Thirty days after the start of Operation Protective Edge on June 8, a three-day cease-fire was announced, and renewed again on Aug. 11. However, the end of the war will reveal a reality that may be harsher than the war itself. The Gaza Strip, a small densely populated area, is perhaps the only place in the world that suffered three devastating wars requiring extensive reconstruction three times in seven years.
Although the assessment of the losses has yet to begin because of the continuing military operations, initial statistics issued by international and governmental institutions are shocking. These figures are expected to double with the start of the assessment of the losses in the field. According to statistics from the Ministry of Public Works in Gaza, 7,000 housing units have been destroyed and 30,000 units have been damaged, about 5,000 of which will no longer be inhabitable. This is in addition to the destruction of roads, water and electricity systems, household items, identification papers, photos and certificates, as well as dozens of factories, mosques, schools, health clinics, hospitals and sewage plants.
Moreover, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refuges) statistics indicate that the Israeli military operation forced 400,000 Gazans to leave their homes, including 250,000 who took refuge in 18 UNRWA schools, and that 150,000 citizens are now living in public parks, hospitals, churches and on the street. This third war took place in light of the continuous Israeli blockade that was imposed in June 2007 and following the Egyptian campaign to destroy the tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, which used to be an important source of goods and revenues. Losses were estimated just two weeks after the start of this latest Israeli war at $3 billion, according to a statement by Deputy Prime Minister of Economic Affairs Mohammad Mustafa, while the Palestinian unity government estimated these losses at $5 billion.
The reconstruction process will face numerous dilemmas, such as prioritizing relevant interventions and providing necessary funding. An estimated 12,000 displaced families will not be able to return to their homes and will be forced to stay in schools, which implies that classes will not start for at least another year. This will turn the entire Gaza Strip into a massive refugee camp with tens of thousands of tents occupying vast areas of agricultural lands.
It's also worth mentioning the spread of millions of tons of waste, causing an environmental and health disaster. Another problem is related to the power outages because of the suspension of the only power plant in Gaza after the fuel storage tanks were destroyed. Repairing these tanks will require an estimated year's work, while ready-to-use tanks cannot be imported given their huge size.
The current available electricity does not exceed 10% of the needs of the Gaza Strip. Electricity is provided by two sources: Egypt supplies 30 megawatts and the Israeli power grid provides 40 megawatts instead of 120 megawatts because of the suspension of seven power lines out of the existing 10 lines. It's imperative to provide alternative power sources as soon as possible to accelerate the pace of reconstruction. Available alternatives include repairing the Israeli defected power grid lines, increasing the purchased quantity and/or leasing a floating power plant off the Gaza coast.
On the social level, numerous problems are likely to appear eventually, if not immediately. The displaced will be unable to recognize their destroyed or damaged homes given the lack of maps showing the property boundaries for each home and the loss of supporting documents.
Moreover, problems such as health, psychological and social issues will emerge as a result of the living conditions in overcrowded schools and lack of privacy for each family, besides an insufficient level of available health and psychological services. The social services system will experience extra pressure because of thousands of children newly orphaned and tens of thousands of injured, most of them with a disability.
Gaza's reconstruction process and its political context will represent a major challenge for the Palestinian political system and a practical test of its ability to meet the people's expectations and needs. This process is expected to lead to intense competition between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), not only over donor funds but also the use of money for reaping political gains and improving their position within the circles of the Palestinian street.
The reconstruction process will also entail competition between international and official institutions on mutual coordination efforts and which party is authorized to receive the funds.
Moreover, the polarization in the region between Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will extend to the reconstruction process as was the case in the cease-fire negotiations. This competition will be governed and influenced by the outcome of the truce negotiations: Will the Israeli blockade be lifted? Will this happen gradually, or immediately in its entirety? Will raw materials be allowed to enter from Egypt or Israel, or both?
The delay in facing the repercussions of the war by both parties of the political system — the PA and Hamas — will directly confront them with the tens of thousands affected by the war; those who have lost their homes and family members and cannot afford a delay in assistance. The Palestinian political system faces a historical turning point; either to consecrate the fragile unity or endure an endless state of separation.