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The tip of the iceberg of the complexity that is Gaza

The mess that Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and, yes, Israel wrought
A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Khan Younis on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Khan Younis on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

I have been pretty quiet lately. Which, I guess, is pretty uncharacteristic. For me. However, I have been thinking long and hard, working out my feelings about the situation in Gaza. I would like to share with you what I think.

In Gaza there is a humanitarian crisis. The situation seems impossible to solve. People’s lives for the most part, are destitute. Drinking water is compromised. Electricity three hours per day. 50% unemployment. The situation is heart-wrenching.

Also in Gaza, there are modern shopping malls with electric escalators and shiny boutiques with the latest in Muslim fashion. There are also mansions made of marble, and swimming pools.

In addition in Gaza, there are underground attack and smuggling tunnels, caches of tens of thousands of rockets, explosives factories training camps for Hamas military and enough funds every year to pull off rallies, marches, well equipped “summer camps” for Hamas toddlers etc. A veritable contradiction between what is constantly shown on the world news networks, and what is never shown, but what we know, through IDF discoveries and intelligence.

It seems that it doesn’t matter how much money is poured into Gaza (and we are talking about tens of millions of dollars here — if not more), the lot of the Gazan in the street never improves. This, despite the daily convoys of hundreds of tons of materials shipped into Gaza from Israel on a daily basis. How can it be, that after 13 years of money pouring in from some of the richest countries in the world, like Qatar, not to mention UN aid on a monthly basis that we never see an improvement of conditions? One reason is that cynically, it is in Hamas’ interests for the people they are responsible for to suffer, because of the sympathy it generates in the world and the condemnation of Israel that it brings with it. Another reason could be this: Whatever is brought into Gaza is immediately commandeered by Hamas. Hamas then appropriates what it needs for its war machine and military apparatus (including building materials for its tunnels. But, what does it do with the rest? It doesn’t distribute it to the needy, or to the people on the street. Rather, Hamas has a web of Black Marketeers. It is all sold on the Black Market at an exorbitant cost.

Consider this: goods and foodstuffs DONATED to the people of Gaza, is taken from them and sold on the Black Market for enormous profit to Hamas officials and profiteers. Meanwhile the ordinary people suffer. And Israel is blamed. And, presumably, just like in the Soviet Union, if you wanted a better life for your family, you had to join the Party, the same here. If you want to provide for your family and have access to the goods on the Black Market, you join Hamas. You submit to their pressure. You undergo whatever initiation is necessary to provide for your family and to prove your loyalty. It might be joining their military wing. It might be “sacrificing” a family member for a suicide mission.

Or, it might be allowing them to build tunnels under your house, or to stash rockets in your basement. This is part of the life for a lot of people in Gaza. Some do it to survive and it is hard to blame them. Others do it because they truly hate Israel (and Jews) and are willingly complicit. It is difficult to distinguish between the two at this stage. So, a large part of blame for the situation in Gaza falls on those elected to care for their people — and don’t, Hamas.

Israel is also surely to blame. Many decisions taken with regard to what it allows in and out of Gaza is capricious. We control the pressure lever, which we sometimes use “to show them who is boss.” There have even been cases where Israel has banned spices (yes, you read right, *spices*) into Gaza, so that the people can’t cook food that has taste. And Israel manipulates these shipments to “send a message” whenever it feels the need to do so. This happens, my friends. Do not delude yourselves: we are not benevolent benefactors of the Palestinian people. We are often capricious and overbearing and we can be bloody-minded.

So, when people say that Israel left Gaza in 2005 and therefore we are no longer responsible for what happens there? Not so much. We still have the power to close it down and make life intolerable for the people in Gaza.

Then there is the Palestinian Authority, who since 2006 are at loggerheads with Hamas. Officially Israel has no agreement with Hamas. It has a dysfunctional agreement with the PA. Hamas is still officially recognized as under the auspices of the PA. That means all the funds, excise and taxes which Israel collects for the PA, is transferred to the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas. The PA then allocates funds from this to Gaza. Due to the enmity between Fatah and Hamas, the PA, which controls the purse strings, has withheld funds being transferred to Gaza, further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there. However, it is not politically expedient for Hamas to publicly express conflict with the PA (showing Palestinian disunity to the world), so they don’t publicly blame Abbas, they blame us, the traditional whipping boy.

In a nutshell, that is the tip of the iceberg of the complexity that is Gaza.

On we go. Since 2009, Israel has not had a political vision about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu chose to “manage” the conflict, rather than try to solve it. Which is very convenient for him, because, when it comes to his political career, he doesn’t take risks. He does not have the courage to initiate anything that might jeopardize his coalition and his position as PM. Whenever he has come to a crossroads where he has had to choose the path that in the long run would benefit Israel or choose the path which would benefit him and perpetuate his political career, he has always chosen the latter. The latest example is with the refugee crisis, where he signed an agreement with the UN, believing that he was doing what was the best thing to do to solve the crisis, and after a mere six hours of backlash, he reversed his decision, in order to placate his supporters and coalition partners. Now, instead of having half the number of refugees in Israel, we have them all.

Back to Gaza. Over the years since 2010 and the Mavi Marmara affair, there have been numerous crossroads of decisions Israel could have taken with regard to Gaza. Both in terms of how to control the situation, politically and security wise, and with regard to decisions as to how to secure the border and enforce the blockade. In every case, a choice was made, by the military and the political echelon, which led us to the March of Return.

We are at this point, because of decisions made in the past. However, once we got to this point, with the limited options at our disposal now (having rejected options which required creative thinking and forethought in the past), we have no choice but to play this out — protect the integrity of the border without compromise, in order to protect Israeli citizens only a few hundred meters from the barrier. And if lethal force is required now, so be it. I would choose international censure of Israel’s acts every day of the week over having to attend tens of funerals of Israelis, young and old, because we compromised. And, that is what it comes down to.

Now, I am really not an expert on Koranic teachings and the Muslim mentality. However having lived in Israel for long enough, and having seen Hamas operate and develop from its inception, I have formed an opinion as to how it works. Therefore, it did not surprise me in the least that Hamas hijacked the March of Return and the “protests” last Monday, inciting the people and at the same time cynically using the tens of thousands of “protesters” both as human shields and as cover and diversions, in order for its operatives to infiltrate Israel and commit mass murder. This is how Hamas works. It creates a picture, an illusion of one thing, seemingly just and innocent, for public consumption, while it uses it as cover to further its military and political aims (read murderous aims). For them, they cannot lose. If they break through and fulfill their threat to kill hundreds, they have scored a huge victory. If they fail, but tens of Palestinians are killed on the fence, they have scored a media coup, having the world vilify Israel and having returned Gaza to the focus of international attention.

Thus, it was with no small measure of vindication that I heard about the announcement by Hamas itself, that of the 63 Palestinians killed on that fateful Monday, 53 were Hamas operatives, and another three were Islamic Jihad.

Now, notice please, that I wrote “protests” in inverted commas. That is because this was not a protest. It was dressed up and “marketed” as a protest, but it was a well-organized riot. In fact, it was a military operation, for all intents and purposes. At a protest, the leaders and organizers attend and place themselves in the front, to be seen and to lead the protesters, exhorting them and chanting their slogans with megaphones. Hamas’ leaders, Sinwar, Haniya and Mahmoud a-Zahar, were conspicuous in their absence. I believe that this is because they knew — and even planned for what transpired.

Further; at protests, you do not come with an unlimited amount of tires to burn, ready-made Molotov cocktails, gallons of petrol and kites to soak in it to burn. These items do not belong in a “protest.” They do belong in an anticipated violent clash, planned in advance. So, no this was NOT Sharpeville revisited.

As to the claim that the protesters were unarmed, I concede that many were unarmed. They were the fodder, as planned. But in order to shoot down an IDF drone, you need to have a rifle. To place an IED on the fence, you need to have explosives. If you hurl a grenade, or a Molotov cocktail, you are not unarmed — and, in my opinion, you get what is coming to you. So, no, this was not a protest. Perhaps they were protesting something on ONE level, but this was not a protest. It was *dressed up* to look like a mass protest, but that’s about it. Hamas, who organized it down to the last detail, released a YouTube video calling on Israeli settlers in the South, to abandon their homes, or risk slaughter. It said “we are coming for you and we will rip out your livers and eat them”. This was on the Saturday before the fateful Monday. Is that something you say at a protest?

Could Israel, with forethought and different strategic planning and organization, have acted differently? If you are talking months in advance, I believe yes. If you are talking weeks in advance, or while there were weekly incidents at the border, no.

The one thing that niggles me, however, which I cannot condone and to which I do not have an answer, is that in dealing with mass violent protests of Haredi or right wing Israeli protesters, like in the evacuation of Gaza, not a single shot was fired and not a single protester was killed. Yet, in the riots in the north of Israel in 2000, when Israeli Arabs protested Sharon’s ascension to Al Aqsa, 13 people were shot to death. In Um el Hiram, when Israel dismantled a Bedouin village built illegally, an Israeli Bedouin man was shot to death. How do you explain that? How do you explain that when the protesters are not Jews, lethal force is employed, and when Jews are involved, it is not?

About the Author
Paul Mirbach made aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz transforming rocks and mud to a green oasis in the Gallilee. He served in infantry during his army service, serving in both Lebanon and the West Bank, including on reserve duty during the first intifada. Paul still lives on Tuval with his wife and two sons.
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