Don't Count On That $5.4 Billion Pledge To Rebuild Gaza

Despite the fanfare of the huge financial commitments from Arab and Western countries to rebuild Gaza after the latest Israel offensive, collecting the cash is a whole different story.

Statues by Palestinian artist Eyad Sabbah, in the rubble of buildings destroyed in last summer's conflict
Statues by Palestinian artist Eyad Sabbah, in the rubble of buildings destroyed in last summer's conflict
Doron Peskin

TEL AVIV — The recent Gaza aid conference in Cairo concluded with an international promise to pump $5.4 billion into rebuilding the devastated Gaza Strip. But even among the summit's participants, there were doubts about whether these pledges would actually turn into reality.

Past experience shows that financial pledges to Gaza have rarely been paid in full, mainly those made by Arab nations, themselves in the midst of upheaval.

The promised amounts are impressive. Qatar pledged one billion dollars; the European Union about $570 million; Saudi Arabia around $500 million; and the U.S. committed $400 million.

According to the conference announcements, about half the total — approximately $2.7 billion — is expected to be channeled to the housing sector. This sum is indeed larger than the Palestinian Authority's rebuilding estimate, but still smaller than previous estimates. It seems that even the Palestinians are not sure the exact extent of the damage.

The remaining donations are intended for more broadly defined "economic aid" — for instance, to boost economic growth. But these blurry definitions are doing little to build optimism among Gazans.

In addition, the hostility between Gaza's two prime Arab actors — namely, Qatar and Egypt — could significantly slow down the process. The Egyptian government is unconvinced about Qatar's intentions in Gaza, and trust among the two is at an all-time low.

Egypt's Central Bank recently announced it would return a $500 million grant Qatar had delivered during the days of former President Mohamed Morsi. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's regime is not interested in any contact with Qatar, and it's unclear how the Gulf emirate's pledged donation would reach Gaza.

How to deliver the money?

A central issue is the structure of the mechanism for tranferring the funds. Despite UN statements regarding an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, details about the mechanism have not been disclosed. Even reports two weeks ago about an Israeli go-ahead for 60 Gaza-bound truckloads of construction materials have turned out to be untrue. Likewise was the case with reports about a pending transfer of control over the Gaza border crossings to the Palestinian Authorities.

Ruins in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Photo: Muhammad Sabah

It is clear to all that the key to rebuilding Gaza is construction materials entering Gaza from either Israel or Egypt. Israel is concerned about the materials' end use — who's responsible for their transfer and who receives them. If these are Hamas members, as was the case in the aftermath of previous conflicts, they would certainly end up being used for rehabilitating Hamas tunnels and development of additional capabilities.

Hamas statements suggest the movement's leaders are eager to start recovery work in Gaza as soon as possible. That could be because of their intention to restore Hamas military power as well as the movement's political authority, which had been undermined by the unprecedented devastation.

To get the recovery work started, Hamas is willing to accept the upcoming visit of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas to the Gaza Strip, the first such visit since Hamas took over in 2007.

The situation in Gaza is dire. Since the end of the Israeli campaign, "not a single room has been built," a parliament member close to Hamas recently said. The Palestinians are worried about the nearing winter, as tens of thousands of people remain without shelter. Optimistic assessments suggest that rebuilding Gaza will take about five years, and now solutions are needed for the thousands of displaced people.

According to preliminary surveys by UN experts, approximately 6,800 buildings have been completely demolished, nearly 3,500 were severely damaged, and about 5,000 others are mildly damaged. These figures are three times higher than in the aftermath of Israel's 2009 Operation Cast Lead. In addition, 31 education structures and approximately 4,500 acres of agricultural land have been damaged.

The prospects of the recovery efforts are unclear. With Israel particularly suspicious toward Hamas and the bickering Arab nations, it may be that Gazans themselves are again left to pay the price.

*Doron Peskin is research director at Info-Prod Research (Middle East).

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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