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Acts that ‘make one wonder’

Oct 08,2014 - Last updated at Oct 08,2014

Palestinians in Gaza wait, with trepidation, to see what will happen at the international donors’ conference, which is being convened in Cairo on October 12 to raise funds for the reconstruction of the coastal strip following Israel’s brutal and destructive 50-day assault.

The Palestinian Authority estimates that $4 billion is needed to rebuild houses, schools, hospitals, public buildings and communal utilities destroyed by Israel this summer.

The sum is certainly an underestimate, because $4.48 billion was the figure fixed by the pledging conference hosted by Egypt and held in Sharm El Sheikh in March 2009 following the 22-day December 2008-January 2009 Israeli onslaught on Gaza. 

The devastation wreaked by Israel during this war was far less than during the 2014 war, when there were far more Palestinian fatalities: 2,160, compared to 1,445 in 2008-09.

During the widely publicised Sharm El Sheikh gathering, hosted by ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, participants called for the immediate, unconditional reopening of crossings between Israel and Gaza to permit the movement of people and goods enabling Palestinians to regain normal lives and rebuild destroyed infrastructure and houses.  

Participants welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s detailed plan for the reconstruction of
Gaza and the development of the strip. 

In his conclusions, the chairman of the conference called for an end to the “cycle of construction and destruction in Gaza and demanded that Israel fully respect its obligations under international law and international humanitarian law and desist from targeting or damaging the civilian and economic infrastructure of Gaza, or taking any action that negatively impacts the collective livelihood of the Palestinian people in Gaza”.

Although donors made solemn promises of aid, pledges were not paid. Israel did not allow free movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and continued to target the civilian and economic infrastructure, in violation of international law and international humanitarian law.

Following this past summer’s Israeli war on Gaza, UN envoy Robert Serry — who went to Gaza in 2009 to assess damage then — said the “volume of reconstruction will be about three times” what it was during the 2008-09 conflict. He said 16,000 housing units had been
destroyed or damaged, rendering 100,000 homeless, and 108 facilities operated by the UN Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA) providing assistance to Palestinian refugees, 80 per cent of the population of 1.8 million, had been destroyed or damaged.

Palestinian assessors say that Gaza will need $8 billion to rebuild, while the Palestinian Authority is sticking to the lower figure.

In spite of urgent need to rebuild and of humanitarian aid and pleas for an end to the Israeli siege and blockade, Serry signed a deal with Israel and the Palestinian Authority that can only hamper the reconstruction effort.

Writing in The Guardian, Peter Beaumont revealed that Israel demanded close and constant monitoring by international inspectors and the establishment of a database listing suppliers and customers. Israel will be permitted to approve major reconstruction projects and their locations.

For the reconstruction of schools and other key projects, the UN will be required to submit plans to Israel, which agreed to approve within a fixed time frame.

Concrete and cement blocks will be subject to stringent controls.

Homeowners requiring such materials will have to register their identity card numbers, addresses and family status on lists that will be accessible to Israeli intelligence.

Always fearful of Israeli attack, entrapment and blackmail, Palestinians will be wary of submitting such details. Houses may not be rebuilt with fresh material by fearful Gazans, but with recycled cement and other materials gleaned from the rubble of the latest war.

These terms show that Israel has no intention to ease or lift the siege and blockade which have kept Gaza’s inhabitants in poverty. Indeed, Israel has done its utmost to prevent the strip from developing ever since occupying it in 1967.

The regime in place before this summer’s war was not as draconian as the system proposed. Unconvinced by the terms of the deal, the UN has warned that the risk of Israel “reneging on agreements is ‘high risk’ and potentially ‘catastrophic’.”

This assessment is realistic because Israel routinely reneges on agreements it makes with the Palestinians. It claims it must put tight restrictions on construction materials to prevent Hamas, which ruled the strip from June 2007 until now, from building tunnels under the border between Gaza and Israel with the aim of mounting attacks on Israel. 

This is nonsense because in 2008-09, well before Hamas built attack tunnels, Israel had imposed similar controls, which it promised to lift if soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas’ affiliates in 2006, was released.

When he was freed in 2011, Israel reneged on the deal.

In any case, Palestinian attack tunnels were built with material smuggled in through commercial tunnels linking Gaza with Egypt, many of which have been destroyed since the fall
of Mubarak in 2011.

Building materials entering Gaza via the Israeli crossing were used not by Hamas for tunnels, but by the UN and other non-governmental agencies for specific projects. But few in the media make this all-important point.

The expectation nurtured after the brutal Israeli operation that the siege and blockade will be lifted faded, at least in part due to the focus of international attention on the campaign against the Islamic State. 

Even the Syrian refugee crisis, which is greatly impacting Jordan and Lebanon, has been put on the back burner due to the drive to contain and eventually crush IS.

However, Western members of the US-led “coalition of the unwilling” operating against IS refuse to take into account the fact that images of Israeli bombs exploding in Gaza, bleeding Palestinian children lying on cots in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, and Palestinian women and infants sheltering in UNRWA schools contribute to Muslim alienation and anger and prompt young men and, increasingly, young women to join IS and similar movements with the aim of, ultimately, punishing Israel and the West, although IS and its fundamentalist allies have done nothing to distress Israel — so far.

Israel is not even unduly upset by the takeover of the Golan ceasefire lines by Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra, an IS rival, and its associates. Perhaps Israel even reached secret deals with these “terrorists” who are fighting the Syrian government, backed by Israel’s archenemies, Iran and Hizbollah.

The fact that Israel does not seem seriously concerned about its new neighbours on the Golan makes one wonder.

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