Palestinians in Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp demand the rebuilding of homes destroyed during Israel’s 51-day assault on the territory last year, June 15.
Until July, not one of the homes destroyed during Israel’s assault on Gaza last year had been rebuilt. Why?
Israeli rights group Gisha, which monitors Israel’s siege of Gaza, tries to provides answers in a recent analysis, “Where’s the housing boom?”
The 51-day assault in July-August last year destroyed 19,000 homes. More than 100,000 were damaged and more than 100,000 people in Gaza remain without permanent shelter.
A major reason for the fact that reconstruction is only just beginning is that between last August’s ceasefire and the end of July this year, Israel has allowed into Gaza just 6.5% of the construction supplies needed to repair years of destruction.
But the story is more complex than that.
Israel still tightly regulates what comes in and out of Gaza, home to 1.8 million Palestinians.
Starting in June 2007, Israel has banned or severely restricted the entry of construction materials to Gaza. Since that time, Israel waged three devastating wars on the territory — in 2008-09, 2012, and the most destructive yet, last year.
The ban is implemented under the pretext that construction materials are “dual use” — they can also be used for military purposes, such as building tunnels.
Palestinian resistance fighters used such tunnels only to attack “legitimate military targets”, according to the June 22 report by the UN Human Rights Council into the last Gaza war.
Israel, however, does not recognise any Palestinian right to self-defence.
The Israeli ban and Egypt’s closure of underground supply tunnels under its frontier with Gaza led to an almost total collapse of Gaza’s construction sector and helped push unemployment from an already staggering 28% in mid-2013 to 42% today.
Gisha says it “continues to object to the definition of a basic civilian commodity such as construction materials as ‘dual use,’ thus paving the way for blanket bans”.
After last summer’s Israeli assault, with Israeli and Palestinian Authority complicity, the UN put in place the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM).
As the Electronic Intifada revealed, this complicated system of surveillance and Israeli pre-approval would give the occupation authorities “even more intrusive control over the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, who will be subjected to onerous ongoing monitoring as they try to rebuild their houses, communities and lives following Israel’s summer massacre”.
Palestinians denounced the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism as a means to give international cover and legitimacy to Israel’s siege.
“It is inevitable that a complicated mechanism such as the GRM will slow down reconstruction efforts and increase costs,” Gisha states. “The question is what purpose it serves, if any.”
Gisha is the group that uncovered the Israeli defence ministry’s notorious “Red Lines” document which established mathematical formulas for how many calories every man, woman and child in Gaza would be permitted to consume to keep them just at the level of survival.
Gisha compares the Israeli-controlled rationing of building supplies to the “Red Lines” formulas, albeit with a “security rationale.”
“It is meant to prevent construction materials from being used for building tunnels,” Gisha states, “but it turns out that the controlled shortage created by the formula is one of the causes for the emergence of a black market for construction materials, as the army itself admits.”
The fact is that people whose houses have been destroyed often face multiple severe needs, especially given the generally catastrophic economic situation in Gaza.
As a result, many will sell the limited materials they are allocated under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.
For those who want to build, the process is difficult and expensive. A contractor told Gisha that each of the elements involved in the project requires Israeli approval.
“The process is very complicated,” he said; “You need warehouses and supervision. These days everything is restricted and not all the companies received Israel’s approval to work. If a project like this used to take me three or four months, now it would take about seven months, and so I have to keep workers on for longer and spend more money than I would have before on a similar project.”
Gisha notes that projects run by Qatar and major international agencies are the only ones that are now proceeding at any scale because they have the “resources to navigate the bureaucratic process”.
But for the private sector and individuals “who don’t have the resources to navigate the bureaucracy and absorb its extra costs and delays, the [Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism] seems more hurdle than help.”
Gisha acknowledges the arguments of those who assert that without the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism things would be even worse, as nothing at all would be coming in.
The argument goes that the mechanism “sought to achieve a balance between the urgent, vital need for reconstruction in Gaza and the drive to prevent construction materials from reaching hostile entities there”.
But Gisha’s conclusion is rather more sober: “What it mostly achieved was to prove, once again, to what extent Israel exercises control over civilian life in Gaza, while largely disavowing responsibility — this combination harming a beleaguered population.
“A year later, the paradigm has to shift and restrictions on the entrance of construction materials, which serve no one, must be removed.”
[Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]