Palestinian men sit amidst debris near the al-Sharouk tower, which housed the bureau of the Al-Aqsa television channel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Picture: Mohammed Abed/ AFP
Palestinian men sit amidst debris near the al-Sharouk tower, which housed the bureau of the Al-Aqsa television channel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Picture: Mohammed Abed/ AFP

Who will rebuild the Gaza Strip? And what obstacles stand in the way?

By The Washington Post Time of article published May 23, 2021

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By Antonia Noori Farzan

Gaza Strip residents took to the streets in celebration Friday - or to let out a sigh of relief - as a cease-fire with Israel brought an end to 11 days of bombardment. In Israel, too, there was hope the truce would stick and end rocket barrages from Gaza.

But the tasks ahead for Gaza is far more daunting. Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed in the latest conflict with Israel. Also damaged: Gaza's water and power infrastructure.

Here's what the recovery efforts will entail, and the hurdles that have complicated rebuilding in the past.

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How much will it cost to rebuild?

While Gaza officials have yet to put a price tag on the scale of the damage, it's safe to say that it will be in the billions of dollars.

The United Nations said that more than 77,000 Palestinians have been displaced by airstrikes that reduced hundreds of apartment buildings to rubble and left others temporarily uninhabitable. Six hospitals and 11 health-care clinics were damaged, and nearly half the territory's more than 2 million residents lack reliable access to clean water because desalination plants have stopped functioning.

Roads across the Gaza Strip have been ravaged up by Israeli attacks. The power grid was also damaged, further reducing the already limited number of hours each day that electricity is available. Additionally, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that several hundred unexploded ordnance are strewn across the territory.

"The damage inflicted in less than two weeks will take years, if not decades, to rebuild," the ICRC's director for the Middle East, Fabrizio Carboni, predicted Friday.

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Who will be in charge of reconstruction?

The political reality in Gaza means that question will be complicated. The militant group Hamas - which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and other nations - governs the Gaza Strip and provides basic services to residents.

Many of the countries that have pledged to fund the rebuilding efforts are unwilling to work with Hamas. President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States will be sending humanitarian aid to Gaza, but plans to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas's rival that controls the West Bank, "in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal."

Israel also tightly controls nearly all border crossings into Gaza. A separate route between Egypt and Gaza also is closely regulated.

After war devastated Gaza in 2014, the international community promised $5.4 billion in aid, but only about half materialized. A Brookings Institution analysis found the majority of unfulfilled promises came from Gulf Arab states that opposed Iran-allied Hamas, and hoped that delays in rebuilding "would erode Hamas's legitimacy in the Strip."

Since the Palestinian Authority doesn't control the Gaza Strip, it's unclear how much of a role it will play in the reconstruction process. Instead, much of the work is likely to fall to the United Nations and other aid groups.

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Who will pay for it?

Egypt, which helped broker the cease-fire, will contribute $500 million, President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi said Tuesday. The United Nations has released $22.5 million from its emergency response fund, and the government of Norway is pledging the equivalent of $3.6 million in addition to the roughly $8.5 million that it has already provided this year. Britain has promised roughly $4.5 million in funding that will be administered through the United Nations.

A senior Biden administration has not publicly announced an amount for potential aid.

When the last major conflict in the Gaza Strip ended in 2014, the largest share of promised aid came from Qatar, which played a major role in helping to rebuild. The oil-rich nation continues to help fund infrastructure and social services, and said in January that it would provide $360 million in assistance this year. Officials have not yet said if they expect to provide additional emergency funding.

The lack of a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas has led to "donor fatigue" outside the Middle East, the Brookings Institution noted in its analysis: "A sense of futility took hold over some of the Western donors, as they saw their previous investments go up in the flames of war for the second, and in some cases, third time, making them apprehensive about providing further funding."

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Why is Gaza rebuilding slow and complicated?

A blockade imposed by Israel prevents most construction supplies from entering the Gaza Strip, on the grounds that they could be used for terrorism.

After the 2014 conflict, the Palestinian Authority, Israeli government and the United Nations came up with a temporary arrangement intended to speed up the recovery process. But the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism ultimately failed, the Brookings Institution's analysis concluded, because it gave Israel the final say on any construction projects while adding a new layer of bureaucracy for Gaza Palestinians seeking to rebuild.

In 2015, Oxfam International estimated that undoing the damage of the war could take more than a century if the blockade continued.

Those hurdles, combined with the fact that billions of dollars of promised funding never arrived, meant that some families whose homes were destroyed in 2014 were still living in temporary housing provided by humanitarian groups when the most recent conflict escalated.

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