A new study of Gaza’s reconstruction needs, published by the UN, EU and World Bank, demonstrates anew the harmful role played by these institutions in Palestine.
The authors of the “rapid damage and needs assessment,” as the UN, EU and World Bank call their study, go to great lengths to minimize Israeli responsibility for the dire situation in Gaza, exacerbated by the latest episode of bombardment in May.
They use the passive voice throughout in an apparent bid to downplay Israel’s direct role in the destruction, for which reconstruction will cost some $345-485 million and take two years to complete.
That is assuming Israel won’t obstruct it at every turn.
Israeli leaders have sought to condition reconstruction on the return of Israelis held in Gaza. Rebuilding took place at a snail’s pace after the last war. So there is every reason to believe that it will delay and hinder rebuilding once again.
The authors of the “rapid assessment” state that “the May 2021 conflict caused damage” to Gaza’s roads as if this were some unfortunate Act of God rather than the result of missiles deliberately fired by the Israeli military at civilian infrastructure.
In one such attack, an Israeli strike made a giant crater in one of the main roads leading to al-Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest medical facility, blocking the movement of ambulances.
Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, said that the attack on the main roads leading to al-Shifa “amounts to making the hospital the object of the attack.”
Israel killed more than 40 Palestinians in that series of strikes on Gaza City’s al-Wihda street.
But these specifics are omitted from the “rapid assessment,” which describes Palestinian needs in detail but treats Israel’s responsibility in abstraction, if at all.
Israel’s siege and its deleterious effects on every aspect of life in Gaza are impossible to ignore, even for the UN, EU and World Bank.
But these international institutions legitimize Israel’s siege on Gaza by stating that it was imposed “due to security concerns.” Yet, the study’s authors don’t attribute this as a claim made by the Israeli government and instead – shockingly – present it as a given.
This shamefully whitewashes a plainly cruel and immoral siege that the International Committee of the Red Cross has affirmed amounts to collective punishment “imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law” – i.e., a war crime.
As Al Mezan, a human rights group based in Gaza, writes, Israel’s closure regime “cannot be justified under any circumstances.” Israel’s policies in Gaza may “amount to the crimes against humanity of persecution and other inhumane acts.”
By accepting the premise that “security concerns justify the siege,” the UN, EU and World Bank demonstrate an eagerness to sanctify Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinians living under its settler-colonial rule.
The true purpose of the siege on Gaza is not to protect Israel’s security. Instead, it is to secure regime change by bringing Gaza’s economy to its knees to weaken Hamas, the faction with an armed wing that has governed the territory’s internal affairs since 2007.
Israel long ago admitted that the siege on Gaza is “economic warfare.”
After all, it is hard to see how counting the calories that Israel allows into Gaza could reasonably be considered a security measure.
Decades of Israeli closure
Gaza has been under some degree of Israeli closure for the past half-century – decades before Hamas came onto the scene.
Israel has long isolated Gaza, rendering the territory “a segregated, debilitated and subjugated colony,” as Ron Smith observed in 2019.
“Israel manufactures humanitarian crises through its siege to create permanent isolation and deprivation, which is supported by the international community through its political inaction and its supplying of humanitarian aid in spite of the Israeli government’s legal obligations,” according to Smith.
Israel does this because most of the two million Palestinians in Gaza are refugees with claims to return to their lands in what is now called Israel – claims supported by international law.
As Smith writes, that is an untenable prospect for “a settler-colonial state premised on ethnic purity.”
But why would the UN, EU and World Bank back the “security concerns” excuse for a policy that has plunged Gaza’s population of two million into “profound levels of poverty, aid dependency, food insecurity and unemployment,” as described by Al Mezan?
Because they share the same regime change goal as Israel, as is made clear in the “rapid assessment” report.
These international institutions that have crowned themselves in charge of rebuilding Gaza want to see the restoration of Palestinian Authority rule in the territory, as well as “internal Palestinian reconciliation” and a “democratically elected Palestinian Authority.”
Palestinians in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem, where Israel forbids any PA presence) and Gaza have not had a general vote since the 2006 legislative elections. Hamas emerged as the surprise victor.
Israel and its allies, principally the US, spared no effort in undermining the new Hamas-led PA government to restore power exclusively to Mahmoud Abbas, the West Bank-based PA president whose Fatah party lost the election.
When Hamas routed US-backed militias from Gaza in 2007, allowing it to take up the reins of government, its administration was deemed illegitimate because of its refusal “to recognize the Middle East Quartet’s (EU, Russian Federation, UN and US) demands to accept all previous agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence.”
These parties have made no such demands on Israel, whose war criminal and genocide-advocating leaders are warmly congratulated and welcomed by UN and EU officials.
But human rights isn’t their priority.
The key difference between the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas leadership in Gaza is that the former views security coordination with Israel as “sacred” and the latter insists on Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli occupation and colonization of their land.
The PA in the West Bank, it should be noted, was recently chastized by the UN’s human rights chief for violently cracking down on protests following the death of Nizar Banat, a prominent critic, after being beaten in PA custody.
Palestinians were due to have an election in May, but the vote was postponed under a decree issued by Abbas, who cited Israeli restrictions on Palestinian voting in Jerusalem. But that was widely viewed as an excuse to avoid Fatah losing once again to Hamas.
The UN, EU and World Bank want Palestinians to capitulate to Israel and surrender to its rule.
They call for a democratically elected Palestinian Authority “in charge of all essential government functions across the Palestinian territory.”
They got that in 2006, but Palestinians made the mistake of electing the wrong government in the view of these international institutions.
If Palestinians were to hold elections today, the UN, EU and World Bank would likely not be pleased with the results, given the widespread approval of Hamas and unpopularity of Abbas’ Fatah party following the May escalation.
In their study, the UN, EU and World Bank point to “the lack of an internationally recognized government in Gaza for over a decade” as one of several “structural factors” constraining the Palestinian economy.
They fail to acknowledge their own contribution to this “structural factor” by refusing to recognize the Hamas government in Gaza, which they seek to sideline in the reconstruction process.
Meanwhile, Israel has tightened its siege following the May offensive.
Rather than unequivocally calling on Israel to lift restrictions, the UN, EU and World Bank seek international efforts to “support, reform and strengthen the mechanism to facilitate and accelerate the import of sensitive goods and materials” needed to rebuild “Gaza’s economic infrastructure and business sector.”
It’s a somewhat oblique reference to the scandalous UN-enforced Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, devised after the 2014 offensive, allowing Israel to exercise total control over what building materials are allowed into the territory.
In other words, the UN, EU and World Bank want to “support, reform and strengthen” Israeli restrictions on the Palestinian economy, particularly in Gaza, rather than do away with them altogether.
These institutions are meanwhile promoting a “Building Back Better” approach, ensuring that “recovery and reconstruction efforts factor in resilience and sustainability” and “reduce Gaza’s vulnerabilities.”
But for that to actually happen, Palestinians need to be free of Israel’s colonial domination and the agenda of the international institutions that support it.
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.