Israeli policymakers recognize that they control the situation in Gaza. If their sense of moral obligation doesn’t compel them to correct it, at the very least their interests should.
By Tania Hary
Israelis woke up on Wednesday to headlines about renewed talks, or rather arguments, about a possible seaport in Gaza. Just hours before, the head of the Israeli army’s Military Intelligence declared that Israel’s security is jeopardized by the misery taking place in Gaza.
A din of statements – from senior analysts like Alex Fishman in Ynet to Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon – all echo the same common-sense conclusion: it cannot be wise to keep nearly two million people, the vast majority of them children and young people (73 percent of the population is under 29), in a state of perpetual privation.
Before the dust of over 100,000 destroyed or damaged homes settled, before the wounds of the tens of thousands injured had healed following the last large-scale military operation in 2014, Israeli hawks and doves alike could be heard chirping the same tune. Misery loves company, they sang. If Gaza can’t rebuild, Israel will suffer the consequences.
Yet there are two things glaringly missing from the discourse: agency and decency. It is obvious that perpetuating a situation where 70 percent of the population is dependent on aid, where nearly 54 percent of young people are unemployed, where thousands remain homeless after losing loved ones and suffering through war devoid of an Iron Dome or even shelters is apt to lead to violence. Around the world, in all kinds of circumstances, poverty and lack provide fertile ground for instability. In post-war Gaza, that violence is turned inward and out, with a rise in domestic violence and suicides, and yes, sometimes even increased support for armed conflict or the kind of unchecked violence of groups like ISIS.
What isn’t obvious is the necessary reckoning that might lead to an actual change in the situation on the ground — for Gaza and for Israel.
While officials say Gaza should be able to rebuild or develop its economy, they neglect to take responsibility for how we even arrived at this point, saying little about what needs to be done to correct the situation. They neglect to mention that Israel continues to block the movement of goods, travel of people, and access to fishing and farming areas in a way that might actually allow rebuilding and development. Prolonging needless suffering isn’t just unwise, it’s also wrong.
Security is a factor in the current situation, but it is far from the whole story. Political motivation to pressure or punish the civilian population, or isolate it from the West Bank after Hamas’ takeover of the Strip in 2007, led to a policy of economic warfare. Incoming and outgoing goods were sweepingly blocked, save for a list of a few dozen items that could enter. In what seemed like a welcome change, Israel drew up a negative list in 2010; that list, however, has now expanded beyond measure. Restrictions on the entrance of civilian items like wood, fiberglass and certain batteries obstruct Gaza’s main industries and what could be productive sectors like fishing, farming, textile and furniture production, dairy and food processing, and hi-tech.
Some changes to access policy have occurred, but what started as an attempt to calculate and manipulate misery for political ends has gone haywire. Since then it has languished due to what former former Deputy Defense Minister Dan Meridor admitted was inertia. Security cannot continue to be used as an excuse for change, particularly when security officials themselves are trying to convince politicians of just how vital change is.
Palestinian families have been torn apart, the economy has been destroyed, and civil society fractured for no tangible purpose and to no end. For a woman who was prevented from fulfilling her dream to study or for the one who hasn’t been able to embrace her mother in years, for the man who lost his business or the one who lost his home, the chorus of Israeli voices admitting the scale of mistakes that have been made with regard to Gaza must be as grating as it is enraging.
Real solutions should be found to protect Israeli citizens, but they need not come at the expense of Gaza residents — not just because it is in Israel’s interest or because it holds the power to change the situation, but because it is the right thing to do. The situation in Gaza is not just a human tragedy, absent agency and with consequences for Israel’s security — it is a moral failure of shameful proportions.
A seaport could be a boon for the Palestinian territory as a whole one day, but there are countless things that can be done with less investment and now in order to facilitate normal life, from allowing access for laborers to permitting family visits in not just the most extreme circumstances. The Israeli authorities must recognize their agency over the situation in Gaza. If their sense of basic decency and moral obligation don’t compel them to correct it, at the very least, their interests should.
Tania Hary is the executive director of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.