Gaza, everything that could have been

Nothing was ever more evident, more clear than Operation Protective Edge, that is still struggling to come to a conclusion. Both the forces involved and the reasons behind their clash leave no room for doubt, while their nature and their dynamics are also unmistakable. In account of this, the unprecedented wave of anti-Semitic hatred that spread through Europe is even more tormenting.

The fact that banners with the slogan “Death to Jews” could be seen during a demonstration in Berlin is an authentic tragedy for Europe, which is proving this way to have lost both its memory and its honor.

I have described many times, and at length, how the war broke out on July 7; a war in which Israel had no choice and a lot of reluctance, and how this conflict has nothing to do with the alleged “vendetta” for the kidnapping and murder of the three students. In that case, Israel’s action consisted in a necessary search operation through the territory around Hebron, which has nothing to do with Gaza, and it stopped exactly when, sadly, the teenagers’ bodies were found. Instead, it should be remembered that, during those days, rockets were already being fired from Gaza on the Israeli Southern populations, and their frequency was being increased, so as to place ever more emphasis on Hamas’ military power, already glorified by the kidnapping, and to put the Islamist organization at the forefront of the battle against Israel during a particularly crucial time.

In fact, a coalition government between Fatah and Hamas was just formed: we can say that Hamas, with its aggression to Israel, has intensified its escalation toward the hegemonic conquest of the Palestinian world, first in the West Bank with the kidnapping, and then, in progress, with all its weapons, namely the missiles and the rockets raining on the Israeli civilian population. Then, just a month later, Israel discovered that Hamas had organized a large armed conspiracy against Fatah in the West Bank. A pretty nice coalition indeed.

It is also patent that Israel did not have a choice but to defend itself, as even Obama and the European Union reiterated. And it does sound so strange to have to assert that, when the population is under heavy fire, the very root of the social contract requires the State to confront the enemy, and stop it with all its power. And if that enemy uses its own people – slaves, as in the case of Gaza – as human shields, every comma of the international law holds it responsible for their fate.

But we already talked about this many times. Some even speak of Gaza, completely cleared out since 2005, as an occupied territory, an agonizing victim of Israel’s egotism. But even looking back in time, Israel has already tried to create a sense of normality in Gaza on two occasions, and the result was a transition from suicide bombers to the methodical bombing of its cities. Let us not forget that, in 1993, after the Oslo Accords, Israel transferred the civilian control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, exactly as it did in the West Bank, where I saw with my own eyes all the soldiers fleeing the Palestinian towns, and Arafat arriving on a helicopter in Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah… one by one, on his way back from Tunisia by Israel’s will.

Just a very limited part of the Strip, the one where the settlements were, remained in the hands of the Jewish State. In 1998, an airport was inaugurated in Gaza, as well as a state-of-the-art commercial harbor in the summer of 2000. Arafat bought a very nice villa in Gaza, where Mrs. Clinton went to meet his wife, Suha. In 1999, a corridor was established for cars, buses, and trucks from the Erez Crossing to the West Bank, in a sort of prefiguration of the Palestinian State at the times when it seemed so close; and all that in spite of the countless terrorist attacks. Then the Second Intifada came, with more than a thousand Israeli victims in the cafes, on the buses, and in the streets of Jerusalem. Israel bombed the port and the airport, and defended itself from the terrorists’ incoming, but, nevertheless, after a relatively short time, it started another special peace process with Gaza. In 2005, Ariel Sharon decided to try a particularly daring solution: a unilateral withdrawal of every Jew soldier and resident from the Strip; the “Itnatkut”, disengagement, took place amid the desperation of a little less than ten thousand people, and the Erez Crossing was completely renovated. Shimon Peres spoke about that development as the beginning of a major scientific and industrial partnership, he imagined a railway connecting Gaza with the West bank and other marvelous developments for a new Middle East. In the meanwhile, some European and American companies interested in peace were sending aid to the Palestinians so that the nice system conceived and operated by the settlers could keep on supplying the new autonomous institution in Gaza with flowers and cherry tomatoes. In the meantime, there were international groups designing a new airport, a port and railways.

But it turned out as it did: I saw agricultural and industrial facilities torn apart, pickaxes used against synagogues and fires being started. Then again, it was mainly the internal political process that destroyed every chance of salvation for that ill-fated strip of land. Already in 2000, before Israel started to import from Gaza mostly terrorists with their explosive belts, half a million people were able to leave the Strip on a daily basis to go to their jobs in Israel. As Tovah Lazaroff writes on the Jerusalem Post, that number had dramatically dropped in 2005 to 31.424 people.

In January, 2006, Hamas won the elections, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped shortly after, and the restrictions created an increasingly critical situation for the population. In 2007, the conflict with Fatah became an outright war, and everyone remembers Hamas’ men shooting their enemies from Fatah in the knees, mercilessly killing them by throwing them from the tallest buildings. And, as a consequence, the restrictions became more serious due to cogent security reasons. Karni, Sufa and Nahal Oz crossings were closed, while only Kerem Shalom remained open to the traffic of trucks bringing goods into Gaza. But there is a self-destruction mechanism here as well, or rather there is the destruction of every possible form of human relation.

I saw with my own eyes that from Gaza, even during this war – the third one since 2001, when Israel started to be sprayed with rockets: a rain of fire prevented Kerem Shalom from letting 140 trucks in, the ones that every day, even during wartime, used to bring food and medicines to the Palestinians.

Before Israel, it was Egypt with its new President, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, that tackled the problem of the tunnels built by the Palestinians over time in order to bring both terrorist attacks and various goods inside Gaza. After having ousted the Muslim Brotherhood of the previous President, his enemy Mohamed Morsi, Sisi destroyed tunnels and homes around Rafah, establishing a three kilometers buffer zone. Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sisi hates it.

While Hamas was increasing the number of tunnels and the quality of its rockets with the help of Qatar and Iran, the social, living, and working conditions in Gaza further declined. Over all these years, the Gaza population has been a prisoner of Hamas, a willing and terrified prisoner that voted for its persecutors: there are very few signs of rebellion, in spite of the ruthless use of civilians as human shields, and in spite of the destruction that rained down on Gaza because of the incessant, reiterated and persistent use of rockets. The choice to silence those rockets would have been followed by a peaceful response at any time, as Netanyahu stated more than once (Sheket yaanè be sheket, “Silence will be met with silence”).

Hamas did spoil Gaza, and it intends to keep doing so, even though it is now hiding behind the claim that its request is related to the opening of the borders, and that it is committed to the citizens’ well-being. But Hamas is only committed to seek the destruction of Israel, in order to be able to rebuild the tunnels and get the money to strengthen its rocket stockpiles. There has been an opening of the borders, and even more than that, because – as we already explained – a hope for peace has been invested in Gaza. That hope has been crushed, because Hamas is lying when it speaks about reconstruction, openness, free movement, while de facto is shamelessly proposing itself as a barbaric religious organization that has in mind the destruction not only of Israel, but of anything it considers to be a threat to the imposition of a worldwide caliphate.

Hamas could have tried thousands of times to adopt a rational behavior aimed at its citizens’ good, but it always reacted the opposite way. Its natural inclination is the typical one of radical Islam in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Nigeria. Its first victims are the Muslims themselves, as we saw during the war with Fatah, and the number of casualties, far from being a deterrent, is an encouragement for them.

It cannot be an agreement with Hamas, only deterrence can work with terrorists. This has been proved not only by the Israeli-Palestinian context, but by the situation worldwide. It is crucial to wake up those who want to understand, make them focus on the necessity of an active approach, because there have never been so many Hamas militants in motion, nor so many Christians and Jews have never been in danger like these days. The story of these organizations is always the evidence that words like truce, peace and agreement have no meaning for them.


Originally Published by

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.