Gaza's desperate need for a 'Marshall Plan'
Businessman Faisal al Shawa, vice-president of the Palestinian Trade Center (Paltrade), believes that the most urgent problem is the refugees.
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$6 billion that is the amount needed to rebuild the Gaza Strip: many years of removing the ruins, planning, and reconstruction, all in the hope that the next war will not come, and if it does, it will not come as soon as its predecessors did. This number, mentioned this week by Palestinian Authority (PA) Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa, sound familiar. It is more or less the same sum promised by Arab countries to the Palestinians after Operation Cast Lead. They promised, and then kept it for themselves. This is, however, according to an initial estimate, also the amount of the damage caused by the war on the Israeli side. It includes both spending by the IDF and economic damage.
The power of the military force used was almost inconceivable according to residents of the Gaza Strip. Last Friday, for example, following the kidnapping of Givati officer Hadar Goldin of blessed memory, Rafah resident said that five or six shells a minute - from the air, sea, and tanks landed on areas in the western part of the city, gutting entire neighborhoods. Satellite photographs show a belt of destruction stretching from northern to southern Gaza near the border with Israel.
PA Chairman Abu Mazen is trying to raise the capital for reconstruction from international bodies, such as the UN, from the US, and from the Gulf states, headed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The problem is two-fold: he has to persuade them not only to contribute, but also to do it as fast as possible.
Businessman Faisal al Shawa, vice-president of the Palestinian Trade Center (Paltrade), believes that the most urgent problem is the refugees. "We have 400,000 homeless people, whose homes were bombed and no longer exist. Houses must be built for them, but there is nothing to do it with. You even bombed and destroyed the building block factories. In order to rebuild the buildings, you first of all have to set up cement and concrete factories."
Al Shawa owns a factory for making tar for paving roads and a factory for producing building blocks; both were bombed and destroyed. Another factory he owns, for producing pharmaceuticals, was partially damaged. Olive, date, orange, and lemon fields owned by his family were attacked. "The situation is very depressing, because we're not even sure we'll be able to finance the reconstruction," he tells "Globes." "After the war in 2009, I was there at the conference of donor countries in Sharm al-Sheikh. We got nothing."
Before the war, Israel banned the entry of cement and building materials into the Gaza Strip, fearing that they would be used to build tunnels. These materials were smuggled from Egypt or produced from the ruins of houses.
It is clear to Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement) Executive Director Eitan Diamond that reconstruction of the Gaza Strip is impossible without eliminating the ban on imports of cement. "Even before the fighting, there was a big shortage of housing units, clinics, classrooms, and so forth. Because Israel controls the border crossings, Gaza Strip residents depend on it for buying the building materials they need so much. Relations of control and dependence create responsibility, and Israel is therefore obligated to allow the population access to essential materials."
Diamond says that in its struggle against the tunnels, Israel is not entitled to leave a battered population of 1.7 million people without basic infrastructure needed for their existence. "We have no doubt that the Israeli defense establishment can find more suitable solutions for reducing the risk to Israelis to a minimum, while at the same time preventing harsh and disproportionate harm to Gaza residents."
Gaza does not need merely an economic plan ; it needs basic reconstruction from the beginning. Israel attacked 4,800 targets for four consecutive weeks, including buildings, people, and agricultural areas from where rockets were fired. The PA deputy prime minister estimated that at least 100,000 buildings were damaged, including factories, government buildings, industrial plants, agricultural structures, and private homes. The electrical grid was paralyzed and 80% of Gaza residents were in darkness at the height of the conflict. The water authority says about 200 wells, half of the wells in the Gaza Strip, were in areas destroyed by the IDF in eastern Gaza. It is still unclear how many of them were damaged. Attacks in agricultural areas heightened the damage to crops and destroyed agricultural structures. Hospitals and schools were also damaged.
The situation in the Gaza Strip was shaky even before the operation. Israel and Egypt cooperated in blockading Gaza. Egypt closed the Rafiah border crossing, the Gaza Strip's lifeline, and opened it for a few hours every few days to the passage of VIPs and seriously ill patients. Israel closed the Erez crossing to free movement of Gazans seeking work or passage to the West Bank, and allowed only traders to use it. The international airport in Rafiah was destroyed in Operation Cast Lead, and is unusable. Farmers with land near the border with Israel were not allowed to get near it. The port was shut down, and ships leaving the Gaza shore are blocked by the Israeli navy about 10 km from the coast.
In its own way, the West also cooperated with the boycott. Hamas was declared a terrorist organization, and trading with it was therefore forbidden. In July 2013, following the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian regime began to take action against smuggling tunnels in Gaza, and shut down the most active service sector in the Gaza Strip. Not only weapons, but mainly goods, fuel, and cars were smuggled through those tunnels. An entire industry was developed there and provided thousands with a livelihood. Taxes and ownership of these tunnels provided the Hamas government with $250 million a year a quarter of its budget.
Pinning hopes on Abu Mazen
According to estimated published by the Palestinian manufacturers association and the businessmen's association in the Gaza Strip, 170 factories and places of business were completely destroyed in the war, including large plants employing hundreds of families, such as the al-Bader canned goods factory, the Talabani plant for manufacturing snacks and cookies, and the al-Vediah processed food plant. "Industry was completely destroyed in the war," al Shawa says. "There's no agriculture, no factories: it was all bombed. There's no electricity. You destroyed the fuel stocks of the power plant, which buys fuel from you. You sold us fuel in the morning, and set it on fire in the evening." The unemployment rate, which was 40% before the war, has climbed another 5%. "Why are there missiles? Because where else can you work? Why is there Hamas? Because of despair."
During the last week of the war, the only power plant in the Gaza Strip was attacked, and the public supply of electricity dropped to zero. Well taught by experience, the residents turned to generators, but the public systems remained shut down, and the stench of an ecological disaster filled the air. The sewage removal system was paralyzed. Water and sewage pumps in residential towers stopped working. The past two days, when the lull took effect, Israel repaired the damaged power lines, and transferred 10 powerful generators to Gaza. These were used to put the public sewage system back into operation, but this was no more than first aid. In order to restore normal life, the Gaza Strip needs a total comprehensive Marshall Plan, accompanied by political vision and the cooperation of the neighboring countries.
Signs of a rapprochement between Hamas and the PA are evident. Hamas hopes that Abu Mazen's good relations with the international community will help it raise money from donors. Indeed, Qatar has already promised to give money, as has Saudi Arabia at the behest of Abu Mazen. Hamas hopes to rehabilitate its poor relations with Egypt, which have gone aground in recent years. The relations between Israel and the two Palestinian factions will also be reassessed, particularly in view of the fact that the reconciliation between them will become stronger. These political issues will directly affect the efforts at reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. Eitan Diamond believes that the Israeli government needs fresh thinking that will facilitate developing and growth in Gaza. "The idea of isolating the Gaza Strip, mainly from the West Bank, caused the deterioration of the economy, growing unemployment, and narrowing of the horizons of the young population, but not quiet and security."
Al Shawa demands the end of the occupation. For him, that is the only solution for the crisis in Gaza and the security threat to it from Israel. "If you open the border crossings, there will be no tunnels. Everything will cross legally. Remove the blockade and let people breathe a little. Open the Erez crossing to civilian traffic, not just traders. Let Palestinian children visit Israel, so they'll get to know it. Today, all they know here about you is that you're killing them."
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