Gaza reconstruction to start by October after $1bn pledged

Maram Humaid

Al-Jazeera  /  September 25, 2021

Gaza City – The first phase of the reconstruction process will soon begin in the Gaza Strip four months after Israel’s deadly offensive.

The reconstruction plan was set by Gaza’s ministry of housing and public works and the Qatari committee for Gaza reconstruction and other international parties.

Naji Sarhan, under-secretary of Gaza’s public works ministry, told Al Jazeera that several countries pledged to contribute to the Gaza reconstruction process and work will start by October.

Qatar pledged US$500m to rebuild the residential units destroyed in the recent Israeli offensive, where Egypt pledged US$500m that will go to the infrastructure and destroyed streets,” he said.

The 11-day offensive in May, which killed 256 Palestinians including 66 children, was marked by its intensity, the targeting of civilian homes, and infrastructure.

About 2,000 homes were destroyed, in addition to another 22,000 units that were partially damaged, resulting in the displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians. At least four high-rise buildings were levelled, and 74 public structures were targeted.

According to Sarhan, the losses in the recent war are estimated at $497m.

“The 14-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the strip imposed many obstacles on the reconstruction process. Israel bans building materials through its border crossings, resulting in exacerbating living circumstances for Palestinians in Gaza,” said Sarhan.

The reconstruction agreement includes three phases. The first includes rebuilding residential homes by the Qatari committee, which will rebuild 1,000 destroyed units, including 800 that sustained partial destruction.

According to Sarhan, Egypt will start the first phase within days. Arrangements for the entry of construction equipment into the Gaza Strip are under way through the Rafah border crossing.

Kuwait previously pledged to build the towers bombed in the latest offensive, but the agreement was not officially approved, he said.

“We hope more donors to join the reconstruction process within the upcoming three months, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), European Union, and to contribute to supporting the industrial and agricultural sectors in Gaza,” said Sarhan.

‘Stable entry’

Salama Marouf, the Gaza-government spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that Israel agreed to remove restrictions imposed on building materials entry into Gaza.

The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) is a temporary agreement created by the United Nations and agreed on by the Palestinian Authority and Israel in September 2014.

The mechanism was designed to address Israeli “security concerns” while allowing the entry of construction materials (aggregate, cement and steel bars only) into the Gaza Strip to be used in construction projects.

“There are a lot of materials banned entry into Gaza as they are classified within the ‘dual use’ list from Israel. This list has included many necessary materials such as water pumps, elevators, iron etcetera,” Marouf said.

However, the main obstacle feared by the Gaza reconstruction committee is Israel blocking goods despite the agreement.

“This is the major challenge with the continuous siege imposed in Gaza. Israel may ban entry of building materials through its crossing at any time,” said Marouf. “We hope the donor organizations and all partners to guarantee a stable entry of building materials as agreed.”

The economic cycle in Gaza has reached a deadlock as it depends entirely on the start of the reconstruction process, Marouf added.

“The unemployment rate in Gaza among young people stands at 50 percent, and the reconstruction process would contribute to creating job opportunities, pumping money in, and creating a state of stability in the country.”

Marouf also warned any pause or delay in the reconstruction plan will destabilize the current calm in the region.

“If pressure continues on Gaza, there will be an imminent explosion, the consequences of which will be borne by the Israelis. The situation in the Gaza Strip cannot continue in this way.”

According to Marouf, if all donors abide by their commitments and things go as planned, the reconstruction will be finished by the end of 2022.

Hosni Muhanna, head of Gaza’s media office, said the municipality greatly welcomes the rebuilding efforts.

“Infrastructure in Gaza has been hugely affected by Israeli bombing during the last offensive,” Muhanna said. “Targeting roads, streets, sewer lines, and rainwater drainage led to huge destruction.”

Muhanna said weather was now an issue as temperatures drop.

“Winter now is a main challenge as it will lead to a rise in the water level in the lowlands, and there are many destroyed streets in densely populated areas and vital centres of the city. There are fears of landslides and infrastructure collapses if reconstruction is not expedited,” he said.

“Until this moment, we didn’t receive a confirmation when will infrastructure works start, but we are hopeful they start very soon.”

Maram Humaid is a Palestinian journalist and storyteller from the Gaza Strip; she covers human stories, life under blockade, youths and breaking updates.