Despite ceasefire, the number of displaced in Gaza is rising again

Palestinians return to their damaged home in Absan near the boundary with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, 2 September.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

The number of displaced Palestinians in Gaza is rising again despite the fact that the 26 August ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian resistance is holding.

Meanwhile, the scale of the destruction to Gaza’s infrastructure and economy caused by 51 days of Israeli bombing is becoming starker.

The death toll stands at 2,168 people, of whom 521 are children, according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights which carefully verifies deaths.

And despite the ceasefire, Palestinians continue to die. Mariam Abu Amra, 23, was the latest to succumb in a Jerusalem hospital today from wounds she sustained during the Israeli attack in Deir al-Balah in Gaza, Ma’an News Agency reported.

People going back to UN shelters

“Following the ceasefire there was a steep decline in the number of internally displaced persons,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) reported today, “but figures have gradually risen again in UNRWA shelters, and an estimated 110,000 are still displaced, including with host families.”

UN OCHA said that the number of displaced persons in UN shelters fell dramatically from 289,000 to 53,000 between 26 and 27 August.

But as of 2 September, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said that 58,217 Palestinians were sheltering in its schools – a total that remains “higher than the number of displaced sheltered during the peak of the hostilities from 27 December 2008 to 19 January 2009” – Israel’s previous major military assault on Gaza.

UN OCHA said that unexploded bombs and ammunition remain “a major protection concern and pose a risk to those returning to their homes and involved in repair and reconstruction activities.”

No power, no water

Other severe problems are the lack of water and power.

The only power plant in Gaza “remains inoperable following an Israeli airstrike on 29 July and despite extensive repairs, electricity outages of 18 hours a day continue in most areas across Gaza,” UN OCHA reported.

With “extensive damage to the water and wastewater system, 20 to 30 percent of households, or 450,000 people, remain unable to access municipal water due to damage and/or low pressure,” the agency added.

Last week, The Electronic Intifada’s Joe Catron reported on the dire situation of families still living in temporary shelter due to the massive destruction.

In total, 15,670 housing units were damaged, including 2,276 completely destroyed, and up to 500,000 Palestinians were displaced during the peak of Israel’s onslaught.

An estimated 108,000 Palestinians will need long-term solutions because their homes were too severely damaged to inhabit or were destroyed altogether.

“Unprecedented” destruction

“The scale of damage” observed by UN OCHA “is unprecedented since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. All governorates in Gaza witnessed extensive aerial bombardment, naval shelling and artillery fire, resulting in the widespread loss of life and livelihoods.”

A Palestinian barber works at his damaged shop in Absan, near the boundary with Israel, east of the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, 2 September.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

The cost of the damage totals almost eight billion dollars, according to the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, a body belonging to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

What is now coming into to focus is the long-term damage to the economy, especially as Israel has still not eased its siege. OCHA states:

The majority of the Gaza population has lost its productive assets. According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 128 completely destroyed. With limited activity at the commercial crossings and extensive damage to private infrastructure and other productive assets, business activities were largely paralyzed during the operation. Hostilities forced farmers and herders to abandon their lands, and resulted in substantial direct damage to Gaza’s 17,000 hectares of croplands as well as much of its agricultural infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, fodder stocks and fishing boats.

These losses come on top of an already fragile economy in which two-thirds of Gaza’s almost 1.8 million residents were receiving food assistance prior to the Israeli attack.

Unemployment had increased dramatically since mid-2013, as the Israeli-allied Egyptian military regime shut down lifeline tunnels that helped Palestinians evade the worst economic effects of the Israeli siege.

UN OCHA states that unemployment in Gaza hit 45 percent overall earlier this year and 70 percent among people aged 20-24.

The Israeli assault has already made the situation worse: the number of unemployed laborers shot up from 170,000 before the attack to over 200,000 now, according to Sami al-Amsi, head of the Palestinian Labor Union.

Whether or not the calamitous situation improves depends on whether Israel makes good on its ceasefire commitments.

Palestinians fish at sunset at the seaport in Gaza City, 3 September.

Ashraf Amra APA images

A “sustained opening of crossings” linking Gaza to the world, via Egypt and Israel, “is vital, alongside the removal of restrictions on the entry of materials for rehabilitation and reconstruction,” UN OCHA said.

Egypt said today that an Israeli delegation was expected in Cairo within a week to continue indirect negotiations with Hamas and other Palestinian resistance factions over the terms of a long-term truce.




On the July-August 2014 invasion and bombing of Gaza:

"It’s a hideous atrocity, sadistic, vicious, murderous, totally without any credible pretext. It’s another one of the periodic Israeli exercises in what they delicately call "mowing the lawn." That means shooting fish in the pond, to make sure that the animals stay quiet in the cage that you’ve constructed for them, after which you go to a period of what’s called "ceasefire," which means that Hamas observes the ceasefire, as Israel concedes, while Israel continues to violate it. Then it’s broken by an Israeli escalation, Hamas reaction. Then you have period of "mowing the lawn." This one is, in many ways, more sadistic and vicious even than the earlier ones."

Noam Chomsky
Democracy Now, August 7 2014