It is essential that Israel declare that the people of Gaza are not its enemy. Hamas is the enemy. The 1.7 million people of Gaza are Israel’s neighbors, they must be given a sense of hope, and they deserve to live a better life. They deserve to have the same things that everyone around the world wants: dignity, freedom, a job, education, money to put food on the table, security, peace.
Unfortunately since Hamas won the Palestinian elections back in 2006 the people of Gaza have been living under siege, locked up in horrible conditions. The closure of Gaza shut down the private sector and over 90 percent of the factories that used to operate there have been closed for years. Tens of thousands of Gazans who used to work in Israel have been unemployed for years.
Except for a brief period when the Hamas-controlled tunnels created an alternative economy in Gaza, life in Gaza has been hell.
Gaza is not a democracy. Hamas does not believe in democracy and the people of Gaza have never been free. It is difficult for people who do live in democracies to understand why the people of Gaza don’t stand up to the Hamas leaders and throw them out. People who live in democracies often take their freedom and liberties for granted. It is not so easy for the people of Gaza to stand up to Hamas and say enough, we had enough of your brutal regime, your policies that have ruined our lives and destroyed hope for anything better.
The people of Egypt had Abdel Fatah Sisi and the Egyptian army to help them overthrow the oppressive regimes there. The people of Gaza have neither a Sisi nor an army. What they have is the brutal repression of Hamas and, to them at least, of Israel. Under attack, the people of Gaza rally around the flag. They see Hamas defiantly shooting rockets at Israel with ranges that now reach Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Zichron Ya’acov. They see Hamas navy commandos risk their lives in trying to attack Israel near Zikim. This gives them the feeling that they are not only victims, they can also fight back. They know that they will not beat Israel, but they would be pleased to see Israelis suffer even a fraction of what they are feeling.
I spent hours on Tuesday morning and afternoon trying to convince my main Hamas contact to speak to his leaders to call for an immediate, unconditional 24-hour cease-fire in order to prevent the escalation. My message made it all the way up to Khaled Mashaal. I wanted to try to prevent the inevitable death of innocent people and the destruction that this war would cause.
The Hamas leadership decided to ignore the possibility of a ceasefire and instead challenged Israel to “bring it on.” These irresponsible leaders are criminals to their own people. I can honestly say that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not want to escalate this war. It is criminal that these Hamas leaders, some sitting in hotels abroad and others safely hiding underground in Gaza, have chosen to put the innocent people of Gaza in the line of fire.
Force alone will never be a proper response to human suffering.
Israel had to respond with force, I am sorry to say, but Israel must also present a plan for addressing the real and urgent human needs of the 1.7 million people in Gaza, or else this ongoing war never end.
How will this end? In 2012 Israel ran out of targets it could hit from the air and was not ready to send ground forces into Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt forced a cease-fire on Hamas with the promise that the Arab world would back Hamas and Gaza, and then a parade of Arab leaders made their way to Gaza. Hamas emerged from their underground bunkers and declared victory.
It seems unlikely that Israel will refrain from some kind of ground operation aimed at destroying warehouses of rockets and the factories and workshops that produce them, as well as killing at least several of the significant political and military leaders of Hamas.
After that Israel could withdraw with a very strong warning that any rockets fired into Israel will lead to another even wider and more brutal ground operation. This is a likely scenario, but one that just begs the question of when the next round will begin.
A better solution would be to renew serious, genuine peace negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas including specific and focused talks on resolving the issues concerning Gaza. Israel could address the security issues with Abbas as well as all of the political issues and empower him and other moderates at the expenses of the extremists.
Force must be used at times when there are no other options. But force alone will resolve nothing.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.
His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.