An Israeli response to suffering in Gaza

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Feb. 15, 2017) – One reason why even liberal Israelis have qualms about a Palestinian state is because of what happened in the Gaza Strip after the Israeli disengagement in 2005. At the time many of us applauded the Israeli withdrawal in the belief that this was the first step in making the two-state solution work. A peace treaty would provide passage from the West Bank to Gaza through, under or over Israeli territory that would make it possible to establish a contiguous Palestinian state.

We soon found out, however, that the withdrawal was bad news for the population in Gaza, for Israel and for the prospect of peace. The Strip is now ruled by Hamas. Fatah-dominated West Bank doesn’t have much in common with it. Periodic barrages of missiles from Gaza constitute a threat to Israeli towns and villages. The wars with Israel have further devastated the Strip and cost many lives, also Israeli. The aftermath has further radicalized Hamas; it has just elected as its new leader a hothead who spent 21 years in an Israeli prison and was only released in the deal that brought back Gilad Shalit.

Apart from the two million Gazans and its Hamas rulers, the Gulf and other Muslim states such as Turkey, as well as the United Nations, are supposed to help the people to lead decent lives. Israel is expected to cooperate. As things are at present, none of the parties seems to be doing enough.

More satisfaction on the part of the population of Gaza may limit the excesses of the leaders of Hamas who seem to thrive on the misery of the people.

Gisha (Hebrew for “access” and “approach”) is an Israeli NGO described as the “Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.” It has a board of distinguished academics and other prominent Israelis and, judging by their credentials, a very competent staff. Its aim is to urge the government of Israel and its agencies to fulfil their obligations towards the population of Gaza. I read it to imply that Israel can do more without jeopardizing its security which, of course, is a prime concern.

A recent publication by Gisha in no way excuses the other parties but it also tells readers that “Israel must ensure that its actions do not prevent other actors, be they Palestinian or international, from fulfilling their duties or compensating for other duties. Therefore, the demand from Israel is, at the very least, to refrain from harming the economy and from blocking the efforts made by Gaza residents and international agencies….”

The implication seems to be that a stable Gaza may be in Israel’s interest. More satisfaction on the part of the local population may also limit the excesses of the leaders of Hamas who seem to thrive on the misery of the people and, for all we know, probably contribute to it by abusing the resources that reach the Strip.

A report in The Times of Israel quotes the representative of Qatar in Gaza, potentially the greatest financial contributor, that he maintains “excellent ties with various Israeli officials.” He added that “in some cases it is Palestinian officials who are holding up efforts to better lives of residents in the Strip.” Perhaps that’s why Qatar hasn’t to date provided all the funds it has committed. Perhaps, too, the efforts of Gisha are being rewarded.

The Gaza Strip remains an orphan in the Middle East that nobody wants to adopt because its leaders constitute a threat not only to Israel but also to neighbouring Egypt and probably to others. Mercifully some responsible Israelis around Gisha put Jewish values and humanitarian concerns before politics and perhaps even before security concerns.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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