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April 27, 2015 10:00 am

‘Economist’ Article Falsely Blames Israel for Slow Pace of Gaza Reconstruction

avatar by Adam Levick

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Only 26.8 percent of the $5.4 billion pledged by international donors at a conference in Cairo last October has been delivered so far for the rebuilding of Gaza. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A recent (annonymous) article in The Economist assigned primary blame to Israel for the slow pace of Gaza reconstruction.

Not one of the 19,000 homes in Gaza destroyed during last summer’s war with Israel has been rebuilt. Six months after would-be donors pledged to raise $3.5 billion, the situation is bleak. Barely a quarter of the promised cash has arrived (see chart). Around 100,000 of Gaza’s 1.8m people remain homeless after families spent a rainy winter in tents, trailers and amid the rubble.

The main reason is that Israel’s government lets Gazans import only a fraction of the cement they need, arguing that it can be used for military purposes—and for building tunnels. So what little Gazans get is on the black market. “It’s like cement is a radioactive material,” says Naji Yusuf Sarhan, Gaza’s deputy minister of housing.

The UN is supervising the flow of material. Just one tightly controlled crossing from Israel into Gaza allows commercial goods. Only a tenth of the 5m tonnes of materials required has so far been let in, says the UN. At this rate, it would take 20 years to rebuild the territory, says Mr Sarhan. To buy on the black market you need a lot of cash. Most Gazans are poor. Half have no job.

First, The Economist is right to observe that only a fraction of the promised cash from donors (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, EU, US, etc.) for reconstruction has arrived. They are also correct to note that “the UN is supervising the flow of material.”

However, The Economist fails to note another important factor: intra-Palestinian violence and intimidation. This is a factor in the slow pace of reconstruction that even the UN and the Arab League have acknowledged. Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that “the internal differences and the absence of cooperation between the PA and Hamas are behind the delay in reconstructing the Gaza Strip.”

Finally, in addition to their error of omission regarding the role played by Palestinian infighting, The Economist’s claim that Israel is “the main reason” for the slow pace of rebuilding – due to restrictions on the import of cement – is not accurate.

Indeed, as the article at least hinted at in the third paragraph, per the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, the UN is the organization in charge of estimating the damages and determining the quantities of building materials (such as cement) required for each homeowner in Gaza whose house was damaged. This data is fed into a system designed by the UN.

Homeowners update the Palestinian Authority (PA) about the needed construction materials. The PA (in cooperation with the UN) is in charge of ensuring that those materials reach their destination and are not used for terrorist purposes. (So far, according to the UN, nearly 100,000 Palestinian beneficiaries have participated in the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, and more than 81,000 tons of cement have been purchased for civilian building projects.)

As Daniel Taub, ambassador of Israel to the UK, noted recently, “reconstruction is not being constrained by any lack of supply, and…stocks of all key materials, including cement, aggregate, and re-bar (steel), remain in surplus.”

The Economist’s claim that “Israel’s government lets Gazans import only a fraction of the cement they need” is not accurate, as there are no limits whatsoever on the quantity of cement allowed into Gaza for (UN and PA approved) civilian reconstruction.

Adam Levick is the managing editor of UK Media Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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  • Julian Clovelley

    So where is the link to the article concerned?

    Adam’s criticism seems aimed at clouding the central issue – which he quotes but then skirts around:

    “The main reason is that Israel’s government lets Gazans import only a fraction of the cement they need,’

    Whatever the reason and whoever is “supervising” is this true or not? It would appear to be information supplied by the Supervising Authority, the UN – so it has credibility. In the light of his criticisms maybe Adam should critique the rest of the very short article:

    “Half have no job.

    Omar Fayyad worries that his four-storey house in Beit Hanoun, a town on the northern edge of the strip, may collapse and bury his family. An Israeli shell landed next door, so the columns supporting it are buckling. “We’ve received nothing: no money, no materials, no cement, no iron, nothing,” he says. He has rigged up a pulley system to clear the debris, moving slabs of concrete and twisted metal into a sewage-filled pit nearby, hoping to sell the material.

    Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, when Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist movement, took over after winning an election and violently forcing out its rival, the nationalist Fatah group. More recently Egypt’s government, which in 2013 ousted a short-lived Islamist one at home that was friendly to Hamas, has imposed even tighter restrictions. This year the main crossing between Gaza and Egypt, at Rafah, has been open for just five days.”

    Robert Serry, the UN’s outgoing envoy to the Palestinian territories, has proposed a five-year truce to provide for Israel’s siege to be lifted if Hamas disavows violence. Not everyone likes the idea. “It’s like morphine to pacify the people,” says Khaled al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad, which is even more militant than Hamas. But a senior Hamas man says Mr Serry’s idea is being considered. Three wars in six years have not helped Hamas, except by showing Israelis that Hamas cannot be wished away.

    If a truce were to hold, Hamas would first have to settle its differences with Fatah. The two groups agreed on a unity government last April, but it never really got going. Hamas still controls security forces in Gaza, whereas the Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by Fatah and administers the West Bank, the bigger part of a would-be Palestinian state, refuses to pay salaries for civil servants in Gaza. Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian prime minister, has made only three brief trips there since June, accomplishing little.

    A recent downpour flooded Gaza’s roads and makeshift shelters. Traders in the market in Shati, a crowded waterfront refugee camp, idle over cups of tea. Customers are few. Many shopkeepers earn too little to pay the rent. To provide food for a family is a big achievement, says Abu Rizzaq, a baker. “It’s all we can hope for. There is no future.”

  • Lynne T

    Of course the article doesn’t deal with Hamas’s boast that they are rebuilding the infiltration tunnels into Israel. For that, the thugs in charge somehow seem to find construction materials and labour.

    • Julian Clovelley

      You don’t build tunnels you dig them. Building materials are only used to support the walls and ceiling and keep the floor clear so you can run wheeled items along them

      Stopping the supply of concrete to my mind only results in the use of alternative materials – In WWII prisoners used the boards that supported their bed mattresses