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Operation Protective Edge: Gaza Reconstruction

Gaza is one of the world's largest recipients of international aid on a yearly basis, bringing in $2.4 billion in 2011. 

Immediately following the conflict international refugee and post-conflict assessment group Shelter Cluster performed an evaluation of the Gaza Strip and determined that it would take 20 years to repair the structural blows dealt by Israel to Gaza buildings and infrastructure during Operation Protective Edge.  Rather than attempt to rebuild from the rubble, Shelter Cluster stated that most of the constructuion would be focused around addressing the housing deficit and building new structures. 

Hamas provided reparations to the Palestinian citizens affected by the conflict.  Hamas officials doled out more than $40 million, a sum of $2,000 to each family whose home was damaged or destroyed by Israeli air strikes or general conflict.  This strengthened Hamas's position within the Gaza Strip, and along with declaring victory over Israel during Operation Protective Edge Hamas enjoyed a surge in popularity in Gaza during late 2014. 

Israel called on other nations in the region to assist in the rebuilding and reconstruction of Gaza while also supporting the disarmament of Hamas.  Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid suggested a conference of all actors in the region, in order to get Gaza the aid that they need as quickly as possible.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it abundantly clear that in Israel's eyes, reconstruction of the Gaza Strip must go hand-in-hand with disarmament of the militant groups residing within it's borders and international leaders such as US President Barack Obama agree that the only way to peace is through disarmament of Hamas. 

A United Nations report released on September 16 detailed how Gaza reconstruction will only be successful if it the responsibility for the reconstruction falls to the Palestinian Authority.  According to the report, "Reconstruction, recovery, governance and security in the Gaza Strip must take place in the context of the return of one legitimate Palestinian Authority to the Strip".  The UN sees the Palestinian Authority as a framework for Palestinian unity and chastises Hamas by stating that "the effort and resources devoted by Hamas to construct this network in order to launch attacks against Israel is unacceptable". 

On September 16 the Israelis and Palestinians reached an agreement that would allow the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip to commence, under the strict supervision of the United Nations.   Palestinian Authority Presidend Mahmoud Abbas gave his word that under his leadership the construction materials meant for reconstruction would only be used for those reasons and not diverted to Hamas.  Israeli Major General Yoav Mordechai stated that this plan addressed the security needs of Israel, as well as the aid and rehabilitation needs of the Gaza Strip.  The United Nations will be providing oversight mechanisms to ensure that the construction materials transfered to Gaza are used for civilian and not military purposes. 

Robert Serry, the United Nation's top envoy to the Middle East saw the reconstruction of Gaza as a task that can only be accomplished with the United Nations monitoring and overseeing the project.  Serry stated on September 22 that he would like to station hundreds of individuals from international monitoring organizations in the Gaza Strip in order to oversee the reconstruction and rehabillitation of Gaza.  According to Israeli officials, there were already 50 individuals in Ramallah who are UN sanctioned monitors, ready to begin to oversee Gaza.  Monitors would ideally be placed at construction sites and storage areas to assure that the construction materials provided are being used for the correct purposes and would not reach Hamas. 

Although the donor conference was scheduled for October 12 2014, Western nations were skeptical of making monnetary commitments to Gaza without a firm commitment that hostilities will not resume.  Without any gaurentees that Hamas will not fire missiles at Israel anymore and Israel will not in retaliation bomb Gaza, potential donors from Europe and other Western countries had their doubts about committing large sums of money to the reconstruction.  It was estimated that the donor conference would bring in less than $4 billion, which would not be nearly enough to facilitate this reconstruction project.  Spokesman for the Israeli foreign Ministry, Paul Hirschorn encouraged donor countries to donate intelligently and make sure that their money is not being diverted to Hamas uses.  The donors were wary of the shaky Hamas-Fatah unity government and truce and would have liked to see a more permanent reconcilliation between the two Palestinian factions. 

On October 12 an international donor conference concluded in Cairo in which international governments and individual donors pledged $2.7 billion in aid for the reconstruction of Gaza.  In total over the weekend $5.4 billion was raised.  Qatar led the donations by pledging $1 billion, the European Union pledged $568 million, Secretary of State Kerry announced that the US would pledge $212 million, and Turkey and the UAE pledged $200 million each.  Israel was not invited to the donor conference in Cairo, but similarly neither were representatives from Hamas. 

The first trucks carrying reconstruction supplies arrived in Israel on the morning of Tuesday October 14 under joint United Nations-Palestinian Authority supervision.  The shipment included 75 trucks that hauled 600 tons of cement, 400 tons of steel, and 50 tons of gravel.  In addition to these supply trucks, Israel allowed produce from the Gaza Strip to be exported to Israeli terriroty for the first time since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.  Amid reports that Hamas is once again using these building materials to construct terror tunnels to infiltrate Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and expressed concern about how the reconstruction supplies are being used.  Ya'alon claimed that "it's in our interest for the residents of Gaza to improve their economic situation and their lives, but it must be clear that the funds and equipment are not used for terrorism". 

After this first shipment, the amount of supplies being sent dropped off due to internal Palestinian faction bickering between the new Unity government.  According to the United Nations, the constant internal tensions and fighting between Hamas and Fatah is the main reason that reconstruction relief was delayed.  Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri criticized the United Nations plans for reconstruction, calling their mechanism unacceptable and inefficient.  Despite this criticism there was no sign that individuals associated with Hamas had been disrupting the shipments, or plan on doing so in the future. 

Infighting between Hamas and Fatah significantly hindered the reconstruction process.  Following Operation Protective Edge, the international donor conference convened and pledged $5.4 billion to the reconstruction of Gaza on the basis that the new unity government would be able to responsibly allocate the funds given.  Since this donor conference there have been more than 10 explosive devices placed at homes of senior Fatah members, and Hamas has shown that they are not interested in governing the Palestinian areas alongside Fatah as a part of the new unity government.  Contrary to the unity government agreement, Hamas has prevented Palestinian bureaucrats from entering Gaza from the West Bank and has openly claimed and provided proof that they are once again digging tunnels to tunnel into Israel and testing rockets.  Hamas has continued to exert it's authority over Gaza and has not allowed the unity government to take control of the region.  The tension between Hamas and Fatah not only stalled the reconstruction process, but has also prevented the resumption of negotiations between the unified Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials. 

A report released by the United Nations on December 19, 2014, detailed that out of the $5.4 billion allocated for reconstruction, not even 2% had been transfered to the Palestinian government in the two months since the donor conference. Only pledges from a few countries had come through, and the total pledges stood at $100 million as of December 19, 2014.  The director of the UNRWA released a statement that they will run out of money in less than one month if the reconstruction funds do not continue to flow in.

The Palestinian Authority outwardly accused Hamas of hampering reconstruction efforts in January 2015, claiming that the reconstruction cannot be fully implemented without full Palestinian Authority presence and oversight in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas continues to control.  A statement released by the Palestinian Authority in early January reads, "“If the government were to receive the (Gaza border) crossings unchallenged, it could impose its control and take responsibility for the reconstruction. This would encourage donor states to fulfill their pledges made in the Cairo reconstruction conference."  Hamas has however refused to hand over complete control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority and allow for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts to commence completely. 

Egypt and Norway, two leaders of the reconstruction conference, issued an open letter in February 2015 penned to countries that pledged donations at the conference, urging them to make good on their contribution promises so that the reconstruction that has been done thus far can continue.  The Egyptian and Norwegian Foreign Ministers felt it necessary to remind the countries of their obligations, after falling oil prices had caused many of the countries who pledged money to stall. 

Due to the lack of Palestinian Authority government presence in Gaza, the construction process has been halted.  The Palestinian Unity government has not been able to implement any of the reconstruction projects including large public sector initiatives or private sector projects because local government ministries in Gaza are still controlled by the Hamas terrorist organization. 

Despite these setbacks and obstacles, some construction was still moving forward at a slow pace.  The first phase of the construction project focused on rebuilding and repairing the estimated 100,000 homes that were damaged in some way during Operation Protective Edge.  January 2015 figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs detail that at the time of publication over 42,000 individuals requiring construction repairs on their homes had their requests for materials cleared, and 15,600 had actually received their construction materials.  Later in the report, the authors specify that 18,000 tons of cement had been thus far imported into Gaza from Israel for reconstruction. 

Officials from Germany, France, Britain, Spain, and Italy met with Israeli Foreign Ministry official Alon Ushpiz on March 5, 2015, to discuss the reconstruction situation in Gaza. During the meeting the European officials praised Israel's actions to promote reconstruction in the months since Operation Protective Edge ended, and thanked the Israeli government for being cooperative during the process. Prior to meeting with Ushpiz, the European representatives met with Palestinian as well as Egyptian officials and chastised them for the lack of cooperation during the reconstruction process. 

Israel facilitated the transfer of 175 truckloads carrying more than 1,000 pounds of cement into the Gaza Strip to aid in reconstruction efforts on March 18, 2015. This cement was paid for by Qatar, a consistent backer of Hamas.

The Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA) released a report in April 2015 evaluating the situation in Gaza since the conflict, and the effectiveness of reconstruction efforts. The 30-page report concluded that “while there have been repairs to some damaged buildings, and temporary shelter has been provided for some, almost no large-scale reconstruction projects have started to date, and no permanent housing has been rebuilt.” In a pessimistic assessment, the authors stated that “given current conditions, this seems unlikely to change in the near future.” The report detailed that out of more than 260 schools damaged or destroyed during Operation Protective Edge, only 36 had undergone minimal repairs since the conflict. One of the main reasons that the reconstruction had not really begun was due to lack of funds. According to the report, only 28.6% of the money pledged by other countries for Gaza reconstruction had been actually dispersed as of March 2015. To read the complete report published by AIDA, click here.

To assist Palestinians who had been displaced during the conflict, in mid-April 2015, Oman sent a fleet of 100 caravans (mobile-homes) to provide shelter to individuals in the Gaza Strip.

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, James Rawley, stated in an interview on Israel Radio that none of the 16,000 homes destroyed during Operation Protective Edge had been rebuilt as of April 2015. Rawley placed the blame for this on the international community, saying “the money that the international community pledged to transfer has not arrived yet”.

In the largest single shipment of goods since Operation Protective Edge ended, on April 29 Israel shipped 14,000 tons of building materials into Gaza. This shipment was made even among gathering reports that Hamas militants were begining to reconstruct their network of terror tunnels with building materials purchased on the black market. According to the Israel Ministry of Defense's Coordination of Military Activities in the Territories (COGAT), 354 trucks carried the materials into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

A report published by the World Bank on May 26, 2015, showed how little the world had actually given to Gaza for reconstruction so far. Qatar promised to give Gaza $1 billion for reconstruction efforts and as of May 2015 had only come through with 10% of their promised funds. Saudi Arabia as well had only paid 10% of their pledge of $500 million, while Kuwait pledged $200 million and had not delivered any reconstruction funds at all. The only country that had fulfilled it's funding promises for Gaza reconstruction at the time of the report's publication was the United States.

The New York Times reported in August 2015 that not a single home rebuilt following the conflict is “habitable,” and that only 12% of the people whose homes were destroyed had been approved to receive reconstruction materials. Of that 12%, only 4% (719 families) had so far actually purchased the supplies to rebuild their homes. As of August 2015 international donors had sent only $340 million of the promised $2.5 billion, with most of that money going towards removing rubble and providing temporary housing for displaced persons. Due to bureaucratic hangups and a complex approval system, 37,000 tons of cement earmarked for reconstruction expired, sitting unused in warehouses.

Sources: Letsch, Corinne. “Gaza will take 20 years to rebuild after war between Israel and Hamas ravaged the area, says organization,” New York Daily News (August 30 2014);
Keinon, Herb. “Netanyahu: future plans to rebuild Gaza have to be linked to it's demilitarization,” Jerusalem Post (July 28 2014);
Issacharoff, Avi/ Newman, Marisa. “First trucks with reconstruction supplies enter Gaza,” Times of Israel (October 14 2014);
Avini, Benny. “Plans to rebuild Gaza keep getting underminded,” Newsweek (November 3 2014);
Menachem, Yoni Ben. “Hamas-Fatah rift is preventing the rehabilitation of Gaza,” JCPA (November 26 2014);
Baker, Luke. “Of $5.4 billion pledged to Gaza, only a fraction delivered,” Reuters (December 19 2014);
Miller, Elhannan. “PA: No reconstruction until we get control of Gaza,” Times of Israel (January 9, 2015);
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Zilber, Neri. “Gaza reconstruction stalled by Fatah-Hamas deadlock,” The Washington Institute (February 9, 2015);
Ravid, Barak. “EU diplomats tell PA: You're not doing enough to reconstruct Gaza,” Haaretz (March 9, 2015);
AIDA (April 2015);
Toameh, Abu Khaled/ Lazaroff, Tovah. “Oman sends caravans to Gaza while Palestinians wait for donor funding to rebuild,” Jerusalem Post (April 15, 2015);
Haaretz staff. “UN says no truce talks underway between Israel, Hamas,” Haaretz (April 20, 2015)
Agence France Presse. “Israel lets 14,000 tons of building materials into Gaza,” Daily Star Lebanon (April 30, 2015)
Robbins, Jeff. “Hamas quashes reasons for hope,” Boston Herald, (May 27, 2015)
Rudoren, Jodi. “One Year After War, People of Gaza Still Sit Among the Ruins,” New York Times (August 22, 2015)