David I. Roytenberg

Failure of Imagination

The Situation in Gaza Calls for New International Law

The demonstrators marching in Western capitals, the journalists reporting on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the human rights groups with their well rehearsed slogans, and the UN with its one-sided resolutions: None of them seem to grasp the enormity of the crime committed by Hamas in Gaza, a crime committed not against Israel but against the Palestinian population which lives under their domination. As Western leaders waver under the pressure of an orchestrated campaign of vilification against Israel, nobody seems to be talking about what Israel is uncovering daily as it gains ground in northern Gaza and Khan Younis.

To reclaim a metaphor already appropriated by the other side, there is an elephant in the room and nobody has yet acknowledged that it is present. What we are seeing is that every aspect of life and every person in Gaza is implicated, willingly or unwillingly in the singular project of preparing violence against Israel. Houses contain arms factories. Every hospital is also a military base. Every school is an arms depot. Every ambulance is a troop transport.

Every decent impulse that exists in the world is systematically highjacked and corrupted in service of the singular objective to which the interests of every Gazan has been subordinated. That objective is the extinction of Israel. In service of that objective, every Gazan is taught that Israel is irredeemably evil and that no compromise or coexistence with Israel is possible. In the context of this ideology, which Hamas does not hide from the world, the depraved acts committed against Israelis on October 7 become comprehensible, even commendable.

The type of regime created by Hamas in Gaza is a uniquely evil one. We need a new word for it. Just as the Nazi and Soviet governments were recognized as implementing a new form of human organization which merited the label Totalitarian, the system of government which was created in Gaza needs to be studied, exposed and labeled for the uniquely brutal and dehumanizing strategies it employs to harness a whole population and many beyond its borders in the service of genocide.

The use of the language of Islam is a feature it shares with ISIS and Al Qaeda, with the Taliban and the Iranian revolutionary guard. The role assigned to Zionism as the pinnacle of the world’s evil is also shared with these other movements. But the situation in Gaza has some unique aspects.

In Iran and Afghanistan, in Syria and Iraq, people have to earn a living. Whatever their views of good and evil, much of life is spent growing crops or trading. Those who are willing to carry a gun may well get a better life and higher social standing, but most of the population must still be engaged in the mundane activities necessary for human survival.

In Gaza, half the population is officially unemployed. Many of the rest work for UNRWA or the various humanitarian NGOs who together sustain the needs of the population. The UNRWA budget for Gaza in 2021 was 346 million dollars. In 2020, according to AP, total UN aid to Gaza was $600 million. Since 2018, the government of Qatar has sent $15 million a month or $225 million annually. According to the same AP article, the Palestinian Authority spends $1.7 billion dollars each year to pay salaries for its public servants living in Gaza. These people don’t actually work, as the PA is unable to operate in Gaza. Millions more come from the US and European governments. Before the war, 20,000 Gazans had permits to work in Israel, earning around 6000 NIS per month. Converting to US dollars this represents another 500 million dollars injected into the Gaza economy each year.

Putting all of this together, without considering money from private NGOs or the unknown, but vast amounts of money coming to Hamas covertly from Iran and private Islamic charities, we arrive at 3 billion dollars or about $1300 for every person in Gaza. If this money were being devoted to raising the human development of the people in Gaza and helping them join the modern world, who could object. But after 17 years of Hamas rule and tens of billions of dollars in western aid, that is not what we see.

We know that while people in Gaza are officially unemployed, they are not idle. While UNRWA and a raft of other NGOs see to the education, health and social welfare needs of half the Gaza population, young Gazans grow up to become fighters for Hamas. We have seen the stories about nursery schools in Gaza where the children are already learning the importance of killing Jews. We have read stories of Gazan children who have died digging tunnels. We are told that Hamas started the war with up to 40,000 fighters. Their training and sustenance is only possible because of the world’s largesse.

By misappropriating vast amounts of money that could have been devoted to making life better for the people of Gaza, Hamas has created what is literally a deep state, hidden under the surface. We see hospitals, but actually they are a facade for military infrastructure. We see schools but they are merely a smokescreen for weapons storage. We see poverty, but it is not there because money is lacking, but because money needed for more than subsistence is directed towards building bunkers and weapons. We see prosperity, but it is based on the exploitation of population and the graft of those close to the centres of power.

It seems to me that only the toxic combination of freely flowing international aid and the unchecked power of a totalitarian, antisemitic death cult like Hamas could enable the uniquely terrible conditions in Gaza, in which an entire population’s existence is mobilized for the project of erasing another population from the face of the earth. This ought to be a crime against humanity, just like Apartheid is considered a crime against humanity. I don’t know what we should call it, but the very existence of such a system ought to be an affront to the rest of the world.

October 7 should have made this clear to everyone, but apparently that is not the case. I hope that legal scholars and political scientists can turn their gaze away from the minute scrutiny of all of Israel’s faults to do a thoroughgoing analysis of what Hamas has wrought, how it came about, and how we can make sure it never happens again.

I will give the final word today to Einat Wilf who posted Sunday on X a statement that sums up the futility of propping up the present Palestinian leaders and points to what is actually necessary to gain a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

She was posting in response to an article in today’s Haaretz about the discovery of a tunnel 50 meters below the surface and four kilometers long. The tunnel is wide enough to move trucks and may well have been used to move the vehicles used to attack Israel on October 7. Here is what she wrote:

It should now be obvious that the October 7th attack required long term massive investment in infrastructure and tunnels, military build up, as well as strategic planning and coordination.  Perhaps we can now put to bed any notion of the “poor Palestinians” being a charity basket case of hapless know-nothings.

The problem was never the capabilities of the Palestinians. They have plenty.  It was their priorities. The Palestinian top priority, for over a century, has been for the Jews to have no state and no sovereignty anywhere in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (I was told that specifying the river and the sea is necessary these days…).

Towards that destructive cause of No-Jewish-State Palestinians have mobilized their efforts, capabilities and resources.

Therefore any discussion of sending once more billions of dollars into “Gaza reconstruction” needs to rest on an assurance that the Palestinians – leadership and people – have abandoned their “From the River to the Sea” ideology and are truly interested in pursuing the constructive cause of Palestinian sovereignty next to the Jewish sovereignty – rather than instead of it.

One cannot want for Palestinians (a sovereign state in part of the land next to the Jewish state of Israel) what they do not want for themselves. One cannot force Palestinians to turn Gaza into a prosperous model of Palestinian self-governance if they prefer to turn it into a launch pad to “liberate Palestine from the River to the Sea”.

Palestinians are not hapless. They simply need to decide that they prioritize building for themselves rather than destroying for others. Once that becomes their priority, all else will fall into place – including, absolutely, their own sovereign state next to the Jewish state of Israel, and finally – peace.

About the Author
David Roytenberg is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Canada, with a lifelong interest in Israel and Zionism. He spent 9 months in Israel in 1974-75 on Kibbutz Kfar Glickson and is a frequent visitor to friends and family in Israel. He is married and the father of two sons. David is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and the chair of Adult Education for Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa. He wrote monthly about Israel and Zionism for the Canadian Jewish News from 2017 to 2020.
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