With many countries recently pledging funds to rebuild Gaza, Roisin Nicholson asks what impact they will really have on the future of Palestine.
During a recent visit to Gaza, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the after-effects of the recent conflict, stating that what happened in Gaza was a “source of shame to the international community” and that the destruction of the territory was “beyond description.” Since the outbreak of hostilities in July, there have been countless numbers of homes and neighbourhoods destroyed, while Action Aid UK states that half a million people have been displaced.
Since the open-ended ceasefire was declared, the international community have agreed to donate US$5.4 billion/€4.3 billion at a donor conference, held earlier in October. Ireland has pledged €2.5 million while the US has promised to grant $212 million to Gaza’s cause, in spite of their largely pro-Israel stance. It has been stated that these funds will go towards rebuilding war-torn Gaza and also to supporting the budget of the Palestinian Authority until 2017. However, the trouble is far from over for the people of Gaza and questions over the risks behind such an uncertain investment are at the forefront of many a political mind.
Some diplomats have expressed concern over such pledges, stating that until there is a clearer political solution, any aid is a risk. Norwegian Foreign Minister, Borge Brende, stated that although Norway contributed to the relief fund, European countries were becoming concerned that any funds invested in rebuilding Gaza now will be worthless if hostilities break out again.
National Coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Kevin Squires agrees. “The pledging of funding in and of itself means very little if the funds cannot be used to reconstruct Gaza. A similar donor conference following the 2008/09 Israeli ‘Cast Lead’ slaughter in Gaza unfortunately resulted in very little rebuilding due to the illegal Israeli siege, and the economy remained strangled, despite the pledging of a similar amount of money.”
Without any political solution on the cards for Gaza are these pledges just money being thrown down the drain? Previous conflicts have resulted in similar donations to war-torn areas but have not had the desired effect. As Squires says, “While international money for rebuilding is to be welcomed as a potential relief for people in Gaza, it is absolutely no substitute for international political and economic sanctions against Israel aimed at ending its occupation, apartheid regime and associated human rights abuses, international law violations and war crimes.”
The experiences of non-nationals travelling to Palestinian Territories have also highlighted Israeli attitudes to aid being sent to Gaza. At the beginning of this summer, medicine students from Trinity had trouble travelling to the West Bank to volunteer in hospitals. Accounts state that they were detained and questioned about visiting Gaza during their trip, with some even asked about their personal views on the Gaza-Israeli conflict. It is very possible that money being pledged to the region by certain countries is coming under a similar line of enquiry by the Israeli government.
This concern is further compounded by the fact that Israel is heavily involved in the rebuilding of Gaza. Materials for rebuilding have come through Israeli territory and some see this as an extension of Israel’s control in the area. A further concern is held with the fact that Israel seems to be profiting from this construction project.
As Squires says ‘Israel is set to greatly benefit from this donor money. It appears that much of the rebuilding materials will be sourced in Israel, so we will see the spectacle of the Israeli economy reaping the rewards of the brutal onslaught on Gaza. With such dynamics in place, there is simply no incentive for Israel to end its cycle of violent attacks on Gaza, and Palestinians in general.’
With Israel continually voicing concern over the building of tunnels under the border from Gaza, it is clear that there is an inherent fear of attack from Palestinian militant group Hamas. However, this attitude often creates anger in Gaza, leading to stronger support for such militant factions. With Hamas unlikely to be removed from power any time soon, it is difficult to see how a sustainable political compromise can be found. This is a sentiment that is reflected with continued Israeli settlement on Palestinian lands.
Squires states that “the building of illegal settlements continues in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), as do demolitions of Palestinian homes and agricultural land.” He adds that “There can never be a true and just peace until the Israeli occupation has ceased and Palestinians enjoy their full rights under international law. As long as these conditions are not met, as long as Palestinians are the subjects of Israeli oppression and occupation, then there will be Palestinian resistance to that state of affairs.”
Lilia Kaehm, Auditor of Amnesty UCD agrees. “We are obviously concerned about all the cruelty that is happening in Gaza…but our main concern when asking about the future or solution to of the problem is that violence will end and that there will be peace and security for Palestinian and Israeli citizens.”
If Gaza is to see any benefit from these pledges it is necessary that some sort of political stability is found. If the international community were to put more effort into creating a strong two state system, then it is possible that there could be stability in the region. Although the UN voted to give Palestine non-member observer status in 2012, some countries such as the USA came out in opposition to this.
However in Europe this position is changing, with Sweden recently recognising the Palestinian Territories as a nation-state. If the international attitude and actions towards Israel were to continue to change, then perhaps there could be a longer lasting peace in Gaza and the territory could rebuild with long-lasting hope. Although some countries have expressed concern with giving money to Gaza, it is a concern that could be undone if they put more support into a political solution.
Although a large amount of funds have been pledged, Gaza may never see most of it. Even if these pledges managed to make their way to Gaza, will they have a limited effect at best? If, as Squires suggests, there can be no solution as long as Israel has no incentive to stop attacking Gaza, it is possible that in such a precarious situation this aid without strong political action may even do more harm than good to the citizens of these war-torn lands.