, the mechanism agreed to under the auspices of the UN to rebuild the enclave, only hardens the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

This is a potentially explosive situation, according to Moffeed Al Hasina, Minister of Public Works & Housing in the Palestinian National Unity Government.

“With this kind of mechanism it’s going to take something like 20 years to rebuild Gaza, It’s unbelievable, we’re never going to rebuild in Gaza! This means we’re going to fail. Everyday I go to my office and there are more than 200 people there. They come into my office, they shout, and threaten me. They say ‘what are you doing for us, nothing! Your government does nothing.’ If we fail as a consensus government, we’re going to have a problem here, this is going to make the area unstable.”

Despite the reconciliation between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in West Bank, tensions remain, hindering the work of the palestinian consensus government.

Replacing Hamas border security guards with those of Fatah at the Kerem Shalom border, which crosses the southern Gaza Strip, a key Israeli requirement, has not yet started, and further delaying reconstruction.

The international community has committed to release more than four billion euros to help the Palestinian enclave.

The European Union has pledged 360 million euros for 2015.

However, the EU representative for the West Bank and Gaza, along with other observers, said economic assistance is not the only thing required to ensure the region’s future.

John Gatt-Rutter explained: “The real challenge is to make sure, now that we have this agreement, that it is implemented in good faith. I don’t think the agreement in itself is supposed to be an answer to all the issues that bedevil Gaza. The only durable solution that exists for Gaza is obviously a political one. A political one between Israel and Palestine, in terms of the peace process.”

That is further down the line, for now people are in desperate need of shelter.

The United Nations Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees continues assessing the damage.

The agency estimates that more than 100,000 homes were partially or completely destroyed, affecting over 600,000 people.

It is a situation that many fear could lead to a new cycle of violence, if the Israeli blockade of Gaza is not lifted.

Christopher Gunness, UNRWA Spokesperson, said: “The time of humanitarian action alone has passed. We need political action, particularly from the Europeans and Americans. They know exactly which levers to pull – they need to be pulled, they need to be pulled urgently, because the humanitarian impact in Gaza is overwhelming.”

As the UN shelters are saturated, many displaced people often have no other choice but to live in rubble of their former homes.

Like Fatmah and the 14 members of her family.

The houses of the Shejaia district near the Israeli border, north east of Gaza, came under heavy attack.

There is a danger of collapse and the children are sick.

Engineers have told them not to stay there.

But there is nowhere else to go.

The international community has promised to rebuild the house.

But Fatmah no longer believes them: “Many came to look, then nothing. They come, they talk, they leave. We have seen nothing concrete. They look around, they film us, take pictures, talk, have meetings, talk again and then go.

“The Arab World and the wider world are watching and doing nothing for us. They watch people suffer, they look at us and say that is really sad, really sad…that’s all.

“Are we still alive? We’re dead here. That is the truth, we’re dead.”

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