The war in Gaza has been over for a year. But there’s no ceasefire in the never-ending Blame Game – and Palestinian civilians are once again paying the price.
The latest issue is the rebuilding – or lack thereof – of the homes in Gaza destroyed during last year’s Operation Protective Edge.
International donors, including the European Union, the U.S., Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – pledged $5.4 billion last fall to help rebuild Gaza.
$2.5 billion was to be used for actual repairs and reconstruction. The rest was to support the budget of the Palestinian Authority (PA) through 2017, a move intended to keep the terrorist Hamas government from expanding its power beyond the Gaza Strip.
But the New York Times reports that a year after the ceasefire, not one of the nearly 18,000 homes destroyed or seriously damaged in Gaza is habitable (“One year after the war, people of Gaza still sit among the ruins,” August 22).
According to journalists Jodi Rudoren and Majd Al Waheidi, international donors have sent only about $340 million of the pledged $2.5 billion. Most of that money has been spent on removing rubble, temporary housing for 100,000 displaced residents or on minor repairs.
The website of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (http://grm.report/#/Residential), the rebuilding plan created by the United Nations, Israel and the PA, indicates that, while 12 per cent of homeowners have been approved to rebuild, only four per cent have actually purchased cement or other materials.
At time of writing, only one eligible beneficiary had purchased all of the materials to rebuild a home.
The monitoring mechanism was established to make sure that building materials, especially cement, are used for residential reconstruction and not for rebuilding Hamas’ extensive underground tunnel network.
But it hasn’t managed to stop the diversion of materials. Indeed, the Israeli official supervising the monitoring says that, at one point, 18 of 30 families who received their full allotment of cement sold it on the black market the same day they received it.
In the meantime, 37,000 tons of unused cement is sitting in Gaza warehouses, approaching or past its expiry date for use in load-bearing projects.
And, even if the reconstruction from the 2014 damage were to get on track, there is still no overall rebuilding plan, including any plan to address the pre-2014 shortage of 85,000 housing units.
So who is to blame for the latest debacle?
The usual suspects point the finger at Israel. Gisha, an Israeli non-profit organization, established in 2005 “to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians,” claims that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) is just another way for Israel to maintain its control of Gaza while disclaiming responsibility for the damage to civilian life (http://tinyurl.com/pvw8ukv).
The GRM is undeniably cumbersome and slow. But no one has come up with a better way to keep concrete and rebar from lining the pockets of profiteers or being used as a tool of war by Hamas.
Two days after publishing the detailed and balanced account of the Gaza rebuilding by Rudoren and Al Waheidi, the Times published a rant by Gaza journalist Mohammed Omer, blaming Israel and Egypt for their “brutal siege” against Gaza residents.
Omer, whose work has been discredited by such organizations as Honest Reporting and CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting), claims that, despite its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Israel remains the de facto occupying power.
He argues that Hamas “struggles to exercise what amounts to little more than municipal authority” – conveniently ignoring the fact that this supposedly impotent government managed to lob more than 4,500 rockets at civilian targets in Israel during the 2014 war, and is thief-in-chief when it comes to stealing foreign aid and building materials.
Interestingly, there are Palestinian voices who argue that Israel has done its part in the rebuilding effort.
A recent blog by respected Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu-Toameh (http://tinyurl.com/nlc4aoj) quotes former Palestinian minister of culture Ibrahim Abrash, who blames the power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for the plight of ordinary civilians in Gaza.
“The interests of the people have been lost as a result of the two parties’ rivalry,” says Abrash. “No one knows who is in charge of the people’s needs in the Gaza Strip.”
Mofeed M. Al Hassaina, the Gaza-based housing minister in the Fatah-Hamas unity government, says the main problem is that international donors have not come through with the money they promised.
He says Qatar has provided only $6 million of a $50 million pledge, while Kuwait has yet to pay any of its $75 million pledge.
Abrash and Al Hassaina have pinpointed the real problem: the governments that should be looking out for the welfare of ordinary Palestinians continue to drop the leadership ball.
Arab allies sit on their hands. Hamas and the PA blame each other while reaping the spoils of international aid.
Meanwhile, Gaza civilians are trapped – not just by the rubble of war, but by leaders and allies who would rather blame Israel than help their people.