On Wednesday Palestinians marked one year since the launch of the Israeli air raids that heralded the start of a 51-day war in the besieged Gaza strip last summer. The territory is still struggling to recover from the war, which left over 2,251 Palestinians dead—the majority of whom were civilians. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side, including 67 soldiers.
On the eve of the anniversary of the war, tens of thousands of people remain homeless, with the besieged enclave struggling to rebuild infrastructure and tens of thousands struggling to access basic amenities such as electricity or clean water.
International donors including the U.S. and Arab Gulf countries have pledged more than $5bn to help rebuild Gaza. However Israel’s economic siege, which has lasted for 8 years, means badly needed construction materials like cement have not been allowed in, despite offers by the United Nations to oversee the process. According to a report published by the Norwegian Refugee Council, none of the 12,600 destroyed homes have been rebuilt, leaving up to 100,000 people homeless, living in makeshift tents or cargo containers, or struggling to pay rent in an economy shattered by 8 years of war and blockade. People continue to live in homes which retain excessive damage from the bombardment, with an additional 83,000 housing units still awaiting repair assistance.
Operation Protective Edge, as the war is commonly termed, was the third such war in Gaza in six years, and by far the deadliest and most destructive of the three, leaving families wondering when the suffering will end.
“You have to remember, if you are even just a seven-year-old child… you have been through three wars,” said Robert Turner, Gaza operations director for UN relief agency UNRWA.
“The utter destruction left a year ago is keeping thousands of people in misery, on top of an already crippling blockade that limits everything coming in and out of the Gaza Strip,” said Norwegian Refugee Council’s Secretary General Jan Egeland. “If the people of Gaza are to have any chance to truly recover, the international community must ensure that the reconstruction happens urgently.”
The problem goes deeper than merely providing building materials, according to NRC. Presently Gaza receives just 7.5 per cent of daily construction materials needed to cover the housing demand, but even where materials are available, people lack the finances to start reconstruction in an area with the highest unemployment rate in the world. Large swathes of rubble still await clearance – some still containing unexploded artillery from the war – and the water network has suffered severe damage while electricity only comes intermittently. These are all obstacles which would need addressing prior to the reconstruction process.
Although the ceasefire negotiated at the end of the 51 day war has largely remained in effect, with only occasional fire exchange between either side, the dire situation in Gaza has led to concerns that another war could eventually break out.
Indirect talks are ongoing between Hamas and Israel in an attempt to prolong the ceasefire and ease the blockade on Gaza, but there are no signs that a deal will be reached anytime soon.
Israel held a memorial on Monday for its 73 victims killed in the war, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the military offensive.
“I say to all enemies of Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and IS (Islamic State) — that those who attempt to attack our people will pay with their blood,” he said.