Bombs and rockets stopped falling over Gaza and Israel four months ago and most international news outlets left soon after. But for the Gazans, the war is ever present: the loss of family, friends and colleagues, homes and schools destroyed and damaged, the trauma and tragedy.
Staff at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem visit Gaza regularly as part of our political and development work. During the conflict, unable to travel there, we followed developments from Jerusalem. As the violence escalated, we advised Swedish citizens to leave, and helped more than 250 people to do so. We knew that the humanitarian situation was, and would remain, serious. And yet, when we visited Gaza after the ceasefire, we were all shaken by the sight of the devastated areas and our meetings with Gazans who had lost loved ones and now live in crowded shelters or in shacks made from carpets amid the rubble.
It has been important for us to provide rapid support to the people affected. Sweden is one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Even before the war, a large share of Gaza’s population was dependent on humanitarian support. Israel’s closure policy, the repeated wars and governance problems have been detrimental to the local economy.
In addition to providing urgent humanitarian support, the Swedish Government is making tangible contributions to reconstruction efforts to show the Gazans that they have not been forgotten and to offer hope for the future. We have stepped up our support to various UN agencies and other relief organisations assisting those affected by the war. Last week, Sweden helped kickstart a project to remove the rubble of some of the many buildings destroyed in Gaza – a first step in the reconstruction process. We hope that these efforts will help to alleviate the situation.
However, reconstruction in Gaza is difficult – to say the least. The Israeli closure policy (whose unconditional lifting the EU has repeatedly called for) means building materials can only be brought in subject to certain conditions and approval. The UN has estimated that if the policy remains in place, reconstruction will take at least 15 years. It has therefore helped to establish a tripartite mechanism(Israel, Palestine, the UN) for the entry of building materials. The mechanism could be a step in the right direction, but it has to be applied effectively. Also, funding is needed to purchase materials. Cold winter nights are fast approaching and many Gazans are still without proper shelter.