Senior Israeli military officials warn of an impending humanitarian crisis in Gaza and many more officials, Israelis, European and Palestinian, warn that the Gaza population will “explode” due to exasperation and epidemics.
How come in all the years of the Syrian civil war, amid prolonged and incessant violence over seven years, there was never widespread humanitarian crisis in the form of mass hunger and the spread of epidemics related to hunger, such as typhoid?
How come in the two years of incessant war between Islamic State (ISIS) and the allied coalition, the Russian air force, Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and of course the Iraqi army, during which ISIS ruled over five million people, including Mosul’s one million-strong population, there was no evidence of massive hunger and contagious diseases?
How likely is it to occur then in Gaza?
The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises – the specter of mass hunger and contagious disease – is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This was the story of Darfur, Somalia, the Central African Republic. In such a situation, the first to leave are the relief agencies, then, the local medical staffs, local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam, leaving the destitute to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.
Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the major source for this fake news of humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron hand. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in Gaza. Absent is any news item announcing the closure of one hospital, one municipality, one school, university, college or dispensary in Gaza.
Instead, we are shown a photo of a “closed” room in a Khan Yunis hospital. You can take the same photo of a hospital room in Tel Aviv or New York. We are shown homes in which a Gaza family sits around lit candles. Once again, you can take the same photo in a home in Tel Aviv or New York.
Similarly, there is not one news item announcing the departure of a single foreign relief agency or its workers, the closure of one human rights organization in the area. Nowhere is there any evidence that the World Health Organization, which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza.
For good reason. The WHO knows, just as hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza know, that the hospital system in Gaza is of high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world, which comprises most of humanity. Their staff has been beneficiary of numerous training courses that are run by international agencies and by Israel in the past.
The well-equipped hospitals can only be the envy of countries such as Sudan and Yemen, and being a small area, access to medical care in Gaza is excellent. Little wonder then that life expectancy in Gaza, at 73, is four years higher than the world average.
The very same Hamas Internet site, Resala.net, that pronounces an impending humanitarian crisis features a video of a flourishing vehicle industry, in which cars are reassembled in Gaza from parts of cars totaled in crashes in Israel and the West Bank. The video, as a public service, warns that these cars suffer defects even though reassembled to look brand new.
But how can you have a flourishing used car business in an area facing an impending humanitarian crisis? Certainly one would stock up on food before buying a used car? How is it that another Palestinian media outlet features another photo of Gaza youth enjoying surfing on Gaza’s fine shore? Once again, shouldn’t they be storing up food instead of surfing in the face of an impending humanitarian crisis? The least they should do is go fishing.
Fortunately, there is one sane voice out there: the voice of Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy in the Middle East. Why, he asked, shouldn’t Hamas spend the $100 million it receives from Iran to solve the humanitarian crisis?
The answer is obvious. Hamas wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, increase the prospects of smuggling arms increase its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts.
How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? Let’s say, a thousand more trucks of Israeli produce? Give up the despicable trade in bodies of dead Israeli soldiers. Want more aid? Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.
Hamas is of course interested in paying the salaries of its hard core – the thousands in uniform, the 20,000 officials, mostly teachers. Allow then aid for Hamas to tax to pay for the teachers, as long as Hamas begins laying off the terrorists and handing over or destroying their weapons. The principle is clear. The details can be ironed out using the good services of the Egyptians.
But what about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, one may ask? Here, Israel and the world community should turn to the Gaza population. Protest to Hamas against the trading of bodies, the useless digging of tunnels and the launching of missiles that only invite massive Israeli reprisal as the Hamas officials and their families flee into the tunnels out of harm’s way. Take to the streets rather than to the security fence.
Israel, should of course be prepared to address a humanitarian crisis in the unlikely event that one comes to pass. To prevent it, the message to Hamas is that you must give up your murderous offensive capabilities. To prevent humanitarian crisis, Hamas should be left with policing capabilities, because the most important single cause preventing humanitarian crisis is law and order.
The author is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.