Op-Ed

Gaza strife leaves Israel ripe for rude awakening

Palestinians demonstrating in 2015 near the Gazan border with Israel on Friday carry a man wounded during clashes with Israeli soldiers.
Palestinians demonstrating in 2015 near the Gazan border with Israel on Friday carry a man wounded during clashes with Israeli soldiers. AP

Those of us who remember the years before the Yom Kippur War will forever be more cautious than others.

Then, Israeli were drunk with euphoria, believing, as the arrogant General Moshe Dayan used to say, that, “Our situation has never been better.”

The Egyptian and the Syrian armies were licking their wounds after the humiliating defeat of the Six Day War, and the general feeling was that Israel was invincible.

Then came the painful surprise of Oct. 6, 1973, and the rest is history. I honestly hope that I’ll be proven wrong, but today I have a feeling of déjà vu.

With the weakness and impotence of the Palestinians and the growing, albeit silent, collaboration with the Sunni regimes in the region, Israelis again are drawn into complacency.

But what could be the blow that — like the Yom Kippur surprise attack — wakes them up?

The answer lies in Gaza, and it is twofold. First, there is the military threat. Hamas, in spite of the severe hammering it suffered two years ago in Operation Defensive Edge, has been ceaselessly rebuilding its offensive capabilities.

And the sad history lesson in our region is that weapons accumulated by aggressors are eventually used.

However, the military threat by Hamas is manageable.

In 2006, in the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah learned the hard way that it was not a good idea to mess with Israel and, consequently, there has been an unprecedented decade of calm on Israel’s northern border. Hamas leaders, who are anything but suicidal, surely didn’t ignore that lesson.

It is the socioeconomic — indeed, the humanitarian issue — that is a bigger threat to Israel. Close to two million Palestinians, with high birth rate, live in a small area. In terms of population per square kilometer, only Singapore and Hong Kong are more dense.

However, Gaza has none of the resources, infrastructure and job opportunities of the other two. Crushed between the rock and the hard place, Israel and Egypt, the people of Gaza, and especially their young generation, have little hope. This is a humanitarian time bomb that is doomed to blow up sooner or later.

Why on Earth this should be the problem of Israel? In 2005, Israel responded to world pressures and pulled out of Gaza.

The Gazans, instead of being engaged in nation-building, elected Hamas as their leaders and started harassing Israel with barrages of rockets, which only brought destructive retaliation by Israel.

Why should Israel care about them in the first place?

The answer is that Gaza is in Israel’s backyard, and it will never go away. Looking at it through only the narrow military prism is a mistake. Israel should support world efforts to assist Gaza economically, indeed, even spearhead them.

A good start was the initiative of Israel Katz, Israel’s minister of transportation, to build a port in Gaza. I guess is that Katz, a staunch Likud hawk, didn’t do it out of humanitarian motives.

He just understood that giving the Gazans a lifeline might take some pressure off of Israel.

Helping Gaza, however, is easier said than done. Just last week, the Australian government suspended its support of World Vision, a California-based Christian relief organization.

The reason: Israel’s arrest of Mohammad El Halabi, World Vision’s director in Gaza, who was accused of diverting charity money from humanitarian causes to Hamas’ military operations.

Bearing in mind these hurdles, humanitarian and economic aid to Gaza should continue, possibly with more efficient mechanisms of control.

This, by the way, has been the consistent judgment of the IDF and the other Israeli security agencies.

No wonder, then, that Israel looked the other way last month, when Qatar donated $30 million to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza, provided that the money bypasses Hamas and goes straight to the individuals concerned.

Time now is of essence. In mid-October, there will be municipal elections in the West Bank, and Hamas announced its intention of running.

Experts predict that Hamas might take over big Palestinian cities like Hebron and Nablus.

For Israel, it means having Hamas on both sides. Since Hamas prospers on despair, it is in Israel’s best interest to give the Palestinians in Gaza as well as in the West Bank, the antidote — hope.

This, however, is not high on the Israeli public’s agenda. With no clear and present danger, Israelis now indulge in the same euphoria of “our situation has never been better.”

Hopefully, the wake-up call will not be too painful.

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