Shayna Abramson

It’s Time to Talk about Gaza

At the moment, there is a crisis brewing on our border. I’m not referring to Syria, where hundreds of thousands have died, and millions have been displaced, where everyday, patients are ferried in over the border to be treated in Israeli hospitals, and sent back quietly, because if it’s found out they accepted treatment from Israel, their lives might be in danger.

I’m referring to Gaza — the crisis nobody talks about. Since Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, it has been largely in the hands of Hamas, a terrorist organization that has used its power -and foreign aid — to enrich itself at the expense of Gaza’s residents, focusing on amassing wealth and weapons. Freedom of speech in Gaza is quite limited, and elections are non-existent. Decisions by Israel and Egypt to have closed borders, with only two crossings that are heavily monitored, as well as to prevent certain items from being shipped into Gaza lest they be used as weapons against Israeli civilians by Hamas, have contributed to siege-like conditions. Recently, Gaza’s electricity –provided by Israel and paid for by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s political rival — was cut of, until Israel essentially told the Palestinian Authority that if it didn’t agree to start paying Gaza’s electric bill again, it would simply withhold the money from them, without asking. (Israel could make this threat because some of the Palestinian Authority’s revenues go through Israel.) Meanwhile, to make a long story short, the upshot of a failed reconciliation attempt between the Palestinian Authority, combined with budget cuts to UNRWA as a result of Donald Trump’s decision to cut off funding, mean that many Palestinian government and aid workers are out of a job – meaning that one of Gaza’s major economic sectors has come undone. Now, people in Gaza are starving.

The humanitarian situation has gotten bad enough that Israel has appealed to the international community to help: 96% of Gaza’s water is undrinkable, and Israel wants to help build a desalination plant.

Israel has sought to alleviate the crisis by allowing more goods into Gaza, including goods that have the potential to act as weapons, but, despite that, the number of goods going into Gaza has drastically decreased, because people can’t afford to buy anything, so merchants aren’t ordering. There have been mass general strikes and protests in Gaza, as well as protests along the border fence between Gaza and Israel. In some of these protests, IDF soldiers have been injured by explosive devices. This means that, in addition to being a humanitarian crisis, the situation in Gaza is also an Israeli security crisis: Millions of starving people, with access to the materials needed to build weapons, live just beyond the border, and blame Israel for their woes.

Some think of President Donald Trump as pro-Israel, however, it is his decision to cut off funding to UNRWA that helped precipitate the crisis, and that prevents the US from helping to solve the crisis, even though the crisis endangers Israel. Israel’s plea to help Gaza has largely fallen on distracted ears: International aid organizations have their hands full with the war in Syria and the genocide in Mynamar; Europe is focused on Brexit and on German coalition politics.

Unlike Israel’s efforts to aid the crisis in Syria, Israel’s efforts to alleviate the situation in Gaza have remained largely under the radar, depriving Israel of a news story that could help improve its much-maligned image. Why? Presumably, it would be highly unpopular with the Israeli public -especially the government’s voter base -to do anything remotely nice for Gaza. The government doesn’t want to face public pressure to stop taking steps to prevent what it sees as not only a major humanitarian crisis, but also, a major security crisis for Israel.

This has all led to the situation where there are people starving right beyond Israel’s border, and nobody -in Israel, or around the world -is talking about it. It’s time to start talking about Gaza — and it is especially incumbent upon those of us who live in Israel to do so, both because of Israel’s geographic proximity to Gaza, and because Israel is one of the the actors with the power to help change the situation.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.