Over six weeks on from the Cairo donor conference in which donors pledged $5.4 million to facilitate reconstruction of the Gaza Strip following Operation Protective Edge, and there are few signs of progress.
The reconstruction plan was finalised in early November by the United Nations (UN), Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA), all of whom created a system to supervise the entry of construction materials into Gaza based on Israel’s security demands. It prescribes that all candidates applying for reconstruction material must specify exactly how their homes was damaged, what material is needed and how it will be used. Israel will then have the possibility to examine and deny candidates. This gives Israel the ability not only to decide who deserves the ability to reconstruct their homes and lives, but also the time scale in which this work will be conducted.
This bases the reconstruction process on Israel’s security demands whilst excluding basic human needs in Gaza. Ayah Bashir, an advocacy assistant in Gaza and member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) steering committee, states that “there is a huge debate and even refusal from civil society actors of the plan for reconstruction and arguments that the UN is actually setting the ground for Israel to continue its siege of Gaza.” Hamas outwardly opposed the UN plans to reconstruct Gaza.
Whilst the PA, Israel and the UN co-ordinated this reconstruction plan, they ignored both the needs and voices of the local community, excluding local actors from the decision making process. The UN has continuously side-lined Hamas in reconstruction talks because as Hamas leader Abu Marzouk cites, “It is not an acceptable member for many international parties, including the Americans and the Israeli entity". Further to this, neither Hamas nor local groups were invited to Cairo donor conference in October. The exclusion of Hamas and local organisations from the conference undermines one of the aims of the conference, to “strengthen the Palestinian government’s ability to rehabilitate that Gaza Strip”; Hamas as the de-facto government in Gaza must be included in this process.
Further to this Heba al Hayek, a student of English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza and Social Media and Community Organiser for Aid Watch Palestine, states that aid also “causes internal conflict between Hamas and Fatah, because the PA does not listen to the local society here and they don’t want to realise that we are part of this engagement”. This is highlighted by the fact that half of the donations pledged at the October conference will not even go to Gaza, but will be diverted to the PA budget to cover the deficit. Aid Watch Palestine are attempting to set up an accountability system within Gaza to monitor and follow up on these donations and make sure the money is used with and for the benefit of the local community. Al Hayek adds that they “are working on a website, doing workshops in universities and searching for volunteers to engage people and create an accountability system within society, starting from the beneficiaries.”
Further to this the PA and international community must engage with local companies and institutions to help create a degree of self-sustainability and start to rehabilitate Gaza's economy, which was further destroyed during Israel’s latest attack. Heba calls on the PA and international community to “engage in reconstruction at a local level. We have a right to build our country and our city. It is very important. In the reconstruction process following the last two wars, there was no engagement with the local community. It is our right to be part of this process and nothing should happen without us.”
The current reconstruction plan, rather than develop Palestinian resources, is set to enrich Israeli companies. Ayah Bashir describes how “what we are seeing is that the UN and international agencies are benefitting Israel instead of holding it responsible, for example the recent agreement of aid actors to source cement for the reconstruction of Gaza from Nesher, an Israeli company that illegally operates in the occupied West Bank and supplies cement for the construction of illegal settlements, the Apartheid wall all in overt violation of international law.” Thus Israel is set to not only control the reconstruction process but profit from it, demonstrating a complete lack of accountability for its reported war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Operation Protective Edge.
This is the third attack Gaza has suffered in the past five years, attacks which have repeatedly destroyed homes, lives and the infrastructure of the strip, only to be rebuilt again by aid agencies. However, this aid to continuously rebuild Gaza is merely sustaining the prison which Gaza has become. Ayah states that “The international community and civil actors should not help in reconstructing a prison. Political decisions have to be taken. Otherwise there will be no sustainability of all aid.” The international community’s policy of non-confrontation with Israel allows the latter to repeatedly infringe upon Palestinian basic human rights; instead of supporting this, aid must come hand in hand with creating sustainable development for Gaza and holding Israel accountable.
“We have to keep focusing on the larger picture, which is the urgent need to lift this hermetic evil blockade and to hold Israel accountable. Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) work has to be intensified globally. The UN and governments have to take immediate action to implement a legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during the apartheid era,” Ayah Bashir remarks.