So a guy finds a bottle on the beach, rubs it, and a genie comes out. “I’ll grant you anything you want,” says the genie. “Great,” says the guy. “I have relatives in England, but I hate flying. Build me a bridge from here to England. “Are you crazy?” says the genie. “That’s impossible. There’s not enough concrete on the planet to do something like that. Please be more realistic.” “Okay,” says the guy. “Figure out what to do about Gaza.”
The genie thinks for a few minutes and says, “Did you want two lanes or four?”
This joke came to mind when one of my congregants responded to my last blog post, about the legitimacy of Israel’s self-defense during the recent Gaza riots. He agreed with the general principle, but pointed out correctly that Israel, rightly or wrongly, has policies that make the life of Gazans miserable. Was there nothing that could be done?
This is my response.
There has been a lot of talk about what to do for Gaza, but every choice involves a dizzying array of unintended consequences. It’s a geo-political tea party that would drive the Mad Hatter crazy.
Look at the options:
There are those who aren’t concerned about Israel’s “security concerns,” who suggest simply ending the Israeli blockade because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Go directly to war, do not pass go, do not collect anything but body bags.
This would enormously strengthen Hamas, which is explicitly genocidal. That alone makes it anything but “the right thing to do.” And if that weren’t enough, the Palestinian Authority (PA) would be fatally weakened in the West Bank. Simply put, anybody who talks about Israel’s “security concerns” with scare quotes, as if those concerns aren’t real, isn’t worth listening to. For sure, Israel won’t be listening to them, and we shouldn’t either.
A variant on the theme is to loosen the blockade, but not end it altogether. The idea here is that since Israel knows how to handle the Hamas tunnels and the Hamas rockets, we should let the cement and pipes through in order to ease the suffering of the civilian population.
Only two problems: First, it won’t ease the suffering of the civilian population, because Hamas needs the civilian population to suffer. Second, it is an open invitation to a truly right-wingnut government taking over in Israel. All you need is one rocket to hit one kindergarten with kids in it (not an empty one, as happened just last week, in spite of Iron Dome, etc.), and the government of “appeasers” falls. And if you think Netanyahu is really right-wing, just wait.
On the other end of the spectrum are those that say Israel should go back into Gaza, reoccupy every inch, go through every house, every tunnel, arrest or kill every terrorist, and “clean up the mess.”
What could possibly go wrong?
This plan should go about as well as Afghanistan. Thousands of dead Israeli soldiers, tens of thousands of dead Palestinians, mostly civilians.
And the world will sit by passively, without any negative consequences for Israel.
But what of the massive civilian suffering, the “strangulation,” the “open air prison”? Get real. After Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the Palestinians were offered $5.4 billion (“billion” with a b) for reconstruction. 90,000 homes have been rebuilt, along with hospitals, schools, etc.
Sure, Israel could do things like expand Gaza’s fishing zone, or loosen up on Gaza exports, or allow more areas to be cultivated for agriculture (you, know, areas near the border fence next to the Israeli fields burned by those ever-innovative Palestinian youth with their flaming kites. Gee, those kids…).
I doubt, though, that people who claim they are ready to die because they have nothing to live for will change their minds because they can catch a few more fish. When you say you have “nothing to lose,” it implies that if you did have something to lose, it would change your mind. But no economic relief is really going to matter when you are led by people whose idea of victory is standing on a pile of rubble and flashing a “v”-sign. If unemployment is approaching 50% in Gaza, it’s because Hamas wants employment to approach 50% in Gaza. (In the meantime, another Israeli tech-whiz will sell his after- school garage project to Google for a billion dollars)
There have been calls to bring in the PA, which could then spearhead a massive reconstruction with the backing of the Arab world and leapfrog into an independent Palestinian state. All that would need to happen would be for Hamas to disarm.
Disarm Hamas?! Weapons are to Hamas what blood is to the circulatory system. Proof that G-d has a sense of humor is the ironic fact that the Hebrew word for violence is…“hamas.” That anyone would seriously raise this (non)possibility is a mark of the desperation of well-meaning people to find a solution — any solution — to the problem of Gaza. Even one that doesn’t work.
An option already proposed by Israel would be to take five billion dollars, build an island with an airport and a seaport, linked to Gaza by a bridge. Israel would be responsible for security, but other than that it would be the Arab states, or the international community, that would have to carry the ball. Which is vaguely like asking someone if they would like cancer. Egypt, for one, wants absolutely nothing to do with Gaza. Neither do the Europeans, who would be in constant confrontations with Hamas. The only ones that would fall all over themselves to make a mark in Gaza are the Iranians, who see Gaza as a bridgehead in their drive to the Mediterranean.
That won’t help.
An alternative to all of these political machinations is simply for Israel to use the same five billion dollars to pay Gazans to leave. It’s a lot cheaper than tanks, and the fact is that almost all the water in Gaza is (and will remain) undrinkable, so Gazan society is already on the verge of collapse — and that doesn’t take into account global warming and sea-level rise, which in a few decades will put much of Gaza under water, and make agriculture impossible. But, of course, anyone who even suggests such a thing would be accused of ethnic cleansing. Better to let the Palestinians suffer nobly.
So what’s to do? As long as Hamas is in power, and wants misery, there’s going to be misery. So how do we a) alleviate the misery while simultaneously b) diminishing the power of Hamas?
Here’s my two-part suggestion: 1. Israel should offer to let a select number of Gazan workers (say, 5,000 to start) into Israel. They should get paid exactly the same wages as Israelis doing the same job. The security procedures that will be put in place should be as streamlined and gentle (albeit necessarily thorough) as possible. Over time, the numbers could increase. 2. UNWRA funds should be systematically decreased in rough proportion to the wages being brought in by the workers.
Why is this a good idea?
- Part one doesn’t involve an intricate minuet among international players. Israel can just do it. Part two, which does, would get broad backing for purely economic reasons. Why should the international community pay welfare money when people are actually getting jobs that pay them far more?
- Beside putting more money into the Gazan economy, and doing it on the individual level, it will remove the well-documented negative consequences of UNWRA welfare payments. These keep the Palestinians detached from the reality that real economics involve something other than endless declarations of hate for Israel.
- If Hamas goes along with this, suddenly people really will have “something to live for.” In fact, on an Israeli salary, they can live like kings in Gaza. A janitor in Israel earns $1,500/month. Average wage in Gaza is about a quarter of that ($419), if you are in the lucky half of the population that has a job at all.
- If Hamas, true to form, prefers to keep everyone miserable, and refuses to let people participate on grounds of “anti-normalization of the Zionist entity,” then two things happen. First, Gazans will look at Hamas and say “Are you meshuga?” (not exactly, but you get the idea). “You’re making us turn down a dream job so we can all starve in solidarity?” That’s not going to make Hamas any more popular, and the overthrow of Hamas can’t come soon enough (for Gazans themselves, not to mention the rest of us). Second, Israel will be able to look to the EU, the UN, and the rogues’ gallery of NGO’s and say, “What do you want from us? We offered to build a bridge, they offered to burn it down.”
This is not a big step forward. No illusions there. But it is a small step, which, as regards Gaza, is a minor miracle. It could shake up the situation, creating more options for the future.
Alan Dershowitz likes to say that in Israel, the pessimist says “It can’t possibly get worse,” and the optimist cheerily answers, “Oh yes it can!” As bad as it is in Gaza — and it’s bad — it could easily get worse. Much worse. War, of course, is worse. But even in the absence of war, Hamas can continue to retard the growth of Gaza for its propagandistic purposes—the political equivalent of a childhood temper tantrum.
And every parent knows that when you give in to tantrums, you create a monster.