The Palestinian Ministry of Works, in cooperation with Egyptian technical and engineering teams, will soon complete removing the rubble from the latest Israeli military onslaught on the Gaza Strip (10-11 May). This is a record time compared to previous military operations in Gaza. Aided by Egyptian engineers and technicians and using equipment from Egypt, the Ministry of Works has been able to work faster and more effectively than before.
The Egyptian teams went home for the Eid holiday, but returned to the Gaza Strip on Sunday to continue clearing the rubble of 1,400 housing units that were pulverised by Israel. They will also survey the newly cleared areas to prepare for the next phase of reconstruction, in which they will be directly participating.
The Undersecretary of Works and Housing in the Gaza Strip Naji Serhan said that the 50 Egyptian machines used in the clean-up operation greatly helped remove, especially with taller buildings that had been more than 15- storey high. Serhan asserted that these machines remarkably accelerated the process of removing debris in just two months. “These Egyptian machines were used to remove the rubble of the Hanadi, Jalaa and Shorouk towers, as well as other residential buildings,” he said.
Serhan went on to say that, having removed 80 per cent of the debris by helping Palestinian contractors, Egyptian technical construction teams will begin work soon, with the residential towers rebuilt as soon as the debris is cleared, as per the deal made with Egyptian officials. “After visiting Egypt, we agreed to draw up a list of priorities,” said Serhan. “Egyptian engineers inspected all the areas that need construction, and we hope this begins soon.”
The Palestinian official expressed gratitude to President Al-Sisi and the people of Egypt for their goodwill, which demonstrates the deep historic ties between Palestine and Egypt.
“About 1,400 housing units were completely demolished during the assault on Gaza,” Serhan said. “The rubble of more than 1,000 of these has been cleared away so far.” Partially destroyed homes will remain as is. He hoped Egypt would soon allow the transport of construction materials into the Gaza Strip without restrictions, since Palestinians are hoping to use only Egyptian construction materials to rebuild what was wiped out during Israel’s ferocious attacks.
Egyptian engineering teams conducted field visits in several destroyed and damaged areas, and presented a comprehensive overview of what the Gaza Strip requires for reconstruction and restoring normal life, as well as improving and developing infrastructure facilities based on Egypt’s extensive experience in the field of engineering construction and advanced infrastructure projects.
After completing the first phase, several challenges now face reconstruction under complicated political conditions: the fragile situation on the ground in Gaza, an unstable ceasefire between Palestinian factions and Israel, and the yawning gap between the two sides on the issue. Israel ties reconstruction with progress on other political and security issues, most notably the return of captured Israeli soldiers who were taken by Hamas. The group admits to capturing four Israelis, including two soldiers during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza.
However, Palestinian factions insist that progress should be made simultaneously and in parallel on all tracks, not consecutively. Recently, these factions in the Gaza Strip threatened that siege and closure will no longer be tolerated by the Palestinian people, stating, “We will give mediators a chance to end this siege and closure, bring in construction and building materials, and guarantee freedom of movement for our people at border crossings... If these efforts fail, the Palestinian people will only have the option of confrontation, and they will use all their might to take back their rights to dignity and freedom.”
Palestinian forces further explained that they “will never allow homeowners, factory and farm owners in the Gaza Strip to be punished twice. Once, when their properties were incinerated, and again, when they are prevented from rebuilding them.”
The factions warned Israel against continuing this unacceptable siege, saying they would not allow it to overturn the situation or establish new rules. Hamas Spokesman Hazem Qassem threatened a return to escalation against Israel due to the explosive situation in Jerusalem and the continued closure of Gaza. Qassem warned that these issues were the triggers most likely to ignite the situation, noting that Hamas has informed all mediators that resistance factions in Gaza will never succumb to blackmail. He noted that Israel has started to talk about gradual facilitation for Gaza, adding that conditions must be restored to pre-aggression times. Hamas, said Qassem, is adamant about lifting the siege on Gaza and that Gazans should live with dignity.
Meanwhile, Israel will not allow the transfer of any funds for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, except through the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the UN. Despite ongoing talks by the UN and Egypt to enforce the ceasefire and make progress on the issue of the prisoners captured by Hamas, all efforts ground to a halt when both sides refused to compromise.
According to the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (KAN), Egypt is working on defusing the crises and on several issues, including resolving the matter of transferring Qatari funds to Gaza as a first step, and then moving on two parallel tracks of reconstruction and exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel. KAN also reported on Egypt’s efforts to contain any possible escalation by Hamas against Israel, as the latter resumes strict measures against Gaza. Most recently, on Sunday, Israel bombed Hamas locations in Gaza in response to what Israel claimed were fires caused by incendiary and booby-trapped balloons launched from there.
Relations with Israel, however, are not the only problem facing reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. The PA and Hamas differ over the mechanism needed for reconstruction in Gaza. The former believes reconstruction must be through and directly supervised by the PA and its institutions, while Hamas proposed a national committee, coordinated with Egypt, to oversee construction. Tensions and lack of trust overwhelm the issue.
Despite all these challenges, Palestinians hope this urgent matter will soon be resolved and are counting on Egypt to put pressure on Israel, as well as bring the Palestinian viewpoints closer together. Al-Sisi also promised $500 million for rebuilding Gaza, and gave directives to Egyptian state institutions to provide all that is needed to accelerate reconstruction and completion.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.