Steven Balkin
Inspired by Martin Buber and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Israeli New Safe Zones Can Win the War

Women and children in Rafah trying to flee to safety.
Women and children in Rafah trying to seek safety. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

What Hamas did on October 7 was immoral and suicidal for the Palestinian population that they are supposed to provide governmental leadership for. Hamas is hoping and expecting Jews to abandon Israel to avoid the danger of Hamas violence. The Netanyahu government has a similar vision: to make life so difficult for Palestinians that they will immigrate to other Muslim countries.

Israel has been lured into a war trap to kill thousands of civilian Gazans as collateral damage in the military effort to eliminate Hamas. High Gazan fatalities are advantageous to Hamas because it demonstrates (1) Palestinians need Hamas to protect them; (2) a way to generate new recruits to Hamas; (3) Israel is disproportionately harsh towards the Palestinians, resulting in demonstrations against Israel all over the world; (4) the difficulty for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) maneuvers and intelligence gathering to find and eliminate Hamas and (5) it is an effective way to demoralize the IDF soldiers.

Regardless of the guilt of Palestinian civilians towards killing and capturing Israelis and the guilt of the Netanyahu government and IDF towards inflicting high casualties on Palestinian civilians, they are all caught in a trap of war that needs a way out.

A way out of that trap is for Israel to flip the script. One path for this is the creation of new safe zones inside Israel. Going after Hamas militarily is a costly way to try to destroy it. Another way to weaken Hamas is turning Palestinians against cooperating with them.

Egypt won’t let Gazan civilians live temporarily in the Sinai Peninsula to get out of harm’s way under the assumption that either Israel won’t let them back in Gaza, or that they may refuse to move back to Gaza under an oppressive Hamas or Netanyahu government, or that Hamas members will infiltrate into the Palestinian civilian population and cause civil discord for Egypt as did the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most civilian Gazans want to be in a safe place of refuge away from the violent conflict. But there is no place that will accept them. A ceasefire would reduce fatalities, but it would go against Israel’s prime objective to militarily eliminate Hamas and it would go against the veiled defense objectives of most moderate Arab countries.

Instead (or in addition), Israel should provide safe places for Gazan civilians inside Israel. The designated zone of Al-Mawasi in Gaza is only 3.3 sq. miles and is appropriate for a few thousand people; not for a few hundred thousand; and certainly not for 1.5 million.

Fenced and walled temporary humanitarian residential safe zones inside Israel should be created by Israel contiguous to the eastern border of Gaza that is 5 miles (8 kilometers) wide as a temporary way station for Gazans to live in while the clean-up operations against Hamas are carried on in Gaza. On the west would be the buffer zone inside Gaza and on the East of it would be walls and fences, patrolled by the IDF. This area has been largely devoid of Israelis since October 7.

These safe zones are for Gazans with no militaristic or personal affiliation to Hamas. There are experienced screener-interviewer-investigators who can filter in these types of people, and statisticians can create models to predict people who are likely to be non-radical and non-militaristic. A good first proxy for this is to let in only women, the elderly, the sick and disabled, and children.

Entry into these zones would have to be voluntary where basic human rights are respected and families kept together; food, medical care, and basic living infrastructure are to be provided, and monitoring will be done by IDF, Israeli Muslims, NATO, and friendly Muslim countries.

The quality of life is likely to be better than in Gaza even if a humanitarian ceasefire were to be in effect. In a ceasefire, Israel would stop offensive military operations but there is nothing to protect Gazans against retaliatory Hamas violence from criticizing or non-cooperation with Hamas; and more Gazan civilian non-cooperation with Hamas is what we should want.

Egyptian President El-Sisi and The Atlantic Council has proposed something similar, but in the Negev Desert. With hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Palestinians, more than one area proximate to Gaza, may be required for temporary safe zones. The five-mile Gaza border extension seems preferable to the Negev because the military is already there and can help in the building of shelters and the provision of supplies; and can secure the area to prevent movement beyond the safe zone. Zones at the eastern edge of Gaza and in the Negev can all be used. But there must also be ways to reverse the movement of Gazans into Israel if adverse effects get generated. This could also be in vivo tests for peaceful co-existence in a new two or three state solution.

If Israel does create friendly safety zones inside Israel, Egypt may go along and take a substantial amount of Gazan Palestinians temporarily into Sinai. This would also be a force to push Palestinians, and their apparent supporters in Muslim countries, to lean on Hamas for unconditional release of all the hostages.

This strategy is a start to a walk-back from the trap of war. My training as an economist included doing Benefit-Cost analysis and this influenced me in proposing this. In many public policy decisions, there are winners and losers where there is a suspicion that there are potential win-win situations that are overlooked. This is where the Benefits to all those impacted are greater than the Costs. Oftentimes, this framework is ignored because emotions cloud their discernment. An Israeli author wrote to me saying “I wish you success in suggesting anything new in an environment that keeps on repeating itself.”

About the Author
Dr. Steven Balkin is a Professor Emeritus at Roosevelt University in Chicago where he teaches courses in economics, social justice, and criminal justice. His PhD. is from Wayne State University in Detroit. He is the author of many articles and a book: Self-Employment for Low Income People. His research focus is on violence prevention, international development, entrepreneurship, and cultural preservation. He is a member of the Chicago Political Economy Group.
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