PORTLAND, Oregon — In May 2021, Egypt and Qatar both pledged $500 million toward the reconstruction of Gaza, a densely populated Palestinian territory surrounded by tight borders and restricted waters. The Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas, the democratically elected authority with an international terrorist designation. Both countries have often been mediators for previous conflicts in the region.
Destruction in Gaza
After an 11-day war between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) resulting in a heavy military bombardment, the world looks to the reconstruction of Gaza. As one of the densest urban areas on the planet, the prolonged military bombardment caused massive amounts of infrastructural damage, the total cost of which is still unknown. IDF strikes displaced nearly 80,000 Gazans, 30,000 of which were children, and destroyed 17,000 homes.
More than 450 larger buildings in Gaza were obliterated. Included are multiple hospitals and other care centers, reducing medical professionals’ ability to properly manage both cases that stem from the war and cases stemming from COVID-19. These factors undeniably threaten economic security in the already resource-strained region and reconstruction remains the key to stabilizing these critical factors. Along with reconstruction donations, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that Egyptian companies will also take part in the reconstruction efforts. In the past, Gaza has relied heavily on the Egyptian border crossing for the import of crucial supplies and resources. The 14-year Israeli blockade of Gaza has vastly restricted imports and exports of nearly every commodity and resource.
Antony Blinken’s Efforts
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the region in May 2021 in an effort to secure aid for Gaza from neighboring Arab nations as well as attempt to reinforce the tenuous ceasefire reached earlier this month. Both Hamas and the Israeli authorities remain stubbornly at odds over the key issue of the legality of forced evictions occurring in the predominately Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, specifically, the neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah. Israeli settlements have been increasing in this section of the city, which is technically considered part of the Palestinian West Bank under international law. These transgressions have alarmed Palestinian populations fearing the loss of their homes. Blinken admitted that the issue was too contentious to be solved at this time. However, Blinken seemed hopeful of the diplomatic progress made regarding Gaza’s reconstruction.
Protecting Reconstruction Funds
Israeli authorities are often wary of the resources and funding allocated to Gaza as they fear that Hamas may somehow make military use of it. As long as international overseers ensure that reconstruction funds stay away from Hamas, Israel ought to allow it. Hamas promised to not touch any of the money coming in from outside. Hamas is loath to accept money from Israel but is open to other international donors as well as international oversight. Fortunately, the major political players all agree that reconstruction ought to take precedence over political gain.
The United States wants the Palestinian Authority (PA), based in Ramallah in the West Bank, to become the public face of reconstruction. The United States expressed a desire to see the PA exert a wider influence over the future of Palestine as a moderate alternative to Hamas’ perceived militancy. The PA and Hamas fought a civil war that eventually led to the ousting of the PA from Gaza after Hamas was elected into power. Mediating the tensions within the Palestinian territories will address a crucial obstacle in Gaza’s reconstruction.
The Road to Reconstruction
While many obstacles still mar the road toward reconstruction, the people in Gaza may take a breath of relief as much of the world has come together in support of the two million people trapped within an area that has been called the largest open-air prison on the planet. A strong international presence will help keep the pressure on the wound, so to speak, maintaining the ceasefire for as long as possible as the infrastructure supporting the lives of those most affected is rebuilt.
– Jack Thayer