A bloody round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian movements in Gaza, the fiercest since 2014, ended in a cease-fire on Friday after 11 days of exchanging rockets and missiles paralyzed life for both sides and killed 253 Palestinians in the Strip and 13 people in Israel including three foreign workers, according to officials.
Egyptian and American officials have been traveling between Gaza, Jerusalem and Ramallah in an effort to shore up the precarious cease-fire. If ongoing regional and international mediation efforts fail, violence could flare up at any moment.
Palestinian factions have warned the Egyptian mediators that they would not honor the cease-fire if Israel resumed its “provocative acts,” especially regarding Jerusalem.
For Gaza, this was the toughest round of warfare yet, because Israel targeted the Strip’s most vital centers − infrastructure, health institutions and residential buildings − saying they housed elements of the Hamas military infrastructure.
Salah Abdel Atty, head of the International Commission to Support Palestinian Rights, accused Israel of committing outright war crimes.
“There is no justification for the Israeli targeting of civilians and their homes. Even assuming that one of those houses was used by any political party, it’s absolutely not an excuse to target other civilians, because this constitutes a collective punishment that is prohibited by international law and humanitarian international law, and it’s a war crime that requires accountability and prosecution,” Abdel Atty told The Media Line.
Due to the scale of the destruction hitting all aspects of life in Gaza, the process of assessing the damage is ongoing.
“The tireless efforts of the damage assessment committees continue till this moment, in order to identify the full dimensions of all the damage caused by the recent escalation in the Gaza Strip,” Yahya al-Sarraj, the mayor of Gaza City, told The Media Line.
Sarraj added, “Preliminary statistics from the United Nations show that more than 50% of the water lines, 17,000 residential units, and large parts of the Strip’s infrastructure, including sewage, power and communication networks, have been completely destroyed.”
Given the fragile capacities of Gaza’s municipalities, which operate with worn-out equipment and limited manpower, the need for communal intervention has become evident.
That is why the Gaza City municipality has launched an initiative called “We Will Rebuild It,” with the participation of many parties, including Palestinian factions, civil organizations, youth and families, in order to help clear the city of the rubble and debris.
Yahya Aljamal, a media activist, came with his wife and children to help municipal workers clean al-Wehda Street from the rubble of Al-Jawhara tower.
He considers the initiative a sign of unity for all Palestinians, saying: “I came here with my family to help our people and clean the affected areas. I’ve seen people from different political backgrounds, different ages and different professions sweeping, removing the rubble, and helping each other without distinctions or divisions. I’m happy to see this after everything that happened.”
Another volunteer, Maryam al-Fayoumi, 21, was one of the many young women and girls sweeping away the shattered glass. “We are trying to help municipal workers do the work as quickly as possible so that cars and people can move freely,” she told The Media Line.
She had seen four wars in the Gaza Strip, “yet none of them was directly targeting Hamas as they [the Israelis] claim. The majority of the victims were children, women and homes. This is a sheer and ongoing violation of human rights.
“I’ve been engaged for two years and I still can’t go to my fiancé [in the West Bank] due to the Israeli restrictions of our movement. I hope that we’re now closer to the point where the world is opening its eyes to see us and stand with our just cause,” Fayoumi said.
Ameera al-Natour is another young woman who joined the volunteers. Although she seemed exhausted, she was full of optimism and positivity.
She shared her enthusiasm with The Media Line, saying: “By participating in this amazing initiative, we proved that we can all stand together against the bitter reality imposed by the occupation. We’ll rebuild things better despite all barriers.”
Natour hailed the regional and international solidarity with the Palestinians, saying, “This time was different, people from all countries around the world were protesting for us. You have no idea how much this meant to us. We felt, for the first time, seen and heard.”
Initiatives have also been launched on the regional and international levels to bring relief to the afflicted coastal enclave.
On Tuesday, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi announced an “Egyptian initiative” to reconstruct the Gaza Strip, with $500 million in funding. Egyptian infrastructure and contracting companies will participate in reconstruction operations in Gaza, but no details regarding the timing or mechanisms of the operations were given so far.
Still, the reconstruction will require open border crossings.
Sarraj said: “The Gaza Strip is in urgent need of importing basic construction materials to start the reconstruction process. Therefore we demand that the Israeli blockade imposed for more than 15 years be lifted permanently and without conditions or restrictions as soon as possible.”
However, there is no sign that such a change is on the Israeli agenda.
Bassem Ghaban, director of the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, stated on Monday: “Today, the Israeli occupation allowed the entry of medicines and medical supplies to the Strip, while refusing to let in [humanitarian] aid, commercial goods and animal fodder.”
This and other measures seem to signal a change in Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip using the reconstruction card.
An Israeli security source said on Monday, according to the Israeli news site Walla, “At this stage, it was decided to close the crossings. Any requests to transfer through Kerem Shalom food, the bodies of Palestinians who died in Israeli hospitals and civilians who want to return to Gaza were rejected outright.”
Israel is conditioning enabling the reconstruction efforts in Gaza on the return of two mentally ill Israelis and the bodies of two soldiers that have been held in the Gaza Strip for years. Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed entered the Strip, of their own accord, in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and have not been seen since. They are thought to be held captive by Hamas. The bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul have been held by Hamas since the 2014 war.
“Defense Minister Benny Gantz addressed the issue this evening and said that anything that is not defined as basic humanitarian aid will be conditional on progress in negotiations for the return of prisoners and missing persons,” Walla reported on Sunday.
However, Tzur Goldin, Hadar Goldin’s brother, tweeted on Sunday: “The head of the National Security Council has now instructed the Cairo negotiating delegation to discuss the return of the boys at the bottom of the list of priorities.”