My contacts with Hamas began in April 2006 when I met a professor of economics
from the Islamic University of Gaza at a regional development conference in
Cairo. I was the first Jew he had ever met and he was the first Hamas member I
had ever met. We spent about six hours in Cairo in dialogue and then agreed to
try to create an opportunity for other Israelis and Hamas people to join us.
Unfortunately, the Hamas political leadership vetoed the talks and we never
managed to continue our meetings.
One week after Gilad Schalit was
abducted, the professor called me and said Gaza was being bombed and the
situation was going to be terrible; we had to find a way to open a channel of
communications between Israel and Hamas to bring a speedy end to the hostage
Unfortunately it took five years and four months.
the unofficial communications I was engaged in for five years became official in
May 2011, among the first messages I was authorized to deliver to Hamas was:
“When Gilad Schalit is no longer in Gaza, Israel will allow for economic
development and infrastructure projects to take place. Israel will remove the
economic siege on Gaza.” I thought that was a positive approach for Israel to
take and fully supported it. Unfortunately my Hamas interlocutors were not
particularly interested in the message – they wanted Palestinian prisoners
released, and everything else was window dressing.
Now, nine months after
Schalit’s release, it is time to make good on the promise.
begun to liberalize the flow of goods entering Gaza. Soon a new container
scanner will be working at Kerem Shalom which will allow trucks to leave Gaza to
the West Bank, taking the first steps towards the reintegration of the Gaza
economy with the West Bank.
Israel can leverage its openness to also
encourage the new government in Egypt to legalize the underground economy
between Sinai and Gaza and bring it above ground with the creation of a cargo
transport zone in Rafah. Gazans should be able to enjoy free trade in both
In the days prior to the disengagement and the closing of the
Erez industrial zone, thousands of Palestinians were working for Israeli
companies in various forms of subcontracting. A lot of Gazan-produced goods were
being sold in the Israeli market as well as for export. Putting the people of
Gaza back to work is the right thing to do and Israel can have a large positive
role in this.
THE HAMAS leadership also has an opportunity to redirect
itself and its attention to making the lives of their own people better.
Recently I sent a letter to some of the Hamas leaders. This is what I wrote: How
many Israelis have you killed with thousands of rockets? The answer is less than
the fingers of one hand. How many Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the
five years and four months that you held Gilad Schalit? The answer is more than
Isn’t it time for your movement to place its energy in something
positive? Shouldn’t you be investing in your people, in education, in
development, culture, industry? Don’t you want to give your children the kind of
life that you never had? Israel does not want another war in Gaza and does not
want to kill any people there.
I know that there is no trust between the
sides and it makes it very difficult to make changes. It is time to put the war
behind us, to end trying to kill each other, to end the armed struggle
Hamas could invest its money in education and development and
not in weapons and rockets. You know that there is no possibility to destroy
Israel and every time there is a new round of violence it is your people which
pay the heaviest price.
I know that it is possible to develop a new kind
of relationship. I know that quiet will be answered with quiet. A ceasefire
which is a real one, not just a resting period between rounds of violence, will
enable the economic development of Gaza, the opening of Gaza to the West Bank
and to the world.
If Hamas would stop smuggling weapons and focus on
building rather than destroying we could speak about a port in Gaza, and
reopening the passage to the West Bank, infrastructure projects, building
I am not saying that you have to recognize Israel and make
peace with Israel now. I believe that will come later, but you don’t have to
even think about it for now.
What could happen is for you and your
leaders to begin to devote their attention and energies to make a positive
change for the people of Gaza. Enough language and culture of hate. It is time
to focus inwards, to what your people need and deserve.
What future do
you offer to your children? Don’t you want their lives to be better than your
own? Think about them and offer them new opportunities that you never
I know that there are serious leaders in Israel who would respond
positively to positive changes in Hamas. This is not just dream a naïve dream.
This is possible. This can happen sooner than you believe.
There is no
need for big speeches and ceremonies.
It is enough to begin to change
directions and for to implement policies of change, development, investment in
education, invest in people. No speeches necessary.
You are doing it for
yourselves, not for Israel.
It would be nice if the same messages were
delivered by friends of Palestine all over the world and even by the leaders of
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine
Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio
host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back
channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.