Gaza rebuilding faces Israeli block on materials
Money pledged for rebuilding and no raw materials to build with
Despite the international community’s pledging billions to reconstruct the Gaza Strip after Israel razed much of it to the ground during its January offensive, donations have proved futile in the face of Israel’s persistent blockade that has prevented key building material from entering the Strip for security reasons.
As world leaders met in Egypt for a conference on Gaza reconstruction, the irony of such efforts was palpable as Israel continued to block the passage of cement, iron and steel, all essential materials for reconstruction.
After heavily bombing tunnels at the Rafah border and declaring a unilateral ceasefire, Israel retained full control over Gaza's commercial crossings, through which goods and other materials for rebuilding must pass, in a bid to control reconstruction efforts and seek guarantees that reconstruction projects will not benefit Hamas.
“[U]nless key goods are allowed in and Israel ends its blockade reconstructing Gaza will not happen,” the international aid agency Oxfam warned in a press release Sunday.
As important as the financial contributions expected to come out of hte donor’s conference are, Oxfam’s Jerusalem head officer Michael Bailey warned that they would be meaningless unless pressure is put on Israel to allow essential goods including building materials to enter Gaza.
“We are facing on the one hand, large sums of money of potential use to the Strip and on the other, no means of using this money in substantive ways, on a large scale,” Bailey told AlArabiya.net, adding that having a roof over one’s head is basic humanitarian need..
“The narrowest definition of humanitarian aid is food, water and shelter. The last necessitates the rebuilding of infrastructure, not just pitching tents amid the ruins,” he said.
We are facing on the one hand, large sums of money of potential use to the Strip and on the other, no means of using this money in substantive ways, on a large scale
Michael Bailey, Oxfam
Oxfam and Palestinian government officials said Gazans have been limited to survival rations for more than 20 months, with restrictions on food types, clothing and school supplies taking their toll on children while lack of building materials mean hospitals, schools and thousands of homes need to be rebuilt.
“We cannot talk seriously about rebuilding Gaza without the opening of all crossings,” Ziyad al-Zazah, Palestinian Minister of Economy, told AlArabiya.net.
Oxfam estimates that more than 80 percent of all goods currently allowed into Gaza are basic foods, such as fruit, dairy, flour, oil and sugar. E Essential goods needed for agriculture and rebuilding as well as clothing, shoes and educational supplies, however, are largely blocked.
“The commodities allowed in so far are not enough to slightly relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Ra’ed Fatouh, responsible for coordinating commodities across borders, told AlArabiya.net, adding that the number of items allowed into the Strip has gradually dropped from 6000 to only 35 since the blockade began.
“This conference won’t serve its purpose if essential goods are still being blocked from getting in,” said Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs. “What Gazans need today goes beyond basic humanitarian supplies.”, said.
We cannot talk seriously about rebuilding Gaza without the opening of all crossings
Michael Bailey, Oxfam Jerusalem
Israel has largely blocked cement, steel and cash from entering Gaza since it began the blockade in 2007 following Hamas’ takeover, claiming Hamas use the materials for bunkers, rockets and salaries for Hamas fighters. Only about 200 tons of cement were permitted into Gaza for the duration of the blockade..
Palestinians say the war destroyed 5,000 homes and caused extensive damage to infrastructure in Gaza, where many of the 1.4 million residents depend on outside aid.
Israeli military officials maintain that rebuilding Gaza must not strengthen Hamas, which Israel fears will use raw materials to make rockets and other weapons.
We cannot permit materials into the Strip that can be used against us by Hamas
Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman
“We cannot permit materials into the Strip that can be used against us by Hamas,” Peter Lerner spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces told AlArabiya.net.
“We want to facilitate these materials to the Strip but not on a free-open market basis where any group which has the power can hijack these materials to fortify itself,” Lerner said, adding that the Sharm conference must provide “guarantees” of accountability for every construction commodity to ensure that the projects will not benefit Hamas.
“Necessary steps must be taken within the conference to address Israel’s security concerns: where the cement is going, where the pipes are going, who is accountable for such required materials,” he said.
And that gives Israel enormous power to shape the recovery effort, largely financed by the international community. The Jewish state intends to manage the process closely by requiring project-by-project approval, according to the foreign ministry.
“There will be restrictions and limitations on the type of materials that can cross into Gaza,” Yigal Pelmore, spokesman of Israeli foreign ministry, told AlArabiya.net.
He said U.N. agencies involved in rebuilding would be required to monitor "each and every dollar they spend" to make sure it goes directly to the local contractors doing the work.
There will be restrictions and limitations on the type of materials that can cross into Gaza
Yigal Pelmore, Israeli FM spokesman
“The Israeli government wants to see the reconstruction of Gaza and Palestinians getting the aid they need. Gaza’s prosperity is a common interest for both Palestine and Israel to return to stability and normality, but there will be no return to normality if armed groups like Hamas continue to shoot rockets into Israel,” he explained.
“The point is to maintain a tight grip on Gaza and to take control of the future projects that are to build the city,” Imad Gad, expert on Isareli Arab relations at Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told AlArabiya.net.
“Israel intends to pressure the international community into marginalizing Hamas or subsuming it into a unity government which would be responsible for the funds,” he explained.
The point is to maintain a tight grip on Gaza and to take control of the future projects that are to build the city
Imad Gad, Expert on Israeli Arab politics
The world against Hamas
Washington is expected to pledge $900 million for Gaza reconstruction at the conference Monday but wants the money to bolster Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and has stipulated no U.S. funds will go through Hamas.
But Ziyad al-Zazah, Palestinian Minister of Economy, said the international community and the Israeli government should not use the reconstruction of Gaza to ostracize the democratically elected government.
“Since the blockade on Gaza remains a reality on all fronts because the people of Gaza expressed their will in their 2006 election of Hamas, to hinge the international community’s efforts of rebuilding Gaza on marginalizing Hamas from its governmental role is unrealistic wishful thinking,” Zazah told AlArabiya.net from Gaza.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said the authority is seeking $2.8 billion to rebuild Gaza and shore up the Palestinian economy.