One shudders to think what could have happened had Hamas used its tunnels into Israel before Operation Protective Edge, while things were relatively quiet and border patrols were at routine levels.
Take the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar, which was perpetrated in 2011 by two Palestinian teenagers armed only with knives, and multiply the result by a factor of 20, 50, 100 or more. The two parents and three of the five Fogel children were brutally murdered in their beds. Had dozens of well trained and heavily-armed Hamas commandos simultaneously infiltrated a number of Israeli civilian communities via tunnels without being detected, the outcome would have been beyond horrific.
No military operation could be more justified than Operation Protective Edge.
The Hamas charter explicitly calls for the murder of Israelis and Jews, and for the destruction of the State of Israel; Hamas spokesmen have routinely reaffirmed the tenets of that charter and have called for the murder of Israelis and the annihilation of Israel; Hamas terrorists have repeatedly acted on that charter and credo, murdering Israeli civilians over the course of more than two decades. Specifically, in the lead-up to the current operation Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and, since the operation began, has at least five times sent commandos in through tunnels to kill Israelis and to take others hostage. Hamas’s charter, public statements and actions all provide a textbook case for self-defense.
Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip had been devastated in the course of Operation Protective Edge. Hundreds are dead and thousands have been wounded. As of July 22, the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reported that over 100,000 Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip had been displaced. Many will have no home to return to once the fighting is over. Setting aside the question of political responsibility and the use of human shields, on a purely human level the terror Gazan civilians must feel as the bombs rain down and the fighting rages all around is almost unimaginable. Abandoned and exploited by their own government, terrified and traumatized with nowhere to go, their ordeal is horrific, regardless of politics.
Western democracies have overwhelmingly spoken out in support of Israel’s right to self-defense, while expressing concern over the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties. Israeli officials, too, from the prime minister down, have voiced their regret over the Palestinian human suffering caused by the operation, while insisting that under the circumstances created by Hamas, this was unavoidable.
Looking ahead to the day after the fighting ends, the international community and the parties involved have begun to enumerate the necessary conditions for fixing the root causes of the recurring fighting in Gaza. It seems clear to everyone that the status quo that reigned before Operation Protective Edge cannot be permitted to reign once again in its wake.
Israeli officials have spoken about the need to purge the Gaza Strip of its offensive capabilities – rockets, tunnels and others – and to ensure that those capabilities cannot be renewed. Hamas and other Palestinian officials have demanded an end to the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority want to end Hamas’s monopoly on power in Gaza and seek to restore, at the very least, a PA foothold on the borders and a role in the government.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the EU insisted that Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza be disarmed and that any future Palestinian regime there recognize Israel, forswear violence and honor previously signed agreements.
That discussion about the new political and security arrangements that need to be introduced to prevent yet another eruption of violence in Gaza has been complemented by a second discussion about the need to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip economically and socially once the fighting is over. The US, Britain and other countries have already pledged millions of dollars to helping rebuild the destroyed homes.
But rebuilding the homes destroyed in the fighting, like discussions about specific political and security arrangements for the Gaza Strip, fails to take into account the unique feature of Gaza that has made it the hotbed of violence it’s been for years. Since the Oslo Accords were first implemented, Gaza has been ruled by people who are unaccountable to the general population, which is overwhelmingly unempowered and lacking in any social mobility. That situation has only been exacerbated since Hamas staged its coup in 2007. The primary cause of this situation is the enormous percentage of the population that is defined as refugees.
According to UNRWA’s website, the overwhelming majority of Gazan residents – 1,240,082 as of January 2014 – have refugee status. This is not the place to go into detail about the untenable and uniquely self-inflating UNRWA definition of what a refugee is, which definition applies exclusively to Palestinian and differs from and is even contrary to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) definition for all other refugees around the world. That has already been addressed at length elsewhere.
Rather, this is an opportunity to look at the deleterious impact the inflation of this problem has had on domestic Palestinian politics – particularly in Gaza where the problem is most rampant – and on the region.
UNRWA, which is funded primarily by the US and other Western countries, provides ongoing aid to the refugees, thereby perpetuating what has become a destructive culture of popular dependency on foreign handouts. By unempowering the majority of Gazans, UNRWA has essentially alleviated the Palestinian regime of any real responsibility for the well-being of its own citizens for years.
It would seem self-evident that the goal of the international community, as it seeks to prevent violence from erupting in the Gaza Strip yet again, should be to create a Gaza in which an empowered and potentially upwardly-mobile citizenry is ruled by an accountable government.
That is the only way the international community can help Gaza morph into a society that will not permit its government to routinely resort to violence at the expense of the citizenry.
The overwhelming majority of the Gazan “refugees” fail to meet the standard UNHCR definition of refugees. They need to be rehabilitated by means of a Marshall-like plan into empowered Palestinian citizens of Gaza, emancipated from the enervating culture fostered by UNRWA dependency. By so doing, the international community will not only help Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip be more peaceful and prosperous, it will also help the Gazans focus on the realities of their present and future in Gaza instead of the unrealistic fantasies of “return” to an idealized past that no longer exists, fantasies that ultimately stand in the way of a lasting peace with Israel.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.