North Africa, West Asia

Gaza reconstruction package: should taxpayers be concerned?

Israel could be charged with bearing some part of the $7.8 billion price tag for rebuilding what was destroyed in July and August. However, the international community has rushed to shoulder the burden for the third time in six years.

Joanna E. Springer
24 October 2014

A Palestinian boy sits looking at the ruins in Gaza's Shejaiya neighbourhood,, August 2014. Haitham Nuraldeen/Demotix. All rights reserved.

British taxpayers are forking out over 20 million pounds and European taxpayers more than 450 million euros to rebuild Gaza.

Together the international community has pledged 5.4 billion US dollars, half of which is solely for reconstructing homes, schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure following Israel’s 50-day onslaught in July and August.

The terms of the UN arrangement for bringing in building materials, however, leave the Israeli blockade of Gaza unchallenged and barely mitigated. Consequently, donor country aid agencies have an obligation to alert their taxpayer base to the contradictions of rebuilding Gaza while it remains under siege.

Aid agencies generally have an organizational mandate to use public resources efficiently and achieve lasting results with their projects. Yet the administrative and logistical hurdles imposed by the Israeli blockade mean wasted time and money in the rebuilding process. Even more concerning, donors have no reason to believe Israel will refrain from using the same destructive techniques in a fresh conflict in the near future.

To the countries they assist, aid agencies commit to help prevent a recurrence of conflict. Yet the Israeli blockade has repeatedly sparked violence in Gaza since it was imposed in 2007. From their vantage point on the ground, aid workers are best situated to let taxpayers know about the realities of rebuilding under siege.

In August, France, Britain and Germany first proposed an international mechanism to win Israeli consent for the import of construction materials currently prohibited by the blockade. Finalized at the donor conference a fortnight ago, the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism makes the UN responsible for tracking and reporting the movements of steel, cement and other materials; the UN will operate under Israeli supervision.

Unfortunately, the mechanism means aid agencies will be forced to cooperate with the blockade. According to an exposé in The Guardian, the UN agreement includes installing video cameras and creating a database of information about Gazans who receive assistance. By enforcing these techniques on Israel’s behalf, the donor community lends an aura of legitimacy to the collective punishment imposed by the blockade. The irony is that the international community has called for an end to the siege since 2007 because it is in violation of international law.

Yet a press statement from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) following the reconstruction pledge does little more than reiterate the tired call for an “ease” of the restrictions on Gaza. Without accompanying sanctions, Israel knows just how seriously it needs to take this demand.

In fact, as an occupying power in Gaza, Israel is responsible under international law for the welfare of Gazan citizens. Israel could conceivably be charged with bearing some part of the $7.8 billion price tag for rebuilding what was destroyed in July and August. However, the international community has rushed to shoulder the burden for the third time in six years. In response, a spokesperson from the Israeli foreign ministry "encouraged" donors to "invest" in Gaza, but cautioned them to "invest responsibly". 

In stark contrast to DFID’s statement, a press release by Oxfam International predicts that it will take 50 years to rebuild Gaza unless the blockade is lifted. Further, Oxfam states that the reconstruction efforts from 2012 were never finished largely because of Israeli restrictions.

Other aid actors have expressed similar concerns. Given the urgency of the situation and the magnitude of the task, the mere feasibility of the plan has been questioned by experienced NGO workers. In addition, the agreement leaves projects at the mercy of Israel’s discretion on a day-by-day basis. As aid actors know from past reconstruction experiences, this arrangement will result in countless hours spent negotiating with Israel, leading to delays and projects going unfinished. Unfortunately, reports are already seeping out that the reconstruction package is likely to stand in for applying any real pressure to lift the siege.  

Donors need to avoid inadvertently legitimizing the blockade; they can do so by documenting and publicizing their own experiences dealing with Israeli security policies and procedures. Taxpayers deserve to know why rebuilding Gaza takes so long and costs so much. Aid agencies have a story to tell that the folks at home are likely to want to hear.

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