Gaza needs big solutions, not big headlines

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This summer, as Gaza was pummelled by tens of thousands of Israeli shells and bombs for two long months, you could sense an unlikely feeling amid the extreme fear and uncertainty: hope.
For 51 devastating days, Gaza occupied the headlines. People were talking about it and so were politicians. The story was widely getting out that 1.8 million people, who have been under a strict blockade for nearly eight years, were now suffering a third war. Albeit at a high cost, Gaza’s voice was finally being heard. An opening, even an end to the suffocation, it was assumed, was coming.

Today, those hopes have vanished and anxiety and uncertainty dominates. After a ceasefire was reached in
late August, world attention shifted. It was not until October12 that Gaza returned to the front pages with news that $5.4 billion had been pledged at a reconstruction conference in Cairo.

This led to an artificial feeling of satisfaction being promoted through the media… as if the donations were enough to make up for the failure of the international community to stop the war.

Soon after, details began to leak. Included in the sum were annual donations already made to the Palestinian Authority’s budget. Subtract those and only half the donated funds would go towards reconstruction.  Original estimates of the damages inflicted by the Israeli campaign were between $6 billion and $8 billion. Palestinian officials had asked for up to $4 billion and the actual commitments made were $2.7 billion.

With this budget – assuming all countries actually pay up – what destruction will be excluded from reconstruction plans? And what about the immediate relief efforts? Are they included in those $2.7 billion? Or are there immediate relief efforts at all?  On UNRWA’s Twitter feed, one finds no significant change in the statistics compared to those immediately following the ceasefire.

Nearly three months on, 32,000 of the 100,000 people left homeless by the war remain scattered around 18 UNRWA schools. The rest live hand-to-mouth existences in the homes of relatives or in rented accommodation.

And the harsh reality goes on: the number of refugees in Gaza relying on food aid has risen to 867,000 and 47 percent of Gazans are unemployed. The youth unemployment rate is nearly 70 percent.

But it is not just the unemployed who are penniless. Some 50,000 public sector employees have not been paid for a year thanks to the tightened Israeli blockade and inter-factional political rivalries. The power deficit, meanwhile, 54 percent before to the military onslaught, is now more than 70 percent. Gaza’s only power station lacks even fuel to run. Shouldn’t this fuel at least be part of immediate relief efforts?

The conference also failed to provide clear mechanisms or even a timeline for the reconstruction process, leaving it at the mercy of those who control the borders.

Soon after the ceasefire, Robert Serry, the UN envoy to the Middle East, devised a complex plan to monitor construction materials entering Gaza that included CCTV cameras, international inspectors and detailed lists of benefactors, all to placate Israel. Israel retains the right to veto any beneficiaries of aid, or major rebuilding projects.  The plan is supposed to alleviate Israeli “security concerns”.

But Serry is ignoring the fact that all the subterranean defences the Palestinian resistance established were in fact dug after the first war on Gaza in 2008, ie during the strictest years of the blockade when construction materials were already completely banned from entry.

He also fails, as a representative of the international community, to fulfil his obligations towards a nation under occupation. His plan not only legitimises the blockade, but makes the UN an accomplice.

It is also projected that the mechanism will slow down reconstruction to a rate at which Oxfam now estimates it will take 50 years to reconstruct Gaza. This is not to mention the corruption that is very likely to flourish around these many complicated steps. Furthermore, before the war, Gaza had a deficit of 75,000 housing units as a result of the blockade. Serry’s plan fails to explain how those units, which people living in the most crowded enclave on earth desperately need, are going to be built.

It’s no wonder people here are already making jokes about Serry’s name, which rhymes with that of Kerry, the US secretary of state whose years-long shuttle diplomacy has yielded a big zero.

The failures to address the Gazan crisis extend even deeper. What about the $600 million needed to solve the power problem? Following the war, Israel once again declined to increase power supplies to Gaza. Having eight hours of electricity a day is the best a Gazan can hope for.

And what about the vanishing water supply? In many areas, water is available only once a week, and in some of those, the salinity approaches that of sea water. And sanitation? The overwhelmed sewage treatment facilities and the outdated pipelines pose a constant public health risk.

Those are all real issues that are not going to vanish on their own. In 2012, UNRWA announced that the Gaza Strip would be uninhabitable as of 2020; the war only brought that date closer, making an already vulnerable community even more vulnerable. Also missing are any guarantees or mechanisms to prevent Israel from launching further aggression on the besieged and impoverished enclave. Talks to solidify the ceasefire were supposed to be held in Cairo a month ago, but they haven’t materialised; every time there seems to be a new excuse to postpone.

The conditions in Gaza are worse than ever. Many assume that the eruption of another bout of violence is just a matter of time.

And finally, the most crucial condition, and the one always overlooked: justice. There are absolutely no talks on any effort to hold accountable the criminals responsible for the murder of 2,205 Palestinians. Until justice is served and Palestinian rights are restored, the coal still smoulders under the ashes.


Date of publication 23 November, 2014 Here

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