Although international negotiators are racing to secure a new temporary cease-fire, the war in the Gaza Strip shows no sign of concluding, with the conflict at risk of becoming more regionalized and the severe loss of life mounting. In the meantime, policymakers around the world struggle with the impending equation of the “day after” — who will control Gaza, who will facilitate the rebuilding, who will cover the expenses, and who will account for the immense fatalities. These discussions, however, often overlook the politics of physical reconstruction, one of the most critical elements that will need to be tackled in Gaza after hostilities end. Gaza’s infrastructure sector — defined here as all physical structures and the built systems designed to ensure their proper functioning — has been constricted and under siege by Israel since 2007 because the latter sees it as a security threat to itself. Indeed, most civilian infrastructure has been destroyed in the current war, under security pretenses. The scale of rebuilding needed after the war, in addition to the difficult political questions involved, will thus require close international coordination as well as innovative thinking.

Obstacles to rebuilding post-war Gaza

The ban on building materials entering the Gaza Strip has been a feature of the Israeli blockade of this territory since its genesis in 2007, and it has only intensified following Oct. 7, 2023. Under the pretenses that such resources are routinely diverted to the building of Hamas’ tunnels between Gaza and Israeli territory, Israel has justified blocking hundreds of construction materials — from drilling equipment and epoxy chemicals to concrete molds, asphalt, and electric wiring — from entering the strip. Much of this falls under the dual-use category, enabling the building or repair of infrastructure that Israel claims has both civilian and defense purposes. For any materials seeking entrance to Gaza, Israel has the final say.

During periods of escalated violence, such bans became particularly relevant. Wars in 2009, 2014, and 2021 involved large-scale destruction of Gazan infrastructure, with thousands of buildings destroyed in 2014 alone. After the cessation of hostilities that year, Israel only permitted modest amounts of building materials and equipment to enter Gaza through Israeli-controlled border crossings. And Israel’s continued import restrictions through 2016 prevented the resettling of 10,000 displaced families as it was impossible for the homes to be rebuilt. Similar conditions were seen in 2021 — only small amounts of construction-related materials were permitted entry after violence ended in May. These restrictions don’t only impact aid-related rebuilding; private construction efforts are also routinely hindered.

Though the link between imported building materials and the construction of new Hamas tunnels is often scrutinized, Israel maintains ultimate control. Gazans are forced to rebuild with rubble, pushing the limits of reuse to accommodate the absence of alternatives.

International efforts to support rebuilding Gaza have been few and far between, and international coordination is proving even more challenging during the present conflict. After the 2014 Gaza war, the United Nations set up the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), an attempt to institutionalize the approval of dual-use items. Acting as a direct line of communication between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT — Israel’s military body dealing with Palestinian civilian affairs), with the UN as a mediator, the GRM was designed to expedite reconstruction efforts and ease construction-related Israeli security concerns. While the mechanism is still active, most of the requests took place between 2016 and 2019 (some were filed in 2022). The GRM faces serious bureaucratic and political delays — the average wait time for an approval or rejection from the Israeli government on a dual-use item was between 180 and 365 days. In addition, the institutional design of the GRM means that Israel still has the final word over any construction materials or projects entering Gaza, almost identical to the status quo that existed before the GRM was established.

In the current Gaza war, one of unprecedented levels of material destruction and death, infrastructure damage has been unparalleled. Estimates place the cost of rebuilding to be up to, if not exceeding, $50 billion, and between 50% and 61% of all buildings in the strip have been damaged or completely destroyed. Satellite imagery of northern Gaza clearly shows entire neighborhoods of razed buildings, as repeated strikes in the south continue to wreak damage on the physical landscape. The UN estimates it will take Gaza until 2092 to restore its GDP to 2022 levels.

In imagining and working to facilitate Gaza’s day after, the international community must be acutely aware of the challenges in rebuilding the territory. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that a hypothetical future governance system would involve Israel retaining security control over Gaza. Any solution that maintains that security status quo, at the expense of urgently needed creative thinking about alternative solutions, however, risks ensuring that existing mechanisms depriving Gaza of critical infrastructure will remain.

The need for novel approaches to reconstruction should not be taken lightly. No matter who might “take control” of Gaza, the current system of rules around construction material import will require significant, and international, overhaul to reach Gazans without political and security-related delays. Should those rules continue as they have since 2007 — likely based on proposed plans by Israeli leaders — any wholescale Gaza rebuild will be rendered next to impossible. In the long term, this would effectively implement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some of his ministers’ vision of “thinning out” of Gaza’s population.

Novel strategies and new technologies for physical reconstruction

No amount of cutting-edge technology and foresight-informed practices will alone be sufficient to bring genuine security to the Gaza Strip or counteract the security-justified Israeli practices that are part and parcel of the blockade. The levels of security that novel technological innovations can feasibly ensure in the long term have yet to be charted, but the failure of Israeli surveillance to predict and counteract the Oct. 7 attacks was quite telling. Real and enduring security will arise only by addressing the conflict’s structural political issues. That being said — in an era characterized by increased digital connectivity and complex geopolitical issues that traverse borders — it is crucial to consider the potential impact and influence of cutting-edge technology on rebuilding Gazan infrastructure.

New kinds of mechanisms should be part of an institutionalized, systemic rebuilding plan for Gaza. Some of the security-related challenges imposed by Israeli policy could be assuaged through future-looking practices and novel building technologies. As policymakers and leaders continue to think about the day after, looking to alternative futures rather than just to precedent could strengthen this critical part of Gaza’s rebuild. At least four such forward-looking and mutually reinforcing approaches are worth considering:

  1. Establish a multinational cooperative body. One of the potential keys to success in a post-war Gaza rebuild scenario would be the creation of a multinational, cooperative body that ensures the proper delivery of building materials. Such a body would, in effect, replace the UN GRM, a mechanism not adequately equipped to address the challenges outlined above. The body might include, or even be led by, a consortium of private-sector infrastructure and mega-project engineering firms knowledgeable in innovatively and securely designing and carrying out projects of similar scale to those that will need to be undertaken in Gaza. Experts in rubble management and disposal would constitute a significant part of the body as well — the destruction of Gaza’s physical landscape will need to be reimagined and rebuilt in an effective, yet sustainable, way. The involvement of bodies such as the World Bank would be paramount to ensuring that private-actor entities do not stray from strictly humanitarian goals.
  2. Utilize smart construction methods. Dual-use construction materials present one of the most challenging dynamics of the post-war rebuild. Similar to the complexities of sanctions on dual-use materials in northern Syria, Israel will undoubtedly continue to justify import bans by alleging all materials are dual-use and, therefore, innately a threat to Israel’s security. New technology in smart construction might contribute to solving this — recent advancements in embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging in concrete and pre-fabricated structures offer the ability to digitally mark the origin and destination of a product as well as identify its manufacturer and use. Depending on the consortium of private and government actors collaborating to execute the post-war rebuild, the implementation of embedded RFID tagging has the ability to adhere to any likely armistice agreements and prove that building materials are being used for non-military purposes. In addition, implementing a digital environment of secure, transparent transactions to facilitate buying and selling building materials through a blockchain platform would increase security assurances, confirming that financial transactions are not being manipulated for military purposes. In effect, this would create a digital system of security pre-approval that would expedite the often-long wait times that humanitarian aid currently faces, pending security approval, before entering Gaza. Such a concept is already in use in the European Union, which mandates that all concrete must be marked with its manufacturer and intended use before being allowed inside the bloc — a similar system should be designed now to meet the challenges of post-war Gaza diplomatic and security negotiations over.
  3. Leverage new and emerging digital technologies. The dramatic scale of destruction in Gaza requires innovative reconstruction planning methods. Looking to the three-dimensional mapping abilities of digital twins and the metaverse, engineers might first take advantage of geospatial mapping in digital environments to target where rebuilding is most immediately needed. While digital twin and metaverse technology has already been deployed in mega-projects globally, it has been less widely adopted in humanitarian and disaster scenarios. A digital twin of Gaza’s landscape would help pre-determine the optimal course of building material entry and delivery, in addition to operational planning down to the street level. The digital environment of digital twins would further allow teams from across the world to collaborate simultaneously through the use of virtual reality headsets. The open nature of the digital twin would enable transparency to all parties involved in the reconstruction — no unplanned additions or modifications to infrastructure could be made without the knowledge of everyone participating. Advanced 3D geospatial scanning tools to create digital twins would be constantly updated, meaning that a feedback loop of new, visualizable data would ensure security and transparency for all. In addition, digital twin technology has already been used in constructing cities primed for acting against climate change and promoting climate resilience; similar technology could, thus, be applied to combat the worsening climate change effects in Gaza — not to mention across the rest of the Middle East. However, digital twin technologies, particularly deployed in the way proposed here, would be immensely expensive and require coordination and funding from an international body to properly implement.
  4. Prioritize sustainable building materials. Concrete alternatives should take priority in considerations of what building materials to import. While concrete has historically been used extensively in Gaza, its supply has been stringently controlled by Israel since 2007. The manufacture of concrete is also an incredibly energy-intensive and environmentally destructive process; and once in place, outgassing from the material results in additional greenhouse-gas emissions. Furthermore, concrete rubble is exceedingly challenging to repurpose. But a slew of already-existing infrastructure innovations — from 3D-printed homes to ferrock and ashcrete, which utilize waste material to produce stronger concrete alternatives — could expedite the rebuild of Gaza while improving the area’s resilience to the worsening effects of climate change.


Of course, these above-mentioned novel practices and material innovations are critically dependent on the politics of an eventual end to the conflict and the interests of all parties agreeing to rebuild Gaza. With the UN estimating that reconstruction will cost billions, who will foot the bill remains one of the pressing questions facing post-war diplomacy. Even as that difficult set of questions is being thought through, however, international leaders in infrastructure development and public policy should be actively planning the rebuild’s implementation in fresh ways that simultaneously address all sides’ security concerns and meaningfully promote the local population’s livelihood. Optimizing this approach with new technologies and original thinking can catalyze more effective and resilient humanitarian reconstruction.


Ethan E. Dinçer is a Middle East geopolitics specialist and a Consultant at London Politica.

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

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