The war goes on but already minds are turning to who will pay for rebuilding Gaza

As international opinion shifts from Gaza, the appetite for paying the tab might go with it


This picture taken from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip on March 19, 2024 shows a view of destroyed buildings in the Palestinian territory following bombardments amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

March 19, 2024 16:07

Dozens of officers in the IDF’s Spokespersons’ Unit were up all night between Sunday and Monday preparing for what they expected to be a media onslaught in the morning.

IDF forces were going in again to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, and based on their experience back in November and December, they reckoned they would have to explain to the world why the IDF was once again entering the largest medical centre in the Gaza Strip.

As the sun rose and the reports began coming out of Gaza, there was some coverage, but it could be described as little more than perfunctory.

Back in late 2023, when IDF special forces encircled the hospital for weeks before going in, the international media could not get enough of Shifa, publishing the detailed Israeli claims that it had served for years as a cover for Hamas headquarters and operations centres, and Palestinian denials and counter-claims that the IDF was carrying out a war crime by targeting a main medical facility. Every update was breathlessly reported.

When the soldiers did go in, they were on orders not to use lethal force unless they absolutely had to. Not a shot was fired.

On Monday morning they went into the same hospital but in very different circumstances. This time there was a gun battle between the IDF force and Hamas fighters inside Shifa. One IDF soldier and an estimated 40 Hamas gunmen were killed, including Faiq Mabhouh, a senior operations commander. Dozens of suspects were arrested.

And yet, the entire episode barely made any headlines outside Gaza and Israel. What had been three months earlier the most famous hospital in the world now warranted barely a mention.

Could it be, wondered one of the Israeli officers who had been preparing to respond to a barrage of questions that when eventually, months from now, when the IDF finally does go into Rafah to deal with the remaining Hamas battalions there and tries, yet again, to deal with the arms smuggling over the border from Egypt, the media attention will be as casual as it was for the second battle of Shifa Hospital?

“Careful what you wish for,” said a senior executive in a major international development organisation visiting Israel and the West Bank this week. “The world’s attention is going to eventually move on from the war in Gaza which won’t be ending soon, and on to more pressing issues.

“It will be a relief for Israelis as far as negative media coverage and international diplomatic pressure are concerned, but it will leave Israel to pay the bill on its own. That will mean either having the most chaotic Mad Max wasteland on its border, which will continue erupting onto Israel and not allow Israelis to go back to their homes, or Israel having to pay billions to rebuild Gaza.”

The very idea of Israel having to pay for Gaza’s rehabilitation after the war sounds outlandish right now to Israelis. Israel was forced to embark on this war after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. But Hamas won’t pay for any of the damage it has caused, in Israel or in Gaza. Someone ultimately will have to fit the bill which will reach tens of billions at the very least.

And while the focus is still on the more immediate concerns of the war, the fighting still ongoing between the IDF and Hamas’s remaining battalions, a death toll which is contested but is without a doubt in the tens of thousands, and the hostages who have been in captivity for over five months, there are those who are already thinking about the costs of rebuilding the strip on the day after.

“It may be unthinkable right now for us,” says one of the few Israeli officials who are thinking about it. “But in the not-too-distant future there will be many who demand we pay up.

“Right now, there are others who are prepared to pay, the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Qataris, but that is contingent on accepting a ceasefire deal which will include allowing the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza and take control and starting negotiations towards a two-state solution.

“That’s the deal which is now on the table. It may not be there in the future and Israel will be left to pay on its own. It may sound inconceivable now, while we’re still reliving October 7, but the alternatives in the future could be even worse.”

The question of how to get Gaza back on its feet after the devastating war is already dividing the Israeli cabinet.

Last week, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant presented a plan for establishing a local security force in Gaza City which would take responsibility for food distribution. He argued that it was necessary to prevent the situation where the IDF would have to risk its own soldiers to do so.

But as this force would in some way be connected to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, perhaps not formally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most of the rest of the cabinet, vetoed the idea immediately.

Gallant said it was unrealistic to expect they wouldn’t be aligned with the PA and the alternative was leaving a vacuum into which Hamas would return. Reports have already been coming in that the food distribution in Gaza City is now being carried out by Hamas.

Three days later, the operation in Shifa on Monday morning, in an area where the IDF has claimed already three months ago that they had dismantled the local Hamas battalion, proved just that.

March 19, 2024 16:07

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive