Gaza: another conflict looms amongst the ruins
The war in Gaza ended last summer, but months later it looks like the fighting has only just finished
Israel’s 51-day conflict with Gaza ended last summer, more than seven months ago. You would not believe it if you were there. Rubble and twisted metal still mark the remains of hospitals, schools and houses, as though the bombs had only just stopped falling.
Gaza has dropped down the global agenda as conflict has escalated across the region - in Iraq, Syria, Libya and now Yemen. When the attention of politicians shifts from crisis to crisis, it weakens the commitment to help those worst hit rebuild their lives. In Gaza, this woeful neglect is sowing the seeds for a continuing cycle of conflict.
Six months ago, at the Cairo Donor Conference, the international community promised aid to rebuild Gaza. $5.4bn was pledged to cover reconstruction, social welfare, health services and economic opportunities for the people of Gaza.
The UK pledged £20 million for reconstruction, surgical missions, and to clear the unexploded ordinance that endangers lives. Less than 27 percent of the money promised in Cairo has since been released, rebuilding has barely begun, and the situation is more desperate than ever.
Last summer’s conflict claimed 2,132 Palestinian lives and injured thousands, many of whom require long-term rehabilitative care. Devastated already by years of blockade and recurrent conflicts, the latest attacks dealt a particularly crushing blow to Gaza’s health sector. Fourteen health facilities were completely destroyed, including Gaza’s only rehabilitation hospital, Al Wafa.
Many more were damaged and are in urgent need of repair. Hospitals and clinics are under relentless pressure, with a quarter of essential drugs at zero stock levels, including vital antibiotics and cancer medicines. The total loss to the health sector is estimated at $50 million.
I have visited Gaza several times since the conflict, along with our teams of British surgeons, who are working with their Palestinian colleagues to repair the limbs of some of those worst affected by the war.
‘Schools still lie in ruins’
You see destroyed buildings everywhere showing just how empty some of the promises made at the Cairo Conference have been. Hospitals, health centers, and schools still lie in ruins. Of the 19,000 homes destroyed in the conflict, not a single one has been rebuilt, leaving some 100,000 people homeless and living in cramped accommodation, schools, or makeshift temporary shelters.
Our doctors have carried hundreds of thousands of pounds of medical equipment with them in suitcases and taken them through the checkpoints because this is the only way of ensuring that the instruments they need are on hand.
Vital though this aid is, it is barely a trickle. Gaza’s empty shelves cannot be filled from the contents of a few suitcases a month, never mind providing enough materials to reconstruct destroyed hospitals and homes, or replacing the 45 ambulances destroyed or damaged in the conflict.
A report released today, signed by over 40 aid agencies working in the region, outlines a fresh plan of action which could meet these needs and chart a new course towards a more secure and prosperous future for Gaza. Unless the world heeds these recommendations, a return to conflict seems inevitable.
Money and materials must get in. Israel’s eight-year blockade must end, and the international community must propose and monitor plans for this to happen. Governments that have long been bankrolling the destruction and reconstruction of Gaza must ensure accountability for violations of international law in the conflict.
Neither Israel nor Palestinian factions should be allowed to continue to violate the sanctity of hospitals and medical infrastructure with impunity. The needs of Palestinians in Gaza are immediate and overwhelming. The UK must play its part by fulfilling the pledges it made in Cairo, and calling for Gaza to be opened. Opened to aid, opened to trade, and opened to a future free from the scourge of conflict.
Tony Laurance is the Chief Executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians. He tweets @TonyLauranceMAP.