Israel’s security Cabinet, the country’s highest-level decision-making body, met on Sunday to “examine various possibilities to prevent a humanitarian collapse in Gaza,” as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put it during his visit to Germany last week.
No one doubts that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The enclave’s nearly two million people suffer from a shortage of water, electricity, gas and proper medical care. Unemployment is high, wages — for those fortunate enough to have work — are low, and 60 percent of the country is living below the poverty line.
Contrary to what many in Europe would like to believe, Israel is not the cause of this admittedly tragic situation. It does not impose a blockade that prevents aid from reaching Gaza, rather an embargo against the import of arms and “advisers” from Iran. Israel continues to send 1,000 truckloads a day of supplies, while the terrorists in Gaza have shown their appreciation by repeatedly setting fire to the Keren Shalom crossing through which the aid is delivered. (In addition, the terrorist rulers of Gaza rejected two large truckloads of medical aid sent by Israel to relieve shortages in Gaza hospitals during the recent clashes at the border.)
But whether Israel is or isn’t to blame for the humanitarian crisis, the question on the table at Sunday’s security Cabinet meeting was what to do about it now.
There were those who argued that it’s in Israel’s interest to do everything possible to relieve the problem, including allowing some 6,000 Gazans into Israel to work. This school of thought, led by the IDF, says that the poverty and hopelessness create a fertile breeding ground for violence, which has recently taken the form of Kassem rockets, incendiary kites, helium-balloon bombs, and “March of the Return” protests aimed at breaking through the border barrier and embarrassing Israel.
The way to stop the violence, which threatens to spiral out of control, say these proponents, is to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
But there is a second school of thought, led by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennet that says the humanitarian crisis is an excuse for the violence, not the cause.
The real cause, Liberman argues, is twofold: PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to pay PA employees in Gaza on time (only last week did they receive half of April’s salary); Hamas’ insistence on spending all foreign aid on terror tunnels and rockets, to the tune of $260 million, while refusing to spend anything on health or infrastructure for water or electricity.
Prof. Efraim Karsh, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, explains the cause-and-effect between poverty and violence this way: “It is not Gaza’s economic malaise that has precipitated Palestinian violence; rather, it is the endemic violence that has caused the Strip’s humanitarian crisis.”
Whether the IDF is right, and alleviating the humanitarian crisis will lower the flames of violence, or Liberman and Bennet are right, and the violence has nothing to do with chronic shortages of basic goods, one thing is certain: Israel must take the opportunity to do all it possibly can to ensure Hamas returns the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, Hy”d, who were killed in Operation Protective Edge in 2014, to their parents and families who have suffered untold emotional agony at the hands of terrorists.
It also means the return of civilians who crossed into Gaza and are believed to have been kidnapped: Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima.
Israel must direct its demands not just to Gaza’s Hamas leadership, but to the people. Through the social media, leaflets dropped from the air and other means, Israel must deliver the following message directly to those who are suffering so terribly in Gaza: “We, the government and people of Israel, are ready to take significant steps toward improving your quality of life. We have the ability to pressure Abbas to pay your salaries in full and in a timely fashion, to provide direct employment for 6,000 people in Israel, with the possibility of more if none of the laborers engages in terror, and to increase the amount of aid and supplies coming through the Kerem Shalom crossing every day. The only thing blocking this significant relief is your government’s refusal to stop its campaign of terror and return two deceased Israeli soldiers and four civilians.”
The same message has to go out, loud and clear, to Europe and the rest of the world, which loves to blame Israel for the suffering of Palestinian civilians.