One of the most vicious rounds of Israeli aggression against Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip ended in a Cairo-brokered ceasefire that came into effect early last Friday.
But this was not before 11 days of conflict between armed Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip and the Israelis had seen scores of Palestinians killed or injured. Many of Gaza’s buildings were reduced to rubble by Israeli bombing raids, and its infrastructure suffered heavy losses.
The conflict resulted in the deaths of 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, 39 women and 17 elderly people, and the injury of a further 1,948 people, reported the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Searches are ongoing for missing persons in the Gaza Strip, with most of them believed to be dead.
According to statistics published by the Palestinian media, Israeli shelling during the 11 days of the conflict destroyed 1,447 residential units in Gaza and resulted in the partial damage to a further 13,000 units.
Some 205 houses were brought to the ground, along with the headquarters of 33 media institutions, the majority of which had offices in high-rise buildings demolished by Israeli bombing.
The Palestinian government-affiliated media office reported that Israel destroyed 75 government buildings, most of them security offices and the offices of the Ministry of the Interior run by the ruling Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The media office said that 68 schools and healthcare facilities had been damaged, including the only laboratory dedicated to coronavirus tests in Gaza. As a result, PCR tests in Gaza were brought to a halt for a few days before the laboratory resumed work at less than 50 per cent of capacity.
In scenes reminiscent of the Palestinian Nakba, the catastrophe of 15 May 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from Palestine with the declaration of the state of Israel, more than 120,000 people were displaced due to the shelling. Half of these went to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) offices in Palestinian schools after they had lost their homes.
This year is the 73rd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, and it has been marked by the latest Israeli aggression against Gaza.
As the military clashes were brought to a halt in the Gaza Strip, another no-less-cruel war ensued because of the medical, economic and social repercussions of the Israeli assault. Many international organisations, including the UN, have sounded the alarm, and the UN has revealed catastrophic statistics about the humanitarian and health conditions in the Strip, which has been suffering under an Israeli blockade for 14 years.
The UN said that some 800,000 Gazans do not have access to clean drinking water and that 50 per cent of the water network in Gaza was damaged during the assault.
UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini said during a visit to Gaza that the failure to solve the Strip’s problems was “a volcano that erupts every few years, destroys everything around it, then quietens down.”
Some 1.4 million refugees view UNRWA as a source of stability, he added. He urged the international community to help those most afflicted by the violence, adding that “I will remind the international community that the root causes of the conflict remain.”
The latest round of aggression put more pressure on the fragile healthcare system in the Strip. Ashraf Al-Qodra, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Health, said that “the ministry has issued an urgent appeal to all countries and humanitarian and relief institutions to meet the needs of the emergency health sector in order to provide medicines, medical consumables, operating and intensive care equipment, diagnostic radiology material, surgical and laboratory equipment and other emergency needs for hospitals whose limited resources have been depleted due to the Israeli blockade and aggression.”
Al-Qodra said there was an acute shortage of 45 per cent of medicines, 33 per cent of medical consumables and 56 per cent of laboratory supplies and blood for transfusions, in addition to the deterioration of ambulance vehicles and the emergency healthcare system.
He warned against the repercussions of halting the work of the PCR testing laboratory on efforts to curb the Covid-19 pandemic in Gaza, saying that there are fears of a third wave of the virus, especially as thousands of Palestinians are now crammed into refugee camps.
Gaza’s infrastructure is faring no better than its healthcare system. Mayor of Gaza City Yehia Al-Sarrag said that tens of thousands of metres of infrastructure had been damaged, 67 streets spread over 120,000 square metres destroyed due to Israeli shelling and 6,620 metres of water pipes and 10,500 metres of sewage pipes broken.
The municipality was reconnecting the pipelines in a temporary manner to prevent a health and environmental catastrophe in the Strip, he said. It was also seeking the help of volunteers to remove debris from the streets after it launched a campaign in which more than 1,000 people participated.
With the aim of destroying Gaza’s industrial capabilities, the Israeli bombardment focused on the industrial zone in the northeastern region of the Strip. The largest plastics factories in Gaza were destroyed, along with 23 others, incurring tens of millions of dollars in losses. The stoppage in production has led to the skyrocketing of unemployment in the Strip, which had already been suffering from high unemployment.
Several countries have responded to the deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions in Gaza, Egypt being the most prominent. However, grave challenges remain, such as the terms Israel dictates for reconstructing the Strip.
The Israeli government insists that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip can only take place if Hamas, which has controlled the Strip since 2007, abandons its weapons or stops their development, which the movement categorically rejects.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said economic or humanitarian work in the Gaza Strip would be allowed in exchange for the return of Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas.
Hamas has admitted it has captured four Israelis, including two soldiers who were taken hostage during the war on Gaza in 2014. Israel considers them to be dead, while Hamas has refused to disclose information about them without obtaining something in return.
The UN believes that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip should be part of a comprehensive political process and a long-term ceasefire between Gaza and Israel.
However, it has not given details of the form this political process might take, especially in the light of the Palestinian Authority’s reservations about any political moves related to the Gaza Strip without including the rest of the Palestinian Territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Many observers believe that the different visions for the reconstruction of Gaza may prolong the humanitarian suffering, especially because of the collapse of many organisations that used to offer services in Gaza, already ailing as a result of the consecutive Israeli wars of 2008, 2012 and 2014.
Palestinian observers are waiting to see the results of international pressure, and Egypt’s in particular, to help to solve the Strip’s problems. The most dangerous development would be the eruption of a new round of confrontation, especially as the reasons for the latest aggression remain present.
Israel is continuing its violations in Occupied Jerusalem, particularly in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which it has been tightly blockading, as it repeatedly storms into the area of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Gaza residents’ fear of another wave of aggression by Israel has been heightened by the pressure the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing due to Israeli doubts about the escalation against the armed Palestinian factions in Gaza and the absence of any clear signs of victory for Israel.
This pressure has led Netanyahu and Gantz to release further threatening statements about the Strip.
Palestinian observers believe these pressures could ignite further rounds of Israeli aggression, while they depend on Egypt to diffuse confrontations following the talks conducted by the Egyptian security delegation that has visited Gaza, Ramallah and Israel several times.
They are also counting on Arab moves to draw world attention to the Palestinian cause and to create a political way forward after US President Joe Biden announced his support for a two-state solution and his adoption of more supportive options for the Palestinians than those entertained by his predecessor, former US president Donald Trump.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly