Rebuild or resist? Hamas's dilemma year after Gaza war

·3-min read

A year after its devastating war with Israel, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas is faced with a dilemma: to keep up the armed struggle or to lay low and reconstruct the Gaza Strip?

On May 10, 2021, weeks of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem culminated in all-out conflict.

A barrage of rockets was fired from the Gaza Strip, with some projectiles hitting Israeli cities, the rest intercepted. That same evening, the Israeli air force pounded Gaza.

What followed was 11 days of war that levelled parts of Gaza, killing 260 Palestinians, including many fighters and children. Fourteen died in Israel, including a soldier and two minors.

More than 1,000 housing units and buildings in Gaza were damaged or completely destroyed by the Israeli bombardment.

But a year later, the reconstruction effort has barely taken off.

Gaza City's destroyed towers have not been rebuilt, and many roads are still in dire need of repair.

"By the middle of this year we should have completed the reconstruction of 500 houses," Naji Sarhan, undersecretary of Gaza's public works ministry, told AFP.

"Our priority is to rebuild the apartments of low-income families", said Sarhan, whose ministry is under Hamas control.

He said reconstruction aid was provided by Egypt and Qatar, the two Arab countries which mediated the truce between Hamas and Israel.

- Hamas 'divided' -

With no political solution on offer, Israel has been working to reduce tensions by easing economic restrictions on Gaza, where unemployment is running at around 50 percent.

The number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel was increased to 12,000 in early April, with Israel promising 20,000 or more if the situation remains calm.

This offer poses a dilemma for Hamas, which in recent weeks has applauded six deadly anti-Israeli attacks and threatened a "big battle" if Israel continues its "aggression" against Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa.

Hamas also invited the leader of the Revolutionary Guards of Israel's arch-enemy Iran, Hossein Salami, to speak by videoconference at a stadium in Gaza City.

"Hamas is divided. The leadership in Gaza is trying to avoid further escalation and is encouraged by the decision of the current Israeli government to give more to Gaza as long as Gaza remains quiet," said Middle East expert Ofer Zalzberg from the Herbert C. Kelman Institute.

"But there are also Hamas leaders outside Gaza, like Saleh al-Arouri, who think more in terms of ideology and believe that the strategy should not focus on Gaza," he said.

For Palestinian economist Omar Shaban, the reconstruction and development of Gaza cannot depend alone on donations from foreign countries or work permits granted by Israel.

"We need a real political process... which will raise the question of the recognition of the entity that administers Gaza", he said, referring to Hamas, which is branded a "terrorist" organisation by the United States, EU and Israel.

"Without that, there will be no change," Shaban told AFP.

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