Opinion: Feed the hungry

Gaza is a portrait of desperation. It is reprehensible for Israel to withhold funds.

poor kids crying 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
poor kids crying 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Many of us have served in the army in Gaza. Anyone who has been there can testify that it is another planet. The crowdedness, the poverty, the open sewers, the filth, the stench - all make it part of a fourth or fifth world. Walk into a hospital and the cockroaches are tenfold more plentiful than the patients. The glazed eyes and swollen bellies of the children indicate that hunger is commonplace. After an armistice accord was signed on Rhodes in the spring of 1949 that brought an end to the fighting between Egypt and Israel, Egypt assumed responsibility for the Gaza Strip, occupying the area until the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War. There was little that the Egyptian government did to alleviate the suffering of the Gazans, as they used the Palestinian refugees crowding the Strip as political pawns to pursue their hostility toward the newly founded State of Israel. More so, international moneys that were earmarked for the refugees found their way to corrupt politicians who lined their private coffers. Fast forward to 2007, almost 40 years later, and the conditions of the Gazans have grown immeasurably worse, all the while - at least until disengagement - under the occupation of a supposed enlightened country, Israel. Meanwhile, the population in the Gaza Strip has almost doubled, making the situation virtually untenable for a human being to survive. Since the rise of Hamas, Israel and many Western countries refuse to funnel aid to the Palestinian Authority until Hamas recognizes Israel, disavows violence and accepts prior agreements between the PA and Israel. The ultimate test of one's moral integrity is when one is threatened. There is little ethical satisfaction in maintaining respect for human rights in peacetime. But, when one's fear is real and not imagined - as is the case with Israel - then the challenge to maintain a sense of moral equilibrium is most difficult. IN THE case of the calamitous situation in Gaza, to see that people have enough money to put food in their mouths, clothes on their backs and roofs over their heads is a moral imperative. To withhold funds for political, ideological or military reasons is simply reprehensible. More so, to boycott an entire population under the guise of national security is not only morally criminal, but also practically foolish, for Israel's physical well-being cannot possibly be served by embittering an entire population. After all, we are cognizant of what our sacred texts tell us: "Poverty causes a man to forget his own sense and his Creator's" (Eruvin 31b). We must differentiate between recognition of the Palestinian unity government, in which Hamas is the senior partner, and recognition of the Palestinian people, who have been abused not only by us Israelis, but sadly, and more so, by every Arab leader. Indeed, the continual internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah only exacerbates an already dire situation, making it easier for Israel and the world to justify its position of punishing all for the acts of an admittedly significant part of the Palestinian population, but by no means the majority. One can understand that the world considers Hamas a proxy for an Iranian government that, through its nuclear program, is a threat to the world. And yet Hizbullah, which shares political power in the Lebanese government, all the while trying to undermine it, and which is clearly under Iranian influence, has not forced the world to boycott Lebanon. Just the opposite is happening. Led by the United States, the world is trying to bolster Lebanon by pouring millions of dollars into that country. The inconsistency is glaring. Would we not be better served by trying to strengthen PA President Mahmoud Abbas, less so by the mandatory suspension of road blocks throughout the territories, which could be argued are a necessary security measure, but rather by economically helping him; by providing social and medical services, building factories, establishing hi-tech industry? Naturally the world community would have to find the right mechanisms to guarantee that the moneys invested would get into the right hands, and not be used either to serve the terrorist intentions of Hamas or the corrupt tendencies of both Fatah and Hamas government officials. It might mean working with the World Bank or some other international monitoring group. It would also require aid stations set up throughout the territories, and especially in Gaza (which is no longer under Israeli occupation) to safeguard the direct flow of funds to those who are suffering because of the world's misguided policy of punishing the innocent along with the guilty. Releasing moneys to help those in need does not limit Israel's maneuverability in rigorously defending itself against continuing threats of terror. On the other hand, by "sharing bread with the hungry, clothing the naked and serving the poor" (Isaiah 58:3), hostility may be reduced, extremism modified and an ethical blemish on the part of Israel and the world erased. There can be no better salve to problems than the convergence of practicality and morality.