Here Are The Two Things Gaza Needs Right Now

by
Sameera Ehteram
The destructive conflict between Gaza and Israel that lasted for 50 days ended more than a month ago. Sadly, the world seems to have forgotten those who are still suffering because of the conflict.

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With modern news cycles, constant updates and information exchange, it is easy to overlook issues that are no longer in the limelight. When the fighting in Gaza dominated news headlines, the world forgot about conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

When the Israel-Gaza conflict ended in a much sought-after cease fire more than a month ago, the world sighed in relief. However, soon after the momentary reprieve came a memory blind spot that pushed the issue down low on our collective priority lists; that vacuum was filled by other pressing issues like ISIS and the Ebola epidemic, among others.

More than a month post the cease fire, the world has found other things to worry about.  

The conflict that started with Israel’s operation “Protective Edge” on July 8, 2014 and killed 2,100 people and left thousands displaced in Gaza. Gruesome images of death and destruction, fear and chaos moved the world and kept our attention for 50 days.  

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But on Aug. 26, when ceasefire was announced, it wasn’t the end for people in Gaza – it was, in fact, just the beginning.

More than ever before, people in Gaza need attention now. This peace should be used as a window of opportunity to find a long-term solution and not just maintaining a skittish status-quo until the next act of aggression of takes place.

Here are the two things that we need to concentrate on right now:

 

The People

 

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A month later, the world has all but forgotten the thousands of displaced people who sit under temporary and flimsy shelters, dreading the swiftly approaching winter.

“This tent is made from pieces of worn cloth, and is our only shield from the heat of the sun, but what we are really afraid of is that winter will soon arrive and we have no safe home,” Umm Raed, a member of one of hundreds of displaced families, recently told a newspaper.

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She is not alone, but just one of the thousands of people left without homes as well as means to acquire new residences.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the United Nations Development Program, along with organizations like the United Arab Emirates Committee for Charitable Works in Gaza, have been working on rehabilitation of the displaced people but it is far from enough.

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UNRWA says it will provide financial assistance in the form of “rental subsidies” for an estimated 20,000 families with uninhabitable homes but the process can take up to 90 days.

The United Arab Emirates Committee for Charitable Works in Gaza has equipped and distributed about 100 mobile caravans to displaced people but even they cannot bring in any more residential units.

So, all in all, out of the tens of thousands displayed, roughly 100 families have shelter, while another 20,000 are on UNRWA’s lists.

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That still leaves more than 50,000 people out in the open and several hundred more in depleted and half-destroyed homes.

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Further, the citizens of Gaza, even if they could afford to, cannot buy construction material and build homes without Israel’s approval and permission.

The UN, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have recently reached an agreement allowing the start of reconstruction works in the Gaza Strip, ensuring the control of building materials so they are used for proper civil works purposes.

The Aug. 26 cease-fire allowed the opening of commercial crossings and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. But the crossings remain closed and there has been no reconstruction so far.

 

The Solution

 

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Dozens of Israeli protesters gathered in front of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem demanding that the government lift the Gaza blockade and initiate dialogue to ensure a peaceful two-state solution.

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People felt the need to come out when they saw no positive or concrete steps toward a better solution for the region after more than a month of ceasefire.

Truce should not distract us from the deep-rooted conflict, but it should rather be a precious window of time to find a solution to a conflict that dates back decades -- if for nothing else than the fact that thousands of lives, mostly Palestinians, have been lost and there is likely no stopping there. 

No one can blame the Israeli government in saying they have to defend their country against Hamas, but their blatant disregard for civilian lives in the process of doing so cannot be forgiven or overlooked.

Both sides have agreed to curb violence, and work on reconstructing Gaza. Israel has agreed to release Palestinian prisoners and meet Gaza's demand for a sea port during the recent peace talks. However, almost the same agreement was made in 2012 and nothing changed. It remains to be seen if this one will be better implemented. Add the mutual distrust on both the sides to the equation, and it seems unlikely there's a chance of peace any time soon.

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The recent United Nations General Assembly session is just one example. Leaders from both the sides blamed each other. Netanyahu likened his country’s fight against Hamas to the U.S. campaign against ISIS.

"They evidently don't understand that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree," the prime minister said. He added: "When it comes to its ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS, and ISIS is Hamas."

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On the other hand, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing a “series of absolute war crimes” during the recent conflict and demanded a complete removal of Israelis from Palestinian lands beyond the 1967 borders.

"We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment,” he said.

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Ultimately, this time granted through the ceasefire requires the efforts of both countries in conflict as well as world leaders to bend over backwards and leave no stone unturned in resolving the issue and ensuring peace.

But will something substantial be done? That is a dark, dark question.

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