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One year on, Gaza's fragile peace holds amid tensions

On 8 July 2014, Israel began airstrikes over Gaza, in what was known as Operation Protective Edge. The bombardment followed weeks of ramped up tensions that had begun with the kidnap and murder of three Jewish teenagers by Palestinians. Over the course of the next seven weeks, a combination of Israeli bombs, a ground invasion, and Palestinian rocket fire, led to the deaths of 2,200 people, the vast majority of them Gazans. (73 Israelis died). Israel's stated aim was to destroy Hamas's network of tunnels that allows the group to smuggle supplies and weapons into Gaza. For its part, Hamas was demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza, and sought to bring international pressure to bear on Israel.

Now, a year later, what has changed? In some ways, nothing at all: as with all other recent conflicts between Israel and Gaza, a battle for control of the narrative is raging. The UN published a report to the human rights council in Geneva last week, concluding that both Hamas and Israel could be guilty of war crimes. It said that blame for Israeli violations went right up to the very highest echelons of the political and military establishment. Israel, as always, denounced the report, and has published its own, which exonerates the Israeli Defence Forces for any wrong-doing. Hamas also rejected the report, saying that its rockets were aimed at military targets, not at civilians. One particularly contentious incident was the death of four young boys who were killed by Israeli shelling as they played on Gaza beach. The UN report singled this incident out for criticism; the IDF's investigation exonerated the soldiers involved. Clearly, the UN's call for Israel to "break with its lamentable track record" on holding wrongdoers responsible has not been heeded. The war began during the holy month of Ramadan; there were strikes on residential properties in the evenings, when people were most likely to be at home, together, breaking their fasts. Israel, which did not cooperate with the UN inquiry, has given no explanation for this.

The post-conflict response in Gaza also has echoes of previous conflicts, when the harsh blockade imposed by Israel blocked the reconstruction of war damaged sites. In September 2014, soon after the conflict, a UN official said that the amount of building materials entering Gaza would need to quadruple, and that the UN could oversee the process. This has not materialized. International donors – including the US and the EU – have pledged billions for the rebuilding of Gaza. But only a small proportion of this money has actually been paid out and just one per cent of the building material needed has been delivered; the mechanism that was meant to allow the delivery has not worked. Tens of thousands of Gazans are still homeless. In late February, a UN official told Al Jazeera that four infants had died from the cold in Gaza in January. Power cuts last for up to 18 hours a day. Gaza's healthcare system has also been devastated: 17 hospitals, 56 primary healthcare facilities, and 45 ambulances were damaged or destroyed during the war.

In March, a group of 30 aid agencies including Save the Children and Action Aid signed a letter bemoaning the lack of progress in rebuilding Gaza. "Israel, as the occupying power, is the main duty bearer and must comply with its obligations under international law," it said. "In particular, it must fully lift the blockade, within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009)." The letter also referred to political paralysis in the Palestinian territories – a power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has been one factor in the delay of aid – and the resumption of occasional rocket fire by Hamas. Israeli officials dispute this version of events, saying that Hamas is responsible for diverting funds and resources towards rebuilding its military capabilities and away from civilian needs. This week, the head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, said that the organization was stronger militarily now than it was last summer.

For the most part, the ceasefire agreed at the end of last year's 50 day war has held, but there have been skirmishes as Hamas fires rockets and Israel attacks Hamas targets. Gaza has seen three major conflicts in the last seven years; there is no reason to think that it will not see another in the coming months or years. The fragile peace agreement may have more or less stayed in place, but tensions and mutual hatred remain. During this holy month of Ramadan, Gazans are fasting amongst the devastation waged last year. This continuing deterioration of living standards, with people forced to live amongst the rubble left by war for years can only lead to ever-increasing, simmering resentment. A year has passed, but not much has changed.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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