This week marked one year since the first “Great March of Return” protest in the Gaza Strip which saw thousands of Palestinian demonstrators walking towards the border fence with Israel. One year on, and Israelis and Gazans are no more safe or secure than they were a year ago.
It is clear that the situation in the Gaza strip under Hamas rule is miserable. The life of Gazans is characterised by hunger and hopelessness. The recent mass demonstrations in the strip against Hamas – a terror organisation that abuses its own people – show that Gazans don’t trust their leadership. While Hamas’s responsibility for the poor state of the strip should not be underplayed, Israel too has a role to play in improving life in the strip. Ultimately, even if it is not solely responsible for the crisis in the strip, Israel cannot allow itself to ignore the deteriorating situation in Gaza. The sad truth is that as long as there are two million people in the Gaza strip who have nothing to lose – Israelis will be at risk.
Despite the IDF’s efforts and ongoing rounds of violence with Hamas in the past year, Israelis are still not secure. Just in the past few weeks the people of Israel’s southern communities faced non-ending rocket attacks and long nights in bomb shelters. This time round the people of the Gaza border region were not alone, they were joined by the residents of the Sharon – not far from Tel Aviv – who had to run to the bomb shelters too.
Albert Einstein said that “insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results”. Yet for ten years, Israel’s government has been trying the exact same remedy in Gaza: rounds of fighting followed by short ceasefires. Unsurprisingly, this method did not yield security and peace for the people of the Gaza border region. It is a consensus in the Israeli security establishment that ultimately there is no military solution to this conflict and only a political resolution that involves Hamas can prevent the next round of violence.
For years, senior security officials have been urging the government to act by non-military means. This has included asking the Israeli government to weaken extremist forces, and instead strengthen moderate ones, alongside improving living conditions in the Gaza strip to give people a reason to be hopeful. But the Israeli government has preferred to pursue a course of action that has resulted in the strengthening of Hamas, such as the approval of monthly payments of tens of millions of dollars from Qatar. All of this is happening at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, with which Israeli security forces have been successfully cooperating for years to maintain the relative calm in the West Bank.
Despite the security establishment repeated calls for Israel to develop a diplomatic strategy for Gaza, the Israeli government has chosen the short-term military route time and time again. It seems that, like a broken record, the Israeli right-wing continues to declare how they will destroy Hamas and, by doing that, solve all the security problems of the Gaza border region. But Israel has had a right-wing government for ten years now and Hamas is far from being destroyed and still terrorising the people of Israel and Gaza.
How many more years of rockets will Israelis have to endure before someone in the Israeli government pursues a different strategy?