Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Two days after Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders charged that Israel acted “disproportionately” during the 2014 fighting in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel would not hesitate to hit Gaza hard again, if necessary.
“Israel is surrounded by extremist Islamic radicals, and therefore we need to guard our borders, and this is also true regarding the communities surrounding Gaza,” Netanyahu said in Yeroham at the seventh annual Negev Conference.
“In another couple of months we will mark two years since Operation Protective Edge, and those who attacked us from the Gaza Strip took an unprecedentedly heavy blow. We will – of course – not hesitate again to act strongly against anyone who wants to endanger Israeli citizens.”
Netanyahu said that security is a precondition to all the development his government is promoting in the country’s South.
“There are wide spaces in the Negev, and we have to defend them,” he said. The premier pointed to the 200 kilometer wall that has been erected along the border with Egypt, as well as a similar one now being constructed in the Arava along the border with Jordan, as critical components of this security.
“I ask you to think what would have happened if the fence [on the Egyptian border] were not built,” he said. “We would have been flooded with thousands of Islamic State fighters from Sinai, and with hundreds of thousands of illegal job seekers from Africa. The fence stopped that.”
During the speech Netanyahu ticked off the steps his government has taken to develop the Negev, including developing transportation infrastructure – including trains, new roads and overpasses – bringing the Negev “closer” to the center; moving the IDF bases south, something that will serve as a catalyst for growth; and turning Beersheba into a center for cyber security.
He said that his vision is that in 12 years Beersheba, with a population today of some 210,000, will be a city of 500,000 people.
Netanyahu’s speech was interrupted at one point by student protesters from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
While listing the goals his government has achieved for the South, Shachaf Avital yelled toward Netanyahu: “Why isn’t there money for Yeroham?” Another five protesters chanted after him. “Why are people unemployed in Yeroham while in Omer, people are rich?” Avital charged that the government was building new communities in the Negev while failing to provide more places of employment in existing communities.
Netanyahu did not respond to Avital in depth, saying sarcastically that he was impressed by the “spontaneous protest,” and adding that his government has invested more money in the Negev than any previous government.
Tzlil Rubinshtein, a spokeswoman for the group, told The Jerusalem Post that part of their complaint regarding building in Negev is that the citizens’ needs are not being heard.
“The government isn’t listening to what the citizens really have to say, nor the needs of the community,” she said.
While NIS 5 billion will be invested to build five new communities in the Negev, Rubinshtein said, only NIS 280 million has been allotted for supporting existing communities.
She said that the push for more Negev building is not being done out of genuine interest to strengthen periphery areas, but only for show.