News coverage shows the chaos currently engulfing the Gaza Strip. The Israeli bombardment has so far destroyed 50 factories that previously produced food, textiles, and other goods according to the Vice President of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, Ali Al-Hayek. In addition to the poor economic effects of these attacks, citizen’s homes have also been destroyed. During July’s fighting alone, at least 2,655 homes have been extremely or entirely damaged. Inevitably, Gaza will have to undergo massive reconstruction once the conflict resides, however there are major problems associated with cost and trade that could prevent it from doing so.
Budget is a major issue for the reconstruction of the Gaza strip. The projected cost of just rebuilding homes alone is about $800 million, which accounts for Gaza’s entire annual budget. Damage done to public buildings and infrastructure cannot yet be calculated, but with the lack of foreign aid being provided following past wars, Palestine is growing concerned. The United Arab Emirates recently pledged to provide $40.8 million through its authority Emirates Red Crescent for reconstructing homes, but this hardly covers the bill, which could potentially grow.
Additionally, Israeli trade embargos on cement imports have prevented construction of homes, schools, and other buildings in the past. Until 2007, the construction industry accounted for 28% of Gaza’s GDP. Hamas, a Palestinian political organization, took over Gaza in this year, causing Israel to enact a trade embargo. Only those items deemed “humanitarian” were able to be exported from Israel to Palestine. The embargo was eased slightly in 2010 and 2012 by allowing cement imports earmarked for construction products funded internationally. Even so, the shortage of cement has been noted by the Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.
Gaza lost a main source of cement when the President of Egypt, Mohamed Mursi, was driven out of office by the Egyptian military in 2013. As a leader, Mursi was highly sympathetic towards Hamas, allowing large quantities of cement to be imported to Gaza. The Egyptian military also destroyed numerous smuggling tunnels between the two countries, disallowing trade to occur.
With a shortage of 75,000 housing units prior to the current conflict, it is evident that increased imports of construction supplies will need to be received. However, Israel is hesitant to provide cement due to past events. A large portion of the cement that actually reached Gaza was used toward building “underground lairs” and attack tunnels rather than homes and buildings. Israel in particular worries that if cement imports resume, Hamas may smuggle from the enclave to rebuild its underground military infrastructure which could potentially fuel another conflict.
These attack tunnels have been used in the past by Hamas for raids and kidnappings in Israel. Citizens are extremely concerned due to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reports of handcuffs and tranquilizers being found in some tunnels. Should the conflict reside and Israel be willing to export cement, the IDF will have to work to prevent reconstruction of attack tunnels. Although monitoring the ground in Gaza would possibly stop Hamas from reconstruction tunnels, Israeli soldiers could be exposed to danger. The military presence in Gaza could also anger its citizens. Detection technology, such as electromagnetic and thermal energy mapping to determine underground terrain has also been proposed.