Rebuilding efforts in Gaza getting under way

Sat, Nov 24, 2012, 00:00

On a day of thunder and heavy rain that made many roads impassible in Gaza city, residents sifted through the ruins of destroyed buildings and authorities began to plan the long reconstruction effort ahead.

The eight-day Israeli bombardment reduced scores of government offices, homes and businesses to smouldering rubble. In the southern border town of Rafah, where an elaborate network of smuggling tunnels was destroyed by missiles, workers were already beginning to rebuild. The tunnels, some large enough for cars, are used as a crossroads for goods of all varieties entering the Gaza strip, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took power there in 2007. Israel accuses armed militant groups of importing weapons through the tunnels, and the Israeli military says it destroyed 140 of them in its air campaign.

Destroyed places

“I hope Gaza will get back on its feet,” said Nour Kharma, a 19-year-old law student in Gaza city. “I was driving in the car and took a look at the destroyed places. I was speechless. You can’t describe how destroyed they are.”

Kharma left her home on the second day of the bombardment, fearing the education ministry nearby could be a target. “I thought I’d feel safe in my grandmother’s house, but I didn’t – there was no safe place to stay. You could be killed any time, anywhere.” As rebuilding efforts were getting under way, thoughts were turning to the future political landscape; in particular, the prospect of an easing of the blockade that confines most Gazans to the territory and severely limits trade. The Egyptian-mediated ceasefire agreement provided for an easing of Israeli restrictions on Gaza’s residents but was vague on how that would be done.

Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said the siege was “suffocating, socially and economically”, and had to be lifted.

“It’s worse than a prison,” he said. “In a prison, you know there is a certain period you are going to serve. You commit a crime, you are convicted. But this is a collective punishment.” If there was one change that could improve her quality of life most, Kharma said, it would be a lifting of the restrictions.

Fragile truce

If Israelis or Palestinians needed reminding that the truce was still fragile, it came yesterday with reports that Israeli soldiers had shot dead a 23-year-old Gazan at a border post. The news raised concerns about a possible resumption of the fighting, but following an apparent intervention by Egypt, the situation was contained. Hamas denounced the shooting, but in an unusual move apparently aimed at enforcing the truce, moved Gazan residents away from a 300-metre-wide security zone where Israel has barred Palestinian access since 2009.

To many Gazans, Hamas has emerged from the past week with its stature enhanced – both at home, where it is credited with defending the enclave against Israeli attack, and abroad, where its close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood have given it a valuable ally in the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi.

Misgivings about Hamas’s management of Gaza’s services and social issues have for the moment been put to one side, and its “victory” rallies have drawn large, exuberant crowds.

The question is what Hamas might do next, and in particular whether the conditions could be right for a reconciliation between it and the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Senior Hamas figures have been publicly talking up unity , and the yellow flag of Fatah has been conspicuously present in Gaza this week alongside the green of Hamas and the black of Islamic Jihad.