In the whole period since Israel’s lethal and devastating summer 2014 attack on Gaza, the United Nations has provided assistance to just one family to rebuild its totally destroyed home.
“I held the new keys in my hand; at that moment, I felt relieved and happy, and I wanted to give the keys to my wife and show her the house and everything in it,” Atef al-Zaza said as he took possession of the home he will share with his spouse Fatima and their 12 children in eastern Gaza City, last October.
It replaces the home the al-Zaza family lost in July 2014, during Israel’s bombardment.
Pierre Krähenbühl, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, confirmed the stunning fact earlier this month that this remains the only totally destroyed house the UN has helped to rebuild.
He also revealed that as of 18 November, his agency’s engineers had confirmed that 9,117 homes in Gaza were totally demolished, a similar number suffered severe or major damage and another 123,000 suffered minor damage.
UNRWA has given money to about half the households needing minor repairs and to just over 1,000 families for repair of severe or major damage.
But why are none of the totally destroyed homes being rebuilt?
Palestinian groups say a key reason is UN complicity in the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.
But another level of international neglect and complicity is also responsible for the fact that so much of Gaza remains in ruins.
UNRWA head Krähenbühl also revealed that more than 47,000 refugee families have received permission to repair their homes through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.
But none has received a single dollar “due to lack of sufficient funding.” Another 7,200 families who have received permission to rebuild totally destroyed homes are in the same boat.
Last month, The Electronic Intifada profiled one family, that of Ahmad al-Hamayda, his six siblings and their elderly parents, who are in this situation.
In October 2014, international donors pledged $5.4 billion dollars to rebuild Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah announced it would siphon off about half that money for its own use.
But a year later, only a third of the funds pledged for Gaza had actually been paid.
UNRWA says that just $247 million has been pledged for its emergency shelter program, leaving a shortfall of almost half a billion dollars.
In his most recent briefing to the UN Security Council on 19 November, UN special representative Mladenov only briefly mentioned Gaza.
The Bulgarian diplomat did try to put a positive gloss on the utter failure of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, including lauding unspecified bureaucratic changes.
He welcomed Israel’s removal of aggregate – gravel and sand used in construction – from the list of dual-use items.
But what Israel gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.
“The good news, however, has been tempered by the addition of other items, including timber, to the list this year,” Mladenov admitted.
Officially, Israel doesn’t allow in wood planks more than a centimeter thick. But according to Gisha, it all but bars any import of wood into Gaza. “These additions hinder Gaza’s reconstruction, and I call on the Israeli authorities to reconsider their decisions,” Mladenov said.
But there’s absolutely no reason to expect such mild-mannered pleas to change Israel’s behavior.
That’s why the 28 groups that wrote to Mladenov last week want a totally different approach.
“We call upon the UN to rethink its strategy from one of working around the blockade to one which holds Israel accountable for the crisis in Gaza and pressures it to immediately and completely lift the blockade,” they say.
Their first demand is for the UN to publish the secret agreement with Israel governing the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.
After all, if the system is as effective and benign as UN bureacrats claim, what do they have to hide?