The Gaza Strip – What Next?
Most of you have encountered news and vivid photos of the recent Israeli-Gaza violence. It is a difficult issue to try to explain to anyone not intimately involved in the conflict. Most news and commentary boils down to it is all Israel’s fault or all Hamas’s fault. It is a conflict that cries out for rational mediation but such an effort may be a long time coming.
It has been close to 20 years since the last time I set foot in Gaza. It was a “ shithole” then and gotten even worse over the passage of time. Gaza is a prime example of what happens when leaders make mistakes, it is the people who suffer the consequences. At the conclusion of the 1967 war Israel was in possession of the Gaza Strip and West Bank which at the time were populated almost exclusively by Palestinians. The Palestinians were not real participants in the war, fought mainly by troops from Eqypt, Syria and Jordan. Yet at the end of the war, it was mainly the Palestinians who were shoved into refugee camps with many of them transplanted to Gaza and the West Bank.
Gaza became occupied territory and Israeli Jews moved in and took over some of the best land in Gaza. By the time Ariel Sharon was willing to give up Gaza in 2005, Israel had 21 settlements in Gaza with a Jewish population of 8,000. Those 21 settlements and security zones surrounding them took almost 40% of Gaza, squeezing 2 million Gazans into the remaining 60%. It was an intolerable situation for the Gaza people who had no real economy to support themselves with Israel and the IDF controlling entrance and exits. What Gaza economy existed was due to smuggling tunnels from Egypt which Mubarak pretended not to see.
With the rise of Sisi in Egypt, the Gaza strip has been completely closed and the economy has stagnated. The living conditions have deteriorated because of the occasional uprising between Hamas and Israel with Israel’s bombing destroying housing, hospitals and community buildings. The IDF has even put a calorie maximum/person on food that enters Gaza. The water situation in Gaza has turned grave. The underlying aquifer has been almost depleted and as a result salty sea water is filling in the aquifer along with untreated sewage. Electricity is in short supply and living conditions border on inhumane.
The fight between Hamas and the PLO over who represents the Palestinians has made negotiations with Israel almost impossible. Unfortunately, anyone born in Gaza is destined to die there, living a terrible unrewarding life in the interim. Unless someone gives these people hope, they have nothing to lose by fighting. Israel has some legitimate security concerns relating to the Palestinians and Hamas in particular. Those security concerns can, and should be, addressed in negotiations. However, Israel’s security doctrine precludes taking any chances at any time. This is why you see Israel trying to prevent Iran or any other country from having the remotest possible chance of becoming a threat.
As in the West Bank, Israel wants the Palestinians to be totally dependent on Israel. The majority of West Bank Palestinians work in construction of Jewish settlements or for Jewish manufacturers. While West Bank Palestinians have something of a normal life, Gazans have none. Until that changes the Gazans will continue to try to break out of their jail as they have in recent days. When Irgun and the Stern Gang were fighting to establish Israel, they were considered “Freedom Fighters” but when Hamas or the PLO try to fight for their independence, they are called “Terrorists”. The difference is Might Makes Right and if there were a slogan to describe Israel – Might Makes Right would be it.