International development charity Oxfam has finally broken its silence about the failed “Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism” set up by the UN.
Its comments came in an emailed December situation update that says that three months since the ceasefire that ended Israel’s devastating summer assault, “and nearly two months since the international community pledged $5.4 billion in aid, reconstruction in Gaza has barely begun and the Israeli blockade remains firmly in place.”
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli attack in July and August.
With winter setting in, Oxfam says, “the situation is becoming increasingly urgent.”
The charity now says that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism “has had little or no positive impact on people’s lives so far.”
Oxfam notes that even if the mechanism “becomes fully functional, it will not be enough to meet the huge needs of people in Gaza.”
“Donors and the international community must not allow the [Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism] to be a substitute for an end to the blockade,” it adds.
Failure and complicity
As The Electronic Intifada revealed in October, the secret terms of the UN-backed mechanism include onerous controls of building supplies and intrusive monitoring of Palestinian families seeking to rebuild homes destroyed by Israel.
The mechanism gives Israeli occupation authorities access to Palestinian families’ personal information on UN databases, effectively turning the UN into the enforcer and partner of Israel’s Gaza siege.
The deal, brokered and championed by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, capitulated ultimate control of reconstruction to Israel while doing nothing for people in Gaza.
But major charities working in Gaza, including Oxfam, have remained conspicuously silent about UN complicity in the siege, refusing to comment on the mechanism even as anger rose among Palestinians at the fact that virtually no reconstruction is taking place.
The Palestinian Boycott National Committee has also demanded that the UN stop “rewarding” Israel by awarding Israeli firms that profiteer from occupation and illegal colonization lucrative contracts for aid and construction materials.
Drop in the ocean
Oxfam notes that around 100,000 people – more than half of them children – “are still displaced as their homes have been destroyed.”
Thousands of families live in the rubble of their homes, many of which are now damp and flooded due to heavy winter rains.
Meanwhile, vital infrastructure including schools, sanitation and health facilities are not being rebuilt.
Oxfam points out that the amount of building supplies that have entered Gaza in the three months since the ceasefire “is less than a third of the amount that entered Gaza in the three months immediately before the conflict – and just over four percent of what used to enter Gaza before the blockade,” which Israel imposed in 2007.
At the present rate, it would take 23 years to rebuild Gaza, Oxfam estimates.
Moreover, Israel’s ongoing blockade continues to force Palestinians in Gaza into aid dependency by preventing them from exporting the things they can still produce.
Oxfam can do more
While Oxfam’s criticism of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is possibly better than nothing, it comes buried deep inside an emailed briefing.
What remains unexplained is why Oxfam has failed to use its considerable profile to raise these concerns at a much higher international level, even though it was clear at least weeks ago that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism had utterly failed.
“It is deplorable that such little progress has been made given the enormous scale of needs and massive destruction,” Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam’s Middle East regional director, says in the emailed update. “People in Gaza are becoming increasingly and understandably frustrated at the lack of progress. The international community has repeatedly failed the people of Gaza,” Essoyan adds, “it must not fail them again.”
But Oxfam itself is not powerless and is not doing all it can. It is a large, well-funded campaigning organization. It could, if it chose to use its resources that way, do much more. It could rally the public in the UK, continental Europe and North America to pressure their governments to end their criminal complicity in Israel’s siege.
If governments fail to act, Oxfam could call for accountability by backing the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) – something it has so far adamantly refused to do.
As was revealed during the SodaStream/Scarlett Johansson debacle earlier this year, Oxfam is reluctant to be too critical of Israel because of the fundraising concerns and pressure exerted by its US affiliate Oxfam America.
While international officials are apparently too afraid of challenging Israel in public or calling out the complicity of the governments that support it, people in Gaza continue to suffer.
But if the “international community” is failing Gaza repeatedly, Oxfam should lead the charge by showing more courage and readiness to confront those responsible for and complicit in the catastrophe.
The 26 August ceasefire agreement came with the promise that it would quickly be followed by talks on a long-term truce between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups, to be brokered by Egypt’s rulers.
But these talks have not taken place and, Oxfam notes, “there is so far no indication if or when these will resume.”
Egypt seems more concerned with helping Israel to besiege Gaza. On the pretext of “threats” coming from Gaza, Egypt kept the Rafah crossing – the only connection to the outside world for the vast majority in Gaza – closed for almost all of November. This is “reportedly the longest period of full closure since 2008,” Oxfam says.
Prospects for such talks look grim: efforts at unity between the Palestinian resistance forces that fought Israel on the one hand, and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas and committed to working with the occupation on the other, are in predictable disarray.
Meanwhile, Israel is engaged in an election campaign in which the leading factions compete on who can be toughest and most racist against Palestinians.
On 12 December, Hamas staged a large military parade in Gaza, marking the group’s twenty-seventh anniversary. The display, which included a formidable array of weapons held by its military wing the Qassam Brigades, was likely intended as a message to Israel that the group is ready to fight again if left with no alternative.
Members of other resistance groups, including the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigrade, have staged similar rallies and public military displays in Gaza in recent days.
Without a long-term deal, Oxfam fears that the violent conflict will reoccur. Such fears are growing more widespread as Israel’s regular ceasefire violations and vindictive collective punishment of 1.8 million people caged in Gaza continue amid international complicity and silence.