Reporter’s Diary: Obstacles in Gaza

February 3rd, 2009 - by admin

Zeina Awad / Al Jazeera – 2009-02-03 21:23:16

GAZA CITY (February 3, 2009) — Israel’s three-week war on Gaza caused billions of dollars in damage and left the already-tattered local economy on the verge of collapse. Some of the world’s richest countries – including the US which has promised a $20-million aid package – have pledged monies to rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Awad reports that rivalry between Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and other Palestinian factions threatens to scuttle efforts to rebuild Gaza and rehabilitate its people.

We came across Tayseer Jneed, a father of four, as he waited in queue outside a post office in Gaza City to cash a cheque Hamas had distributed to many Palestinians who, like him, had lost family and homes during Israel’s recent war. But Jneed was already disappointed.

“I am unhappy because Hamas promised me 6000 euros but I am getting 4000 euros,” he told Al Jazeera.

Jneed’s home was destroyed during the Israeli offensive in Gaza and he has been forced to live in a tent donated by the UN.

Like many of the makeshift tents housing hundreds of Palestinians who have recently lost their home, there is no water and the family of six are forced to resort to a makeshift toilet constructed by one of their neighbours.

The financial handout is meant to help his family survive until real reconstruction gets under way in Gaza. “I need more money, I need a home, I need to be able to pay for my children’s education, food, and clothes.”

Others at the post office told us that they also did not get all the cash they had been promised. They took whatever they could from Hamas, because it may be the only money they will be receiving for a while. The Hamas authorities in Gaza said this was a one-time emergency payment and have no concrete plans beyond that.

Cash has been in short supply in Gaza ever since Israel imposed its siege in 2007, following Hamas wresting control of Gaza from its rival, Fatah, after a unity government collapsed.

The split from Fatah resulted in bitter rivalry between the two Palestinian factions, leading to gun battles in 2007 and 2008. However, many Palestinians living in Gaza see the rivalry as posing a serious threat to any reconstruction initiatives the territory so desperately needs today.

Hamas maintains that it was democratically elected and therefore carries the mandate of the people. Hamas officials say they should play a key role in reconstruction efforts. The Fatah-led PA, however, says it is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

For their part, international donors say they will not recognise Hamas because the Islamist movement refuses to recognise Israel and does not honour previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. They say they will only deal with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and chairman of Fatah. But Fatah has no authority in Gaza.

All-encompassing Damage
The damage from the war is all encompassing and cannot be carried out without the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged by the international community.

Omar Shaban, a Gaza-based independent economist, says: “We are not talking about delivering some assistance here and there. We are talking about building 5,000 flats and rehabilitating another 20,000, rebuilding around 500 institutions, rehabilitating the roads. All of this needs a very strong government and close coordination with that government,” he said.

A strong government is something the Palestinians do not have. Instead, the Gaza Strip is run by the deposed Hamas government, while the West Bank is under the PA – led by Abbas.

Hamas and the PA have held reconciliation talks on numerous occasions, but instead of uniting, their rivalry has become more entrenched. “If the division between Fatah and Hamas continues, then I do not know how the reconstruction process can happen,” Shaban says. He told Al Jazeera that reconstruction programmes require close coordination between the local municipalities and land authorities on the one hand and Hamas, the power in Gaza, on the other.

Embargo on Material
For its part, Israel refuses to allow glass, cement, and other desperately needed building material into the Gaza Strip as long as Hamas is in control.

For many in Gaza, every day without reconstruction means another day of living in makeshift shacks and tents, without electricity, water, or basic services. That is the reality of daily life for Jneed and his family.

The 4,000 euros will make life easier for him now but in the long-run he sees no way out. He blames Israel first and foremost for the carnage in Gaza but acknowledges that he will not get his home back until Palestinian politicians stop bickering and start proper planning.

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