Palestinians on Saturday inaugurated a new neighborhood, – funded by Qatar – in the Gazan city of Khan Yunis, marking Phase 2 of a project to provide 1,060 homes for families who lost their homes in the 2014 war with Israel.
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, former disputed Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, announced the Qatari donation of $100 million for rebuilding, including a much needed $30 million for electricity infrastructure, a new hospital in Rafah costing around $25 million and $10 million for a center serving people with special needs. The money will be transferred by Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and comes in addition to several previous payments.
The new home owners were selected by electronic lottery and will have access to two schools, a park and a mosque. Not included was a new church for Gaza’s diminishing Christian community.
Some 11,000 homes in Gaza were totally destroyed during the war according to the PA, while 6,800 were severely damaged and 147,500 lightly damaged.
The war, in response to rocket attacks at Israeli towns in the South, resulted in devastation to densely populated civilian areas in Gaza from which Hamas fighters launched their rocket attacks, according to Israel.
Less than half of $3.5 billion in pledged donations from the international community had been paid by last summer, according to the World Bank. The U.S. paid all of the $277 million it promised and Europe three-quarters of $348 million. Qatar made the largest pledge of $1 billion, of which the Hamad City project is a part. Kuwait, which pledged $200 million to rebuild 2,000 homes, has been much slower in giving the money.
The slow pace of following through on pledges has meant that many Gazans continue to live in inadequate temporary accommodation when all rebuilding could have been easily completed by now, according to Melinda Young, deputy director of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) programs in Gaza.
UNRWA manages the disbursement of sums pledged and aims to repair or rebuild 140,000 properties, 80 percent of the total.
Israel has made special exceptions to allow building materials into Gaza if the shipments are managed by Qatar or the UN. Previously, such imports had been entirely banned as Israel accused Hamas of using concrete and wood to construct tunnels such as those exposed during Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge, used for cross border attacks against Israel.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s special envoy to Gaza, Muhammad al-Amadi, accused Palestinian officials — not Israel — of failing to improve life for residents of the Gaza Strip. It was unclear whether he was speaking on his own or on behalf of his government since there is no official relationship between Israel and Qatar.
“I am in contact with senior Israeli officials and agencies and the relationship is great,” al-Amadi told The Times of Israel in an interview last week — the first time an official Qatari representative has spoken with Israeli press. “The head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, [Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai], is of course one of them, but there are others.”
Al-Amadi recently resolved a few crises for Gazans, including a recent surge of electricity failures that sparked demonstrations against Hamas. He also presided over the Hamad City neighborhood inauguration this weekend.
Aside from the practical benefits of new housing, this building project creates an incentive for Gazans to maintain peace with the Jewish state. Added pressure from donor nations who do not want to see their funds go up in smoke will make war provocation a bit more difficult for Hamas. Hamas, however, has a track record of working against its own citizens, using them as human shields.