Baruch Bebchick

Move Gaza


The unprecedented, extraordinarily brazen Hamas attack on Israel during the early morning hours of Simchat Torah is still being digested. As of this moment, over 1,200 Israelis have been reported murdered for the “crime” of being Jews, and Hamas claims to be holding over 130 hostages in Gaza. Thus far the response of the Israeli government has been tepid and seems to be employing old-school tactics rather that executing a game-changing solution. The former has never worked, but has just kicked the problem of Hamas controlling Gaza down the road and has enabled these problems to incubate and fester. It is high time for the latter type of response – the taking of earth-shaking action – which will ensure that no Arab neighbor or other enemy of Israel will soon contemplate any type of repeat performance.

Because I know many will consider what I propose below to be extreme, I should preface things by explaining that I am hardly a rabid right-winger. In fact, I believe that right now an emergency national coalition government should be formed, the sooner the better. For one thing, Israel will not be able to take the drastic measures that are called for in the wake of the Hamas atrocities without having consensus across the political divide. Further, a recent interrogation of one of the captured Hamas terrorists revealed what many already knew – that Hamas was motivated to act by the divisiveness of the Israeli people over the recent months of judicial reform protests. We clearly are weaker when we are divided, and now is the time for unity. It is heartbreaking that we have to keep learning the same lesson, since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, of what happens to the Jewish people when there is disunity and discord.

It is obvious that Israel’s immediate response to the vile Hamas attacks must be, first and foremost, to secure the Gaza border and our southern communities (there were reports even yesterday of Hamas terrorists still at large in the south) and to devise a prompt and decisive plan of action for returning our hostages to their homes. That must be priority one. But once those issues have been addressed, Israel must quickly establish new facts on the ground that will both effectively address the Gaza problem and also create meaningful and lasting deterrence.

Bombing empty buildings in Gaza does nothing to sway the enemy and is a waste of perfectly good ordnance. Striking Hamas weapons caches is important but only a small part of what needs to be done, and alone is just more of the same cat-and-mouse game Israel has been playing unsuccessfully for years. What is required now is a complete reshuffling of the deck. We are either willing to do what it takes to protect Jewish lives and prevent Hamas from ever again invading Israeli communities, or we should just cut our losses and give up on the dream of an independent Jewish State in Israel. This is indeed a watershed moment, and it is time to make a choice.

That said, the effectiveness of new measures is not the only factor that must be considered. While carpet bombing Gaza would be very effective in protecting Israel from future Hamas attacks, we are not Hamas after all and can’t just kill 2.3 million people. Even though other countries would not hesitate (given the circumstances) to napalm a territory from which missiles have been fired routinely for the past decade plus, and from where ISIS-like terrorists launch attacks with impunity and consistently seek refuge, we are Jews with a real conscience and a higher moral standard.

But we also live in the Middle East and must take the barbaric character of our neighborhood into account. Our enemies unfortunately want to “win” at all costs (innocent human life to hell) and understand only military might. So what can we do to survive but still maintain the moral high ground?  Here is a suggestion that could result in the loss of no life (or relatively little loss of life) both for Israelis and Arabs, but which would completely change the Gaza equation. It is, quite simply, to move Gaza.  Let’s call it the “Move Gaza” proposal.

To preface Move Gaza, one should remember that Gaza was originally an Egyptian problem that Israel inherited as a result of the Six Day War.  An Israeli miscalculation was not pushing to return Gaza to the Egyptians in 1979 as part of the Camp David Accords under the same conditions as the demilitarized Sinai.  Anwar Sadat was savvy in not taking back Gaza, but it is high time now to rectify that mistake.

I realize that many people are going to criticize the Move Gaza proposal for being unrealistic, because at first blush it seems quite extreme, and I’m sure others will be less kind. But many of the obvious concerns regarding Move Gaza are addressed below, following a summary of the proposal.  Move Gaza is certainly not a perfect solution, but we desperately need fresh thinking about Gaza.  Anyone who can’t see that the Oslo Kool-Aid is spiked with delusion simply is not dealing with reality. And anyone who thinks that knocking down more buildings (or at this point anything short of retaking control of Gaza) is a viable solution is living a fantasy. The two-state solution is dead, because the Palestinians simply will not give up their aspirations to control all of Israel, so we must find new ways to forge ahead.

So how would Move Gaza work practically? Egypt would have to be induced to open its border with Gaza, and help create an enclave in Sinai consisting of a vast network of neighborhoods/cities.  And this enclave would have to be located sufficiently far enough away from the Israeli border to create a buffer zone (for one, so that concrete earmarked for new housing could not be used to construct attack tunnels). Perhaps Egypt would relocate and offer Egyptian citizenship to some of these people. But in essence, Egypt would inherit the issue of governing the current residents of Gaza and dealing with Hamas.

There would be a reasonable timeframe for evacuating current Gaza residents to the new Sinai enclave, in an orderly fashion. Full implementation would take a considerable amount of time. Israel would oversee the transportation of current Gaza residents and the move in general, in close coordination with Egypt. The construction of new neighborhoods/cities themselves, as well as the development of a local economy, would be overseen by Egypt, with help from the United States, EU, and even the Red Crescent and various NGOs.

And what would happen to people who do not leave and cross the border into Sinai on their own accord? Their blood would be on their own hands, when the IDF ultimately sifts through Gaza with bombing runs to ensure no terrorists remain. This would be similar to how the IDF provides advance notice when bombing certain buildings after civilians are given a chance to escape, albeit on a much larger scale. If people do not heed the warnings and are foolish enough to remain, then they do so at their own peril.

But we can’t force Egypt, an ally after all, to absorb the Gaza population, offer Egyptian citizenship to certain of the current Gaza residents, and deal with Hamas on its own terms. So how do we induce Egypt to agree to such a plan?  The answer is money. Yes, significant sums (likely tens of billions of dollars) would have to be offered, but it would be worth it. Egypt’s economy is a mess and would have imploded long ago were it not for the financial assistance (direct and indirect) provided by the United States. Unemployment has recently been brought down to under 10%, but it was well above that mark for the past two decades. The United States already provides Egypt with $1.3 billion annually in military aid and had over $9 billion in trade with Egypt each year.

Who is going to foot this bill? Primarily, the United States and the EU. The US should be interested in such a plan because it would strengthen the alliance between itself, Israel and Egypt, and would deal a severe blow to Hamas, both of which are in its national security interests. And there are many other Arab countries who have financially supported the residents of Gaza throughout the years, who should be induced to contribute to Move Gaza to continue supporting these same people in resettlement. If these Arab countries really care at all about their Gazan brethren, they will get behind such a cause, and if they fail to participate then they will be exposed as being mere supporters of terrorist Hamas. Even Israel could contribute monetarily to this initiative – after all, Israel now wastes plenty of money in supplying electricity to Gaza without receiving payment, and in various other ways.

How can we ensure that Hamas won’t construct some type of terrorist infrastructure from the Sinai, as it has done so effectively from Gaza?  For one thing, the Egyptians have rich experience in suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood and are equipped to deal with Hamas in ways that Israel never could. And the world community will not care one iota when it is Egypt employing the measures that must be adopted to destroy terrorism at its root. There will be no UN resolutions, no ICC criminal prosecutions, no threats of boycotts/divestment, no faulty comparisons to apartheid, and no anti-Semitism. That alone is worth the financial cost involved.

Another big advantage of Move Gaza is that it would save the lives of many Israeli soldiers and non-combatant Gazans. The Israeli government is now contemplating launching a comprehensive ground campaign into Gaza to root out the Hamas infrastructure. But that unfortunately is likely to cost many lives, as experience has shown that Hamas surely has already booby-trapped many entry points and beyond and would love to lull the IDF into urban warfare on its own terms. And this has been tried before, with only limited and temporary results, and with a great loss of life.

Now opponents of Move Gaza will surely assert that the mass displacement of a civilian population clearly constitutes a war crime under international law. But such drastic action may be permitted if imperative military considerations require such a move. That may well be the case here. And war crimes have been committed repeatedly, to a sickening degree, by Hamas over the past 16 years of its rule in Gaza, with nary a response from the international community. Hamas calls for Israeli’s destruction in its founding charter, even though the destruction of a peaceful sovereign state is a war crime. The intentional firing of missiles into population centers in the hopes of killing civilians is a war crime. Syphoning resources from building homes to construct attack tunnels through which to kill civilians is a war crime. Engaging in murderous rampages of innocent civilians sitting in their homes is a war crime. Kidnapping babies and grandmothers are war crimes. Torturing hostages and mutilating bodies are war crimes. There is a myriad of more examples, but you get the picture. If Hamas is not concerned about these manifold war crimes, for the purposes of proposing Move Gaza I will overlook the question of how moving the Gazan population may be construed under international law.  Especially when the move would be to another location which would provide safety to its residents and functional homes and other infrastructure with running water and electricity. This dire situation may indeed call for such extreme action, and would ultimately prevent the ongoing commission of additional war crimes by Hamas and would likely save many innocent lives on both sides.

Others will assert that Move Gaza would permanently frustrate the rights of Gazan residents to self-determination in the Gaza Strip. That is true. By the way, the Egyptians never enabled the Gazan people to realize a right to self-determination when it ruled over the territory. And after these atrocities, Israel should never permit the establishment of a Palestinian State in Gaza. That is because the Gazan people have demonstrated they are unable to govern themselves without threating the wellbeing of their neighbor Israel. Financial and other resources earmarked for Gaza have routinely been used to inflict damage on Israelis instead of building a better future for Palestinians, even though Gaza has been unoccupied by Israel for 16 years.  Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian residents of Gaza (as a result of the requirements of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian residents of Gaza democratically voted Hamas to power in 2006), and most of its residents are clearly pro-Hamas. At the very least, they are not willing to live in peace with Israel. There are voluminous examples of this – just from the past week are the terribly sad videos of Gazan children waving guns, dancing and passing out candies and otherwise celebrating the death of Jews. And the constant chanting of “from the river to the sea” is not a political slogan but a call to the genocide of the Jewish people. We have to wake up to the reality that Gazans will never come around to a Shimon Peres view of the Middle East – that if only they had economic prosperity then somehow they would love us Jews.

Detractors of Move Gaza will also raise issue of collective punishment. To be honest, there clearly is an aspect of collective punishment in the Move Gaza proposal. But this is war. And populations who are on the losing side of war unfortunately are punished collectively for the bad decisions of their leadership. And the current methods being employed of cutting off electricity and water to Gaza are not necessarily a lesser degree of collective punishment than moving the population 100 kilometers down the road to Sinai without withholding such resources.

Finally, let’s say Move Gaza is actually effectuated, then what would be done with the empty space now known as the Gaza Strip?  First thing I would do is provide a new beach-front cottage to each Israeli citizen (of whatever religion or persuasion) who had an immediate family member be the victim of Hamas terror or who had an immediate family member injured or killed in the line of duty defending Israel against Hamas. This won’t bring back any of their loved ones, but it will perhaps provide some aspect of justice and closure.

Yes, a forced population transfer is a big undertaking, has inherent logistical problems and is morally questionable. But war has consequences. And people who democratically elect Hamas as their leaders and let Hamas run amok have to face the consequences of the decisions those leaders make. In the context of the current Gaza situation, Move Gaza should at least be an option to consider.  It is time for Gaza to revert being an Egyptian problem. By having Gaza’s population governed by a strong Arab government that will not be held to an unfair standard in fighting terror as are the Jews, Israel’s southern border (and beyond) will be free of Hamas terror. In the wake of this unbelievable tragedy, the Move Gaza proposal is what is needed to protect lives in the long run, and to defang Hamas of its ability to strike Israeli communities once and for all.

About the Author
Baruch Bebchick lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife and children. He learns in Kollel each morning and in the afternoons/evenings works as a US lawyer.
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