The sick zero-sum game on the Gaza-Israel border

The only way to end this sick state of affairs is to remove Hamas from control in Gaza and to foster economic development there.

PALESTINIANS AT a mass protest in Gaza on Friday (photo credit: REUTERS)
PALESTINIANS AT a mass protest in Gaza on Friday
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The 16 lives tragically cut short, and the thousand wounded Gazans of Friday’s riots, demand an explanation. Like in the 2014 Gaza war, it is difficult for the world to understand the nature of Israel’s response.
Footage of hundreds of protesters converging on the fence Friday, armed with burning tires, raises the obvious question: is a lethal response required? Or in other words, whose lives would be endangered were Israel to allow Gazans to approach the fence? Could Israel not contain or allow in thousands of Gazans without resorting to live fire?
As a resident of southern Israel, one of millions of parents to live within 60 kilometers of the border fence, my perspective is shaped by the events of the past 10 years. Since Hamas took control of Gaza, a sick zero-sum game has developed, in which the basic question is: my kids or yours?
Hamas actively promotes murder of Israelis, in every form of media. Dozens of tunnels have been dug by Hamas under the fence, aimed at sending attackers into Israel. Under the cover of Friday’s riots, three armed men reached the border fence’s northern sector and attempted to enter Israel. What we fear most from such attempts are a repeat of last July’s home invasion, in which three members of the Solomon family were killed, or of the November 2015 stabbing spree in Kiryat Gat, in which four Israelis, including a teenager, were stabbed. Hamas-inspired terrorists perpetrated both of these atrocities. These and dozens of car rammings and stabbings in Jerusalem, targeting Israelis of all stripes.
Like in the summer of 2014, Israel faces an impossible choice in Gaza. In Friday’s riots, the choice was stark: either accept the risks of allowing thousands of Gazans to approach the fence and enter Israel, recognizing that under cover of the thousands, individual murderers would enter Israel, or block the entry of the thousands, shooting to kill when tear gas failed to stop their movement.
Like millions of other Israelis who live near the Gaza border, I mourn the death of the 16 killed. At the same time, I recognize that had they not been killed, the result would have been the killing of our own citizens. Since the rise of Hamas to power, this zero-sum game has replaced sane discourse: kill or be killed. Hamas has imposed this cynical game on Israel.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Gaza is a region with significant agricultural potential. Historically it lay at the convergence of dozens of trade routes, and was one of the richest cities on the Mediterranean coast. Called the “ruler’s prize” by the ancient Egyptians, it was considered by the Assyrians one of the crown jewels of their empire. Even today, Gaza can once again become a trading hub, develop its agricultural and tourist infrastructure. Like Israel, it can open desalination plants and reverse desertification.
Hundreds of acres of land southwest of Gaza were once thriving Israeli settlements, before they were given to Egypt in the 1979 Camp David accords, and have potential to become settlements housing Gazans, thus attenuating the dangerously high population density of the Gaza region.
But Hamas chooses to focus instead on intensifying the conflict with Israel, threatening to unleash terrorism in Israel, and creating a sick “we will kill you unless you kill us” calculus.
The same calculus provoked the 2014 Gaza war, whose ghosts continue to haunt us. Who can avoid feeling shocked and horrified at the images of the Kafarneh family of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza burying multiple children, killed by Israeli shelling. But as I am saddened by their deaths, and horrified by the images, I recognize that the alternative to Israel’s counterattack in 2014 was the continued firing by Hamas of missiles into Israel. Were Israel to fail to deter or arrest the firing of these missiles, the result would be the deaths of dozens more Israelis, including our own children.
There is no way to avoid horror at the death of hundreds of non-combatant Gazans in the 2014 conflict, or of the 16 killed on Friday. But sadly, and due entirely to Hamas’ cynical calculus, we do not have the luxury of avoiding such deaths. We have only the choice of inflicting death on Gazans, or of allowing Hamas to inflict death on our own communities and children.
The only way to end this sick state of affairs is to remove Hamas from control in Gaza and to foster economic development there, giving its inhabitants a sense that they stand to gain from life without Hamas. Neither our children nor those of Gaza need to die.
The author is a resident of Beersheba and a senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.