Demotix/Mhamed Hajjar. All rights reserved.Time has stood still in Gaza over the past year. Since the end of Israel’s ferocious 51 day bombardment of Gaza last summer, just one of the nearly 10,000 homes destroyed has been rebuilt and 13,167 refugee families remain displaced.
In a damning assessment of the recovery effort in Gaza earlier this year, the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) reported that "reconstruction and recovery have barely begun, and people in Gaza remain in dire straits". A total of $3.5 billion was pledged by international donors at a Cairo conference last October in the aftermath of ‘Operation Protective Edge’, Israel’s third war in six years—following ‘Pillar of Cloud’ (2012) and ‘Cast Lead’ (2008-09)—which AIDA says "inflicted unprecedented destruction and human suffering in Gaza". But by April this year, AIDA reported that only 26.8 percent of the money had been released and no attempt was made to seek "accountability to address violations of international law". Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, one of the signatories to the AIDA report went further when she said:
"There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change."
The slow pace of reconstruction is partly due to some donors not delivering; for example, Kuwait pledged $200m to Gaza which has not yet been disbursed. But it is also due to Israel’s siege of Gaza, imposed since 2007 in response to Hamas’s election to office the previous year, which severely limits imports of construction materials into the territory. UN officials have bemoaned a "lengthy and cumbersome approval process" which delays the entry of essential items into Gaza and considerably adds to the co-ordination costs paid to the Israeli authorities.
The slow pace of reconstruction is partly due to some donors not delivering. But it is also due to Israel’s siege of Gaza.
The reconstruction effort needed in Gaza has never been greater following last summer’s war given the civilian infrastructure targeted by the Israeli military, which included: 50 primary health centres (PHCs) and 17 hospitals damaged; 22 schools destroyed and 118 damaged and 18,000 housing units destroyed or damaged; electricity outages up to 18 hours a day because of damage to the Gaza Power Plant (GPP); and 450,000 people left without access to clean water because of damage to the water and waste water system. The UN also reported extensive damage to agricultural land, businesses and workshops in an already flatlining economy.
This infrastructural devastation came two years after the UN published a report titled Gaza in 2020: A Liveable Place? which suggested that:
“By 2020, electricity provision will need to double to meet demand, damage to the coastal aquifer will be irreversible without immediate remedial action, and hundreds of new schools and expanded health services will be needed for an overwhelmingly young population. Tens of thousands of housing units are needed today”.
This report preceded the devastation wreaked by ‘Protective Edge’ and the worsening economic crisis that is enveloping Gaza. According to the World Bank, Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world at 43 percent with this figure soaring to 60 percent among young people.
This is a direct consequence of the Gaza economy shrinking over the eight years since the imposition of the siege, with the World Bank estimating real per capita income to be 31 percent lower today than in 1994. Because of border closures imposed by the siege, Gaza struggles to export products and its manufacturing sector has declined by as much as 60 percent.
As Steen Lau Jorgensen, the World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza suggests: "The (Gaza) economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world". With exports, growth and jobs being choked off by the siege, an estimated 80 percent of Gaza’s population "receives some kind of social assistance, and nearly 40 percent of them still fall below the poverty line". More than "70 percent of the population is food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity" as 90 percent of factories and workshops have been forced to close since 2007.
Demotix/Dave Evans. All rights reserved.The social costs of this man-made economic crisis are hard enough to bear but are heaped upon the human carnage created by Israel’s last war. A total of 2,131 Palestinians were killed, of whom 1,473 were civilians, 501 were children and 257 women. This casualty list contrasted sharply with 71 Israeli fatalities; 66 soldiers and five civilians.
But beyond the physical injuries of conflict are deep psychological scars that take much longer to heal. In the immediate aftermath of last summer’s war, the United Nations (UN) declared that 370,000 children in Gaza were in need of "immediate psycho-social first aid" as a first step toward recovery from the conflict. The psychological effects of grinding poverty and conflict are manifold and include: constant fear and tension; nightmares and sleep disturbance; bedwetting; behavioural change which can range from aggression to becoming withdrawn; decreased appetite and weight loss; and a lack of interest in oneself and others.
But the human rights abuses visited upon children are not confined to Israel’s wars; they are a constant feature of life under siege including incursions, detentions, shelling and shootings particularly in border areas near Israeli forces. Since the start of October there has been a surge of violence in Gaza and the West Bank "triggered in part by recent visits by Jewish groups to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, coupled with Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to the mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites".
Beyond the physical injuries of conflict are deep psychological scars that take much longer to heal.
At the time of writing, 73 Palestinians have been killed in shootings and clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, while eight Israelis have been killed in knife and gun attacks. Fourteen of the casualties were killed in Gaza including a pregnant mother and her three year old child, as airstrikes have escalated and military action stepped up on the ground. This is a worrying contagion that could be engineered into another full-scale military offensive on Gaza by an Israeli prime-minister who has ludicrously claimed that a Palestinian inspired the Holocaust.
The diplomatic cover offered to Binyamin Netanyahu by the United States was vividly described by journalist Paul Mason in the foreword to his latest book Postcapitalism when he said:
“In Gaza, in August 2014, I spent ten days in a community being systematically destroyed by drone strikes, shelling and sniper fire. Fifteen hundred civilians were killed, one third of them children. In February 2015, I saw the US Congress give twenty-five standing ovations to the man who ordered the attacks” (Mason, 2015: xix).
For its part, the European Commission has confirmed "the unsustainable nature of the status quo (in Palestine), notably the protracted blockade in the Gaza Strip" and yet continues to enjoy trading relations with Israel under the auspices of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Neither Brussels nor Washington have altered their relationship with Israel since the last summer’s war and have maintained a diplomatic status quo that allows the siege to remain in place.
We can either allow this scenario to continue with the prospect of another war in Gaza or redouble our efforts to end the siege and remove the conditions for conflict. In April 2015, we saw the French multinational corporation, Veolia, disinvest from "its water, waste, and energy activities in Israel, following a global campaign against the company's role in illegal Israeli settlements". This was a significant success for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at ending corporate and government complicity with the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
BDS is a strategy that was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 that allows "people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice". It was taken up reluctantly in the absence of effective international action to hold Israel accountable for human rights abuses and "enforce compliance with basic principles of law". The ramping up of air strikes in Gaza combined with a humanitarian crisis compounded by a stalled reconstruction effort following last summer’s war should compel us all into a heightened state of activism using BDS to prevent more death and destruction in the beleaguered territory.