Rafi Gassel

Holot Haluza, temporary refuge for Gaza residents

While watching the continuing conflict with Hamas in Gaza continue I find myself increasingly worried about the safety of everyone involved, everyone except Hamas to be honest, don’t really care about them. But I see everyday images of utter horror happening to civilians in Gaza and I become more and more concerned for the safety of the Israeli soldiers in Gaza, of whom I know many. As well I am more and more concerned about the Israeli civilians that are likely to find themselves targets of terrorist attacks by an increasingly angry Palestinian population watching this war unfold.

It occurred to me to take a serious look again at the suggestion of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi when he said “I would suggest Israel relocate civilian Palestinians to the desert in Nakab in Israel till it finishes its operations with Hamas and other Islamist militias.” President El-Sisi said this as he was speaking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a news conference in Cairo on October the 18th. The Nakab is how the Negev Desert is referred to in Arabic. 

In the weeks before the outbreak of this last war I had happened to be working on a peace proposal with some Palestinian and Israeli friends for a type of confederation between Israel and Palestine, something like a partnership of two states. It was suggested by a Palestinian friend of mine that we should try and add some land to Gaza in order for them to build an airport and perhaps an industrial zone. It is very surreal to one week be chatting with Palestinians from Gaza about building a peaceful future together and then the next week to see war break out and to hear how their homes are being bombed and they are fleeing to southern Gaza to seek shelter. 

So, during the stage when we were still talking about living together in peace, I came up with something that looked like this image, a panhandle coming off of southern Gaza with an expansive area in the middle of what we call the Holot Haluza desert region. This region was named after the once Nabatean Arab city of Halasa, now in ruins, that is nearby and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Image created by author, using base map from Sergei Kondrashov, 2022, Geographical distribution of the main ethno-cultural communities Southern district, Based on Israel CBS data
Coloration represents theoretical peace proposal whereby the blue region is part of the State of Israel, the Green region is part of the State of Palestine including border adjustments and the yellow region is a shared Special Economic District.

Israel would be able to create a fenced perimeter around this region, or a smaller version of it, with a narrow corridor coming off of Southern Gaza. Then they would be able to set up orderly crossings run by Israel, with metal detectors and check the identity of each person leaving to make sure no known Hamas members are allowed to leave the Gaza Strip.

In this region Israel could set up temporary refugee camps and field hospitals as well as Israeli run schools and daycare programs for the Gazan children in order to begin a process of reeducation for peace. Once the vast majority of the population has been relocated to Israel, the Israel defense forces will be in a situation with an empty Gaza that only contains Hamas fighters and our hostages. 

At that point I would largely expect Hamas to surrender since they will not have any human shields to hide behind any more. We would still have around 150 Israeli civilians, but that is hardly enough to hide 35,000 Hamas fighters behind. Should Hamas decide that now is their time for their Masada Moment then as an Israeli I would be happy to support giving them their final request. Though I would think that it is more likely that most would in fact surrender. 

This obviously would take a lot of logistics to pull off, it would require extensive support for the Americans and the international community. However, I am very sure that there would be massive support from several countries around the world willing to help Israel in this endeavor, this would be one of the most highly supported international projects in the history of humanity. You could bring in medical and childcare support from all over the western and Arab world who would be more than happy to help out and save the lives of so many countless people. 

This would radically improve the image of the state of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole and the support for defeating Hamas would be incredibly high. Countries all over the world would also be happy to help out with the process of rebuilding Gaza, countries such as China and India would be happy to send in engineers and teams of workers to help rebuild the Gaza strip.

When after all of this we come back to future peace talks with the Palestinians this territory in Haluza can be an option to remain part of the state of Palestine as part of the minor border adjustments for a final negotiated settlement. The area that was once their life raft could be on offer as part of their new borders as a permanent reminder of our gesture of mercy to the Palestinian people that will openly open a new door of friendship between our two peoples.

The alternative option to this is to continue to try and fight a war in southern Gaza against most of the main force of Hamas that is now hiding under 2.1 million Gazan civilians in a little over half of Gaza. That is about 2.1 million civilians in around 200 km squared, or 10,500 persons per km2 and Israel somehow expects to fight a war there and limit civilian casualties. This seems to me like a mission impossible. 

I hope there will not be a huge death toll in civilian and military lives alike, but I don’t know how to avoid that with so many civilians around. As a result of which we will likely see so much international pressure that Israel risks losing support before it finishes the job of finishing off Hamas. Whereas if nearly all of the civilians are removed from the area, our soldiers could basically shoot as anything that moves as potential risks to Israeli soldiers would also dramatically be reduced. 

I really think that we ought to consider the advice of President El-Sisi, it’s starting to look, at least to me, like some sound advice here. Whatever we choose to do I wish success to the IDF in their mission to recover the hostages and defeat Hamas. 

About the Author
Rafi is a biotechnology professional living in Jerusalem with his wife and three children. Rafi immigrated to Israel from the USA. He now manages a biotechnology business in the field of genetic sequencing located in Jerusalem. Rafi is also a peace activist in the Israel-Palestine space promoting federalism and collective rights.
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