The Crisis in Gaza is Far From Over

By Joharah Baker

Everyone knew that the timing of Israel’s Cast Lead Operation in Gaza was hardly coincidental. It ended mere days before US President Barack Obama’s inauguration into the White House and weeks before Israel went to early elections. Political pundits postulated that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak wanted to give his Kadima party one last boost before heading out of political life with his tail between his legs. The fact that the US was changing administrations only expedited the operation, especially since Israel understood well that Obama would surely not be as war-oriented as their good friend George W. Bush.

Hence, Operation Cast Lead. As everyone well understands, the results were devastating. At least two-thirds of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in the Israeli operation were innocent civilians, scores of them children, women and the elderly. Approximately 4,000 homes were destroyed by Israel’s bombardment, subsequently displacing hundreds of thousands of Gazans. Factories, schools, government buildings and agricultural land were devastated, leaving the vast majority of Gaza’s approximate 1.5 million residents in destitution.

This is not the first time Israel has wreaked havoc in Gaza, destroying homes, buildings and infrastructure. Each time, international parties, the United Nations and Arab and Palestinian governments have jumped in to restore what Israel destroys. Millions of dollars are pledged for the "restoration and reconstruction of Gaza" and the process begins all over again.

Granted, this time around, the devastation is tenfold. According to Palestinian estimates, the overall damage incurred from Israel’s operation in Gaza stands at about $1.6 billion. People are living in tents meanwhile, or over the heaps of rubble that were once their homes until help arrives.

The question is, does anyone actually realize the cruel pattern that has taken shape in Gaza in particular? As part of the so-called "state building" that began after the signing of the Oslo Accords, donor countries and private investors began pouring money into the Palestinian territories, ostensibly to build a solid infrastructure for the future Palestinian state, presumably to be established in 1999.

Obviously that did not happen. Instead, over the past 15 years, Israel has destroyed large chunks of Palestine’s pre-state infrastructure in both the West Bank and Gaza. Has everyone forgotten the days-long bombardment of the presidential headquarters in Ramallah back in 2002? Or the destruction of the Gaza International Airport in 2001?

Still, it is not Israel’s brutality that is so shocking. Not anymore at least. What is shocking, even till now is that Israel destroys Palestinian lives with the cruelest of ease, lets others foot the bill for reconstruction and then seriously hinders even these efforts.

Israel’s arrogance really knows no boundaries. It destroys in the name of its security, feigns apology for any collateral civilian damage and then does not allow others to rebuild Gaza. The best indicator that even Israel has exceeded its own perimeters of self-righteousness is when the United States finds has a word or two to say about the subject. Throughout last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear to Israel that it is not doing enough to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as has US special envoy to the region, George Mitchell. Clinton, who is scheduled to attend the Cairo donors meeting next month on Gaza’s reconstruction, is expected to raise this issue there as well.

Logically, Gaza’s reconstruction goes hand in hand with Israel’s refusal to open the border crossings and freely allow aid to flow into the beleaguered Strip. Israel maintains it cannot open the borders without a ceasefire and the Palestinians say any ceasefire agreement must be contingent upon the opening of the borders. The end result that is not enough immediate aid is getting to the people nor are reconstruction efforts underway like they should be.

Which brings us to point number two. Israel has also put a ban on a number of construction materials it says cannot enter the Strip for fear they will be used by Hamas to manufacture explosives or build bunkers. Hence, materials such as cement, pipes and steel, crucial for any kind of construction, have been banned from entry.

However, like all other things in politics, such "potential terror materials" are also potentially valuable political bargaining chips. Earlier in the month, Israel offered to allow up to 75 percent of banned materials into Gaza in exchange for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. That deal obviously also fell through.

Hence, over a month after Operation Cast Lead officially came to an end, [Israel still intermittently bombs tunnels and other targets] the situation in Gaza is hardly good. The problem now is that the world is too busy with the formation of the new Israeli government, the Palestinian conciliation talks and the zealous US administration that has plunged into the region head first. Israel is masterfully trying to shift the attention away from the destruction it created in Gaza and focus now on why it is out of their hands to help rebuild it. Isn’t the fact that Hamas is still in power enough justification for continuing to hinder any assistance or construction in Gaza? At least that is Israel’s rationale. In the meantime, people are without homes, there is a severe lack of food and fuel entering the Strip and over and above all, there is no political stability on the horizon.

The responsibility for Gaza lies in more than one pair of hands. As the occupying power, no one is more responsible for the destruction there than Israel. As western powers that have endorsed this occupation in one way or another since its inception, the United States, Europe and even the UN must also be held accountable. If it were not for the abundant financial and moral support these parties shower on Israel, would the occupation not have ended years ago?

No doubt, the Palestinians also share in this responsibility. What little assistance does get into the Strip must be distributed fairly and without bias. As the de facto ruling body there, Hamas has the duty to ensure this happens. In the long run, however, it is in no one’s interest, least of all the people of Gaza, for the rift between the Palestinians to continue. The PA has prepared a reconstruction package for Gaza to be unveiled in the next few days. Without a unified leadership, this will be difficult to implement, something which will hopefully be resolved in the upcoming Cairo conciliation talks.

Despite all of the complexities and complications of this conflict, the ultimate solution is simple. Gaza does not only need a temporary ceasefire or relief packages. Neither does it need the construction and reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure that continue to be torn down by Israel’s occupying power. What it needs, just like all Palestinians need, is a viable and sustainable political solution that will prevent this vicious cycle from continuing.

– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

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