Gaza Struggles with Reconstruction Gaps as Israel Preps for New Battle

Shattered Infrastructure a Result of Israel's 'Operation Guardian of the Walls'
Gaza Strip map. (Source: World reference atlas via Getty Images)

With the end of Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza, humanitarian agencies have put the cost of the reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip at about $500 million. The process has sparked off an internal Israeli debate along with American, European and Arab pressure to ensure continued calm, provided that the reconstruction of the Strip is a first and quick step to put an end to the tragedy of the people of Gaza.

The Israelis have announced that Assistant Secretary of State for Palestinian Affairs, Hadi Amr, is due to arrive in Israel to discuss various issues, including the new government's policy towards Palestinians in general and the reconstruction of Gaza, in particular, as well as the new mechanism for introducing the Qatari grant into the sector through the United Nations.

The Qatari grant to Gaza is considered an important aspect of the current issue regarding Gaza, whether it is reconstruction or improving the lives of the population. In view of the ongoing Israeli debate on the transfer of funds from Qatar to Gaza and the claim that funds were spent on strengthening Hamas's military capabilities and were not for infrastructure, Qatar called for the formation of a new mechanism for the transfer of funds to Gaza involving the United States, with a view to obtaining international recognition of the credibility of the transfer of funds.

According to Israeli authorities, the Qatari demand followed what they called Israel's “betrayal” of the Qataris. For two years, while Israel has been asking Qatar for financial support to Gaza, it claims that the funds are being used to support Hamas.

Qatar had introduced funds into Gaza with the collaboration of Israeli delegates, but when the security situation escalated and Operation Guardian of the Walls was carried out, some Israeli officials claimed that there was a mistake in Israel's approval of the transfer of funds. Accordingly, there was a call for a quartet meeting to be held by Israel, Qatar, the United States and the United Nations, to establish a new mechanism for bringing funds into the Gaza Strip "so that, in the event of another confrontation, no party would cast an allegation against Qatar. The Qataris, for their part, insist on the formation of this mechanism, but Israel has yet to say its word, but internal and external pressures are continuing to rebuild Gaza and help the population in the Strip emerge from the stifling economic crisis.

Reconstruction in Gaza -The Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, on 25th August 2015, destroyed in last summer's war in the coastal strip. (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the Israeli debate on dealing with the Gaza Strip continues to see disagreements even within the government coalition. The Minister of Public Security, Omer Bar-Lev, ignored the Qatari request about the new mechanism for transferring funds and declared that Israel wanted to distribute foreign aid to Gaza through a voucher system, “to ensure that the donations were not used to support the Hamas movement that runs the Strip and strengthen its military arsenal”.

Also, the Minister of Public Security spoke of the means proposed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for the transfer of funds so that "most of the (aid would be in the form of) food vouchers or vouchers for humanitarian assistance/aid, through the United Nations and not cash, that could be obtained for the development of weapons to be used against Israel," according to what was reported by the Minister of Public Security on behalf of Bennett.

As for Minister of Defense Benjamin Gantz, he set a condition for the reconstruction of Gaza and the provision of assistance/aid in returning the bodies of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin and civilians, Abra Mengitsu and Hisham al-Sayed.

In view of the proposals made by Omer Bar-Lev and Benjamin Gantz, which would impede the process of reconstructing Gaza and helping the residents, a different voice emerged from the security establishment. It warned against the continuation of the current situation in Gaza and called on The State Security Cabinet (SSC) to take immediate steps to alleviate the suffering of the Gaza Strip and not to link the reconstruction to the case of the Israeli prisoners held by Hamas, as Benjamin Gantz stipulated, emphasizing that solving the case of the bodies of the two missing soldiers will only take place through the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons.

This call came during the State Security Cabinet (SSC) meeting that discussed a comprehensive plan to deal with the Gaza Strip, without taking any decision, but an Israeli delegation will head to Cairo to complete the negotiations for the prisoners and the reconstruction of Gaza. In addition to the security establishment's call, political parties warned against taking immediate steps to reconstruct Gaza to prevent a new, unprecedented confrontation, as described.

Bennett, who remained silent after warnings that Israel will not take quick steps to improve the situation in Gaza, opted for a threatening tactic. During his participation, Wednesday evening, in a graduation ceremony for a new batch of National Security College students, he touched on Gaza by talking about Lebanon, on the 15th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. Bennett threatened, "The security threats around us are changing, and they are becoming more complex and less predictable. For our part, we are working against them whenever and when necessary. We will not allow any country and any terrorist organization to threaten Israel's security, its sovereignty and its citizens."

He continued his threats, ignoring all the research conducted by the various relevant Israeli institutions on dealing with Gaza and the need to maintain the calm and reconstruct it. He said: "We have all the means and capabilities to confront the enemy. We continue to follow up on all those who work against us and maintain vigilance and readiness to deal with all scenarios. This also applies to Gaza, as we operate a "carrot and stick" (reward and punishment) policy toward the Strip, and we will not allow any threat to us from there.”

Aftermath of Palestine Israel conflict - Palestinian workers collect the rubble of Al-Jalaa tower, levelled by an Israeli air strike during the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas, to recycle its rubble in Gaza City on July 13, 2021. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Gravity of The Situation in Gaza

The decision to close the crossings and prevent the transfer of aid to Gaza, since the end of the last military operation, has caused great damage in addition to what Operation Guardian of the Walls did. The infrastructure of the drinking water and sewage network has been destroyed, and so far maintenance work has not been carried out, especially for water desalination plants and sewage treatment facilities.

According to Palestinian reports, water consumption per capita in the Gaza Strip decreased from 80 liters per day (before Operation Guardian of the Walls) to 50 liters per day. They also noted that the minimum quantity per day recommended by the World Health Organization is 100 liters. The water quality has also been damaged, as the chlorine concentration has increased dramatically, causing health damage to citizens.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the correct level is 250 milligrams per liter, while the level in the Gaza Strip increased from 400-600 milligrams per liter before the military operation to 800-1,000 milligrams per liter now (the level of chlorine in water in Israel is 600 milligrams per liter).

Because of Israeli policy towards Gaza two months ago, the Gazans cannot solve the sewage problem, which, according to Palestinian reports, constitutes about fifty thousand liters per day. Part of the water is collected in shallow pools near residential neighborhoods, which seeps into the groundwater and some of it is discharged to the sea.

The demand and urgent need in Gaza is to increase the amount of desalinated sea water, as, due to the current situation, an excess of groundwater is withdrawn, which leads to seawater intrusion into the groundwater and consequently leads to the collapse of parts of the soil inward, which may pose a risk of flooding and collapse of residential buildings during the winter, and this is what the Palestinians fear and warn of.

As for drinking water, more than 95 per cent of the water in the Gaza Strip is not safe to drink, according to Palestinian reports. It is mixed with desalinated seawater, without going through a purification process, which is carried out in about 100 facilities. The current situation, after the military operation, led to the suspension of the operation of wells and desalination and refining plants, as there was a significant shortage of spare parts and materials for routine treatment of pipes, water, pumps, control panels, electricity, and others.

After the military operation, it was found that the concussive bombs dropped by Israeli Air Force aircraft had penetrated the ground and led to sand entering the water wells, and thus the towed water would be mixed with the sand.

As for electricity, owing to the closure of the crossing points and the denial of the transfer of funds and aid, two months ago, solar units were not purchased to run generators that run daily between 8-12 hours, a period during which electricity is not supplied to Gaza by Israel.

It is noted here, and according to Palestinian estimates, that the process of improving the situation requires a long time, despite the facilities announced by Israel, early last week. As the bidding process to purchase the required materials and obtain Israeli permission to bring them in is a long process, the Palestinians cannot make improvements to the water and wastewater infrastructure within a short period.

International Pressure Is Fruitful in The Return of Crossings

Two months ago, after the end of Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israel prevented financial aid from entering Gaza, where there are talk of 100,000 Gazan families needing this assistance. Israel also closed the crossings and completely banned fishing in the Gaza Sea, until it succumbed to international pressures and, at the beginning of the week, opened the crossings and expanded the fishing area in the Gaza Strip from nine to 12 nautical miles, as well as allowing the import of medical materials and the export of agricultural products. These steps, which were implemented after the new government's approval, are conditional on maintaining security stability, according to the Israeli army.

In light of the Israeli dispute over dealing with Gaza, and between threats of a new strike and warnings of the danger of continuing the status quo, some considered the situation on the brink of confrontation. Tal Lev-Ram, who held several positions during his military service in the army in command of military units as well as the position of spokesman for the Southern Command in the army, considered Gaza today to be a complex problem, and the Operation Guardian of the Walls is just a small sentence. He also believed that the possibilities of escalation are increasing, and the military establishment should prepare for that.

Tal Lev-Ram also added: “After the last military campaign, the army was asked to draw up new plans, and in the meantime, the targets in Gaza were being collected and updating of the combat systems, (in readiness for) the Southern Command announces its readiness for Class A, which is practically the highest level of the recent campaign and also includes plans for ground operations for maneuvering battalions.

According to Tal Lev-Ram, Israel has maneuvered all the time between preparing for war, attempts to reduce the build-up of Hamas' military forces and stabilizing the economic situation in the Gaza Strip through broad economic steps. Also, in the past year, major projects such as fish tanks on the shores of Gaza have been on the agenda and the rebuilding of the Karni Industrial area.

All of this has now stopped, and after the Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israel is directly putting forward new and old conditions for progress on these issues in resolving the issue of prisoners and missing persons, an issue that at this stage is not making any progress.

He also added: "As long as Israel insists on the conditions it set after 'The Guardian of the Walls', the possibility of escalation increases, but this is exactly the issue that must be prepared for in order to change the situation.".

In the context of the army's preparation for the possibility of an imminent escalation, the Southern Command sought to learn lessons from Operation Guardian of the Walls, and a report was presented to the Southern Command, Eliezer Toledano. The report focused on the issue of dealing with the issue of rockets in the possession of Hamas and the rest of the organizations in the Gaza Strip, which is an aspect that formed a weak point for the Israeli army in Operation Guardian of the Walls.

The report, which went over 200 pages, contained criticism of the army, but senior officials commented that in a short period of time "under intelligence and technological advances, the Israeli army will be in a much better place than in the Operation Guardian of the Walls," the official was quoted. The report also includes the issue of the activation of instruments of war in a limited battle in Gaza, and if the army acts properly.

Currently, a new operation is being planned, with the invasion of Gaza at its center. The question is what will prevail? Will it be the demand of  the American and international parties and that of some Israeli groups, for the need to maintain calm and the reconstruction of Gaza? Or will it be  the call for war  which will ignore the current situation in Gaza and the demand for the need to improve the situation?

In any event, the talks in Cairo between Israeli and Egyptian representatives will resolve the situation, at least in the months to come.

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