Gaza seeks to rebuild itself. What looms now are obstacles.

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According to the United Nations, in the 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, Gazans have seen 1,200 homes destroyed and 15,000 homes damaged. Power cuts have forced offices and businesses that survived the Israeli strikes to shut down, and clean water is scarce.

The Biden administration is pushing for reconstruction, and Egypt and Qatar have already pledged $ 1 billion. But amid feuds between Palestinian factions, Israel, and regional powers, Gazans’ ability to rebuild and start over is held hostage by political and security concerns.

Why we wrote this

How to recover from war when reconstruction itself is political? This is the fate of Gazans who lost their homes and livelihoods in the short Hamas-Israel conflict but face obstacles along the way.

At the beginning of May, Mohammed Sultan expected a wedding in June, and for the past two years he has been building a small apartment above his parents’ house in Gaza City in preparation. Yet all was lost when her family’s home was hit by an Israeli missile strike. He says he has “no hope” that international commitments will translate into widespread reconstruction, let alone help him rebuild his house.

Her marriage, for now, is called off. “My dream was about to come true,” says Mr. Sultan. “I promised my fiancee that we will be together soon after two years of waiting. … But now I have no more words to say to him.

Maghazi refugee camp, Gaza Strip; and Amman, Jordan

Since Mahmoud Abed’s family home in Maghazi refugee camp was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on May 16, he has been absorbed in one task: finding accommodation.

He and his brothers search daily for apartments to rent in Gaza for their four families.

But there are few apartments available for displaced Gazans in the besieged coastal enclave, which the United Nations says saw 1,200 homes destroyed and 15,000 homes damaged in the recent 11-day war between Israel and the United Nations. Hamas.

Why we wrote this

How to recover from war when reconstruction itself is political? This is the fate of Gazans who lost their homes and livelihoods in the short Hamas-Israel conflict but face obstacles along the way.

Even before the war, most rents ranged from $ 150 to $ 215 per month, significant sums in Gaza, where pre-war unemployment was 50% and 1 in 2 Gazans lived in poverty, relying on less. $ 4.30 per day, including humanitarian assistance, according to the World Bank.

Power cuts have also forced many offices and businesses that survived Israeli missile strikes to shut down amidst clean water supply.

Yet, for now, despite billion-dollar pledges from Egypt and Qatar and pressure for a reconstruction process by the Biden administration, reconstruction is not an option. .

“Previous attacks on Gaza have always been followed by a long and bitter reconstruction” which never materialized, says Abed, who sleeps in parents’ living rooms. “I have no hope at all”

As disputes between Palestinian factions, Israel and regional powers over Gaza’s reconstruction continue, Gazans’ ability to rebuild and start over is held hostage by political and security concerns. And with current border restrictions and previous frustrated reconstruction efforts fresh on their minds, Gazans say they dare not “dream.”

“I’m especially afraid that the complicated political reality will lengthen the construction process,” said Khalil El-Ashi, whose women’s clothing store in central Gaza once employed three people.

It was destroyed in a missile strike on a commercial building. With recent losses, it would cost him $ 180,000 to start over.

“We have lost everything; we need to be compensated as soon as possible, ”El-Ashi said, stressing that Gazans do not care about regional politics. “All we want is to rebuild our lives and make a fresh start.”

Dispute over materials

To start rebuilding roads, water systems, hospitals and homes for the 70,000 displaced Gazans, engineers and contractors say they desperately need concrete, steel and water pipes – all materials that must be imported through the three border crossing points of the Gaza Strip. with Israel. Rafah’s crossing with Egypt is designed for passenger traffic; talks with Cairo are underway to allow fuel to enter the Strip.

But a deal on rebuilding and importing materials into Gaza is currently blocked by the potential role of Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the territory and has traded rockets with Israel in a conflict sparked by tensions in Jerusalem. More than 250 people have been killed in the fighting, the vast majority of them in Gaza.

Israel and the United States fear that the militant group will use equipment and funds to rearm and rebuild its military network, and instead want the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, to carry out the reconstruction. Israel also demands that Hamas release two Israeli civilian hostages.

As the way forward, Western diplomats point to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism – a temporary deal between Israel and the Palestinian government brokered by the UN following an even longer and costlier Israel-Hamas war in 2014. L The agreement paved the way for the entry of 3.4 million tonnes of building materials for 600 large-scale projects and new homes for nearly 140,000 people.

Yet international aid agencies and Gazans say reconstruction after 2014 was limited by several factors: Israel’s limits on so-called dual-use materials considered to have potential military application; Israeli veto on projects; and delays that saw year-long security approvals on materials expire before they even reached Gaza. Many projects were still unfinished when the 2021 war broke out, according to Oxfam.

Gazans say restrictions on potential dual-use materials have hampered any type of construction in the stranded strip for a decade, and any setbacks or damage to homes takes years to repair if they can be repaired.

Ibrahim Abou Mustafa / Reuters

Construction material, sent by Egypt for Palestinians, arrives in the southern Gaza Strip on June 4, 2021.

Wedding plans

This is an obstacle that faces Mohammed Sultan, who expected a wedding in early May in June and who, for two years, has been building a small apartment above his parents’ house in Gaza City in preparation.

He built in spurts when building materials were available and he had the funds. As his wedding date approached, he carefully selected furniture for the new home, including a bedroom and living room set.

All was lost when her family’s home was hit by an Israeli missile strike in May. The family fled when their neighborhood was attacked. When they returned, their house was gone.

“My dream was about to come true. I was about to start a family with my fiancee, ”says Mr. Sultan,“ but everything was blown away.

Having a house to move into, sometimes even owning a house, is often a prerequisite for marriage for many families and communities in the Arab world, including Gaza.

With the outbreak of war, Mr. Sultan’s family took refuge in a nearby hospital and have since been living with relatives, unable to find permanent accommodation.

“I promised my fiancee that we will be together soon after two years of waiting and working on our apartment,” he says. “But now I have no more words to say to him.”

Commitments, not progress

Palestinian internal struggles are also delaying reconstruction. Hamas’ rival Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority, insists that the Authority is the only “legitimate Palestinian actor” to carry out reconstruction, although it has been absent from the Strip since the fighting with Hamas in 2007 led to his expulsion.

Hamas, meanwhile, vowed that it “won’t take a single penny” of money for reconstruction.

Rather than the Fatah-dominated PA, Hamas wants an independent commission to carry out the reconstruction. The two factions have even come up with rival estimates of the damage caused to the Strip, placed between 300 and 400 million dollars.

The source of these sums is also a delicate question. Qatar, the only Arab state with diplomatic relations with Hamas, has pledged $ 500 million for the reconstruction of Gaza.

Egypt, at first, also pledged $ 500 million to rebuild its neighbor Gaza, sending the head of the Egyptian security services to meet with Hamas last week and a team of engineers to assess the damage. But there is a catch to Cairo’s commitment: only Egyptian companies can participate in its funded reconstruction.

Egyptian engineering teams and heavy equipment have entered Gaza and are helping municipalities clear rubble and debris, and Gazans and Hamas welcome much-needed Egyptian aid.

Yet Gazans remain skeptical that the promises of Arab states will translate into reconstruction and change on the ground.

“We lost everything”

At Maghazi camp, Mr. Abed’s family lost their savings – gold and jewelry hidden by his wife, Riham, which they planned to sell to pay for fertility treatment to finally start a family.

“My heart broke when I saw my husband digging through the rubble, hoping to find one of our savings. All he could find was 13 shekels [$4], says Riham.

Mr. Abed, his wife and his extended family now live on the only aid easily distributed in the enclave: flour and sugar.

“Who will compensate us? Mr. Abed talks about the commitments made by Arab and Western states. “We have lost everything.

Mr Sultan, the heartbroken groom, says he has “no hope” that international commitments will translate into widespread reconstruction, let alone help him rebuild his house. Her marriage, for now, is called off.

“They destroyed my life with this small apartment,” he says.

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