Opposition demands protection for Gaza-periphery communities

A military policy was disputed during a special Knesset session.

By SONIA EPSTEIN
July 1, 2019 18:34
2 minute read.
PALESTINIANS FIRE a mortar shell in the southern Gaza Strip in 2015

PALESTINIANS FIRE a mortar shell in the southern Gaza Strip in 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)

MKs of the dissolved 21st Knesset debated Monday whether the government is doing enough to support communities near the Gaza border in a special session.

Amidst unrest in the area, more than 25 opposition MKs, largely from Blue and White, called for the special session in the parliament’s sparsely-populated plenary hall Monday. On their agenda was, “budgeting the fortification of communities located near the Gaza border, including large cities.”

“There is no expiration date to the threat that the residents of the south face,” said MK Alon Schuster (Blue and White), who served as the mayor of Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council for 16 years.

Schuster lives 1300 meters from the Gaza border in his native kibbutz of Mefalsim, in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is trapped,” he said after the session. “He isn’t able to use military power because he doesn’t have the ability to create a diplomatic solution with the Palestinian Authority in Arab countries.”

“Netanyahu’s lack of action has turned the south into a no-man’s-land,” Meir Cohen (Blue and White) said. “A military
operation to topple Hamas will not happen. We demand a defense program. The cost is NIS 3 billion and there is money.”

On behalf of the government, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Union of Right Wing Parties) reported on the measures that have been taken thus far to fortify the area. In the area within seven kilometers of the Gaza border, the most dangerous areas, the government allotted NIS 300 million to rocket-proof 166 kindergartens and 28 schools. The government also granted NIS 1.2 billion for about  11,000 rocket-proofed homes.

In the areas between 7 to 15 kilometers of the Gaza strip, NIS 70 million were used to fortify 110 kindergartens and 66 schools over the past 8 years, and millions more were budgeted for fortifying Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Kiryat Gat, while also boosting security with electronic fences, communication radios, security bridges, and lighting in the area.

“Unfortunately, there are still some gaps. There is no doubt that today is better than it used to be," Ben Dahan said.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (URP) responded that if Israel had not pulled out of Gaza, the region would be safer for its inhabitants.

“There is one word I have not heard, one little word: sorry,” he said, insinuating that the disengagement from the area was a huge mistake.

Smotrich warned against replicating Gaza’s situation within the West Bank, where he said the consequences would be amplified by a magnitude of 20, and responded to opposition members by calling for Israel to take over the Gaza strip again.

“You do not have the courage to say that anyone who wants quiet, peace, and security needs to control the territory,” Smotrich said. “You do not have the courage to go back and correct past mistakes.”

Schuster responded that he has no regrets about supporting and facilitating the withdrawal from Gaza as mayor.

He stated after the session that Netanyahu cannot pull off a military solution without a diplomatic one. “He has no maneuverability,” Schuster said. “Blue and White can give an ultimatum to Hamas. From now on, everything needs to be done in coordination” with the Palestinian Authority.

He concluded: “With Gaza, we have separation. With the West Bank, we have security. We need to have both in both places.”


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