2 years on, post-war Gaza reconstruction, justice lacking: Reports

A Palestinian boy looks at the damage following an airstrike by Isreali Defense Forces on a workshop in Gaza City, July 2.
A Palestinian boy looks at the damage following an airstrike by Isreali Defense Forces on a workshop in Gaza City, July 2. PHOTO: EPA

GAZA CITY (AFP) - Two years after Gaza's last devastating conflict with Israel, rights groups vented frustration Thursday (July 7) over the slow pace of reconstruction in the Palestinian territory and lack of war crimes prosecutions.

Amnesty International said it was "indefensible" that no criminal cases had been brought for alleged war crimes committed by Israel or the Palestinians, while a coalition of leading NGOs urged Israel to lift its blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip.

The July-August 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 people on the Israeli side, and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes in besieged Gaza.

Reconstruction has been painfully slow, with the United Nations taking over a year to rebuild its first destroyed home.

Israel has maintained a blockade on the enclave, limiting the entry of many goods essential for construction that officials fear could fall into the hands of the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza and be used for another military build-up.

Only three Israeli soldiers have been charged over the war, all on minor charges, the Amnesty report said, ahead of Friday's anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.

"The fact that no one has been held to account for war crimes that were evidently committed by both sides in the conflict is absolutely indefensible," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa head.

"Two years have passed and it's high time the wheels of justice started turning." In a separate report, AIDA - an umbrella body for major international NGOs working in Israel and the Palestinian territories - said Israel's decade-long blockade was "severely impeding reconstruction and recovery" in Gaza.

"Unless it is lifted, Palestinians living in Gaza will be unable to move on with their lives and live in freedom, dignity and safety," said Chris Eijkemans, country director at AIDA with the British charity Oxfam.

In Gaza, although new roads have been constructed, many areas remain desolated and the economy has ground to a standstill.

Over 120,000 homes were at least partly damaged, while around 20,000 were left totally uninhabitable in the war, according to the United Nations.

The Mediterranean enclave's unemployment rate of 45 percent is one of the highest in the world, while child labour has doubled over the past five years, according to Palestinian estimates.

Sohad al-Masry, a 40-year-old housewife, lost her home in the war, in which her cousin was killed.

"I don't like to remember but I am sad," she told AFP. "They have not rebuilt the destroyed houses, the siege and closure (continue), and there is unemployment."

Fears of another conflict with Israel, which would be the fourth since 2008, have grown in recent months after Israeli forces uncovered two Hamas "attack" tunnels allegedly reaching across the border.

After a brief flare-up in May, leaders on both sides have talked of being ready for another conflict.

"I am very worried a fourth war is coming. The occupation is threatening war on Hamas's tunnels," said Mohammed Abu Daqa, 26, who works in a government school.

He called on Hamas to reconcile with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement, which runs the West Bank, to whip up global support for lifting the siege of Gaza.

"But unfortunately Hamas and Fatah are not ready for a reconciliation," he sighed.