Gaza Rising from the Ashes – A proposal for the Gaza Strip

The importance of planning, and not getting the cart before the horse.

The importance of planning, and not getting the cart before the horse.

==DRAFT==DRAFT==DRAFT==

(I would appreciate feedback on my draft.)

When the bombing stops and the dust settles, how will the Gaza Strip recover?

After previous Israeli bombardments (particularly 12/08 – 01/09 and again in 11/12) donor nations came forward to help, sending money and technical expertise. By most accounts, the level of destruction in Gaza this year far surpasses the destruction from previous Israeli assaults.[1]

The destruction is cumulative. Gaza never fully recovered from the previous assaults. Omar Shaban notes that before the current battle began, “500 families were still waiting for the rebuilding of their demolished homes and much of the significant damage to infrastructure and water wells had not been repaired. The 2008-2009 war alone is estimated to have caused around $1.7 billion worth of material damage to farms, factories, public facilities, government buildings, roads, electricity and water grids, sewage systems, and phone networks.”[2] In addition, Shaban acknowledges that there has never been a clear accounting of how donor funds were spent in previous rebuilding efforts. Shaban wisely counsels against making the same mistakes. His report should be required reading for all agencies, NGOs and others interested in helping Gaza rebuild.[3]

The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been struggling under Israel’s oppressive economic, political, and cultural siege for 7 years.[4] Movement in and out of Gaza has virtually ceased for most Palestinians and others wishing to visit. The buffer zones imposed by Israel have severely curtailed agricultural production and fishing.[5] Although the natural gas reserves off the coast of Gaza rightfully belong to Palestine, and could add considerable wealth to this impoverished coastal enclave, it is unlikely Israel will cooperate and permit their extraction.[6]

The Status Quo is Unsustainable

In August 2012, the United Nations made an alarming prediction in this UNRWA report. The Gaza Strip will likely be unlivable by 2020.[7] The report says that the population will increase to 2.1 million people in 2020, resulting in a density of more than 5,800 people/sq.km, perhaps the most crowded place on the planet. The infrastructure necessary for electricity, water and sanitation, municipal and social services is not keeping pace with the growing needs.[8]

Israel’s illegal military occupation and siege on the Gaza Strip must end. In the report of the Special Rapporteur issued January 2014, Richard Falk joined a chorus of other international leaders, countries and members of civil society demanding that Israel end its illegal military occupation of the Palestinian Territories and lift the economic, political and cultural siege on the Gaza Strip. Without addressing these two core challenges, (the occupation and the siege) any rebuilding effort will merely serve to prop up the status quo which is unsustainable and will fail.[9] Whether the occupation and siege end via diplomatic channels, legal channels, or other means, all parties investing their time, treasure and expertise in rebuilding the Gaza Strip, must likewise invest in ending the occupation and siege.

If past efforts at reconstruction and rebuilding guide future efforts, mistakes will certainly be repeated. There is no margin of error available to the people in Gaza. Health emergencies will claim lives even after the bombing ends. A shattered economy will not recover under the old paradigm marked by an unhealthy dependence on the dictates from international donors and Israel. The “process” of rebuilding will be as important as the number of homes, schools, hospitals and other public facilities that are actually constructed.

Don’t Repeat Past Mistakes

The following recommendations are drawn from my personal observations and discussions with Palestinians I met in Gaza (2012-2013) and from Omar Shabban’s excellent al-shabaka policy brief released August 2014.[10]

Mistake #1

Outsiders dictate the terms of the rebuilding efforts without consulting with Palestinian experts and professionals on the ground in Gaza.

Local elected officials in various communities in the Gaza Strip told me they understood the importance of preparing community plans for the future but their planning documents were rarely implemented because donors dictate what projects are built, as well as where and when the projects are built. The donors’ agenda govern and the local community is not empowered to take responsibility for planning its own future. This dynamic must change. The new unity government of Palestine must seize the initiative to lead the rebuilding efforts in the Gaza Strip.

Mistake #2

Rebuilding efforts provide employment for NGOs and outside donor organizations while many Palestinians remain unemployed.

The Gaza Chamber of Commerce estimates that approximately 500 businesses have been destroyed since this current fighting began in early July.[11] Clearly, Israel does not want Gaza to be economically stable or independent. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Gaza before the fighting began was 40.8% and must certainly be higher now.[12] Immediate and future rebuilding efforts must draw upon the local talent in Gaza in at least two important ways: (1) as a full employment act for every Palestinian currently unemployed and (2) as an opportunity to learn new skills which will be marketable after the rebuilding effort is completed.

Mistake #3

There may be superficial coordination between sectors, but no comprehensive plan has been prepared which guides all sectors.

I don’t believe there is a single, overarching comprehensive plan to guide the future rebuilding efforts. In fact, there might not be any plans above the project-by-project (school-by-school, hospital-by-hospital) plan. When I was in Gaza (2012-2013) I tried, but failed, to find an official plan which coordinated land use, transportation, utilities etc. Several university students prepared a schematic for a future economic development zone between Rafah and Egypt, and university professors are teaching about sustainable growth and development, but there’s no evidence that any of these lessons have been put into practice. This rebuilding campaign should engage the local talent and expertise to prepare a comprehensive plan for the Gaza Strip.

Mistake #4

There is no accounting of how donor funds have been spent, and no reliable measurement to determine whether past rebuilding efforts have been successful.

This particular mistake is perhaps symptomatic of the silo-thinking that has plagued rebuilding efforts in the past. If donors are contributing project-by-project rather than into a single entity charged with responsibility for the distribution of all funds, then the review and accountability may be circumscribed and very difficult to track. Unlike past efforts, the new Palestinian unity government should designate or create a single entity empowered to accept donor funds, make distributions in an open and transparent manner, and maintain accurate records.

Mistake #5

The general population is not included in any meaningful way in setting goals and implementing the plan. A superficial nod to public participation but there is no meaningful buy-in or support.

Obviously, the future of Gaza belongs to the Palestinians and they should be empowered to engage in the rebuilding activities. This public engagement process might also address in some tangible ways the serious PTSD and other psychological trauma that the vast majority of Palestinians have experienced as a result of the fighting.

Mistake #6

There is a lack of transparency, accountability and coordination.

Related to the other mistakes listed above, but this mistake deserves to be highlighted because it is so pervasive in a silo-dominated rebuilding campaign. The silos represent the fragmented decision-making and are built unintentionally by the donors and others involved in past rebuilding efforts.  Silos represent disconnects. There are horizontal silos between the different sectors (building, energy, transportation, food, economy, environment, health, education, public involvement and legal); and there are vertical silos between different layers of bureaucracy, the government, international donors and NGOs, and the private sector).  The most effective way to break down these silos is for the new unity government to empower a coordinating committee from among the different sectors to meet regularly and to make decisions together in an open and transparent fashion.

Mistake #7

Don’t just repair what’s broken.

While triage efforts must focus on the immediate needs of restoring electricity, repairing water and wastewater lines, providing emergency shelter, and securing medical attention for the thousands of wounded and injured, there should simultaneously be efforts made to envision a new future, and to think outside of the box. For example, should all of the transportation corridors be rebuilt as they existed before Israel’s assault this summer, or should there be an alternative, public rail line that loops around the Gaza Strip? This might reduce pollution and accidents, increase mobility for Palestinians,[13] and provide a cheaper and more reliable transport system for the growing population. Should the Palestinians remain dependent on Israel and other outside sources for their energy supplies, or develop solar energy alternatives that might help reduce their vulnerability and energy dependency, and reduce CO2 emissions at the same time? Should the massive rebuilding of homes, schools, hospitals and other public buildings follow the previous design models or are there “green” alternatives, such as the UNRWA green school designed by an Italian architect?[14]

General Principles to Guide Reconstruction Efforts in Gaza:

  • Address the challenges of the occupation, the siege, the recent destruction and future impacts of climate change through coordinated actions. Connect the dots and avoid the silos.
  • Create a full employment program for all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip which includes teaching new skills for a new economy.
  • Ensure open and transparent planning and decision-making. This is an opportunity for the new unity government to flex its muscle and demonstrate to the world that it works for all Palestinians.
  • Think holistically and comprehensively across all sectors and the entire region.
  • Build independence and redundancy into every sector.
  • Document the destruction with photographs and eye-witness accounts (obtain satellite photos). This documentation will be necessary for future war crimes litigation, as well as to establish the baseline for reconstruction efforts.
  •  Create teams of local specialists in the following sectors: building, energy, transportation, food, economy, environment, health, education, public involvement and legal. Ten teams of 3-5 people each. The teams will work together and independently, meeting regularly to formulate a comprehensive plan for reconstruction, and to guide the implementation of the plan. All meetings should be open to the public.
  • The actions and contributions of all foreign and domestic NGOs, donor organizations and foreign governments should be channeled through a central clearinghouse in Gaza to ensure that their actions and contributions are consistent with the comprehensive plan.

[1]  See, Weekly Updates prepared by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, available at http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/ (last visited August 21, 2014).  See also the reports from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, available online at http://www.ochaopt.org/ (last viewed August 21, 2014)

[2]   Shaban, Omar, Honor the Victims: Avoid Past Mistakes in Reconstructing Gaza, al-shabaka policy brief, August 2014. Available online http://al-shabaka.org/sites/default/files/Shaban_PolicyBrief_En_Aug_2014.pdf (last visited August 21, 2014)

[3]   Id.

[4]  Gaza Under Siege, American Friends Service Committee. Available online at https://afsc.org/resource/gaza-under-siege (last visited August 21, 2014). This resource has many links to additional resources about the impacts of the siege and blockade of Gaza.

[5]  Farming Without Land, Fishing Without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive, OCHA, May 2010. Available online at http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/9A265F2A909E9A1D8525772E004FC34B (last visited August 21, 2014.

[6]  Jamieson, Alastair, Why Gaza Isn’t Likely To Benefit from Gas Boom Anytime Soon. NBCNews, August 16, 2014, available online at http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/middle-east-unrest/why-gaza-isnt-likely-benefit-gas-boom-anytime-soon-n178621 (last visited August 21, 2014). “The U.S. Geological Survey believes that as much as 120 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could exist under the Levant basin – enough to turn the countries along its coastline, from Turkey through to Egypt, into net gas exporters.”

[7]  Gaza in 2020: A Liveable Place? UNRWA report available online at  http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/press-releases/gaza-2020-liveable-place (last visited August 21, 2014)

[8]  Id.

[9]  Falk, Richard. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk. January 2014, Available online at http://www.globalresearch.ca/un-report-on-palestine-military-occupation-apartheid-torture-israeli-violations-are-deliberate-organised-and-institutionalised/5372212 (last visited August 21, 2014).

 

[10]  Shaban, Omar, Honor the Victims: Avoid Past Mistakes in Reconstructing Gaza, al-shabaka policy brief, August 2014. Available online http://al-shabaka.org/sites/default/files/Shaban_PolicyBrief_En_Aug_2014.pdf (last visited August 21, 2014)

 

[11] VIDEO available at http://www.boston.com/news/world/middle-east/2014/08/16/gaza-war-destroys-business-sector-unemployment-rises/VkLm6TuaGvDAv2mt8dPG9M/video.html (last visited August 21, 2014).

[12]  Unemployment in Gaza: highest since 2009, report prepared by GISHA available online at http://gisha.org/updates/2901 (last visited on August 21, 2014).

[13]   Some Palestinians in the north told me they had never been to Rafah, and vice versa.

[14]   Going Green In Gaza, available online at http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/file/publications/unrwa_mca_flyer.pdf (last visited August 21, 2014)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Gaza Rising from the Ashes – A proposal for the Gaza Strip

  1. Pingback: Gaza Rising from the Ashes A proposal for the Gaza Strip | الحرب الطائفية في المملكة

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