The Distorted Gaza Debate: It's About Hamas, Stupid
The biggest problem with the way the Gaza Strip and flotilla issues are being presented? This is an issue about Hamas, not an issue about Israel.
The bottom line is whether the West and the world wants to see, on the coast of the Mediterranean: a revolutionary Islamist state openly seeking to commit genocide against Israel’s Jews; a client of Iran; and a dictatorial government determined to spread Islamist revolution, treat women as the Afghan Taliban did, and educate a generation of Gazans into becoming terrorists.
Only if this factor is comprehended can the humanitarian issue be put into perspective. To make the determining factor the raising of Gazan living standards is to ignore the strategic issues involved. And the great irony here is that ultimately an acceptance of the Hamas regime will doom Gazans to far more suffering -- not to mention death -- than the embargo could ever cause.
Yet even if one takes the humanitarian issue in isolation from the strategic questions, on its own merits, it is a largely phony question. It is being promoted mainly by Hamas and its supporters not to help people in Gaza but to break the embargo, stabilize the regime, and ensure its support base. Of course, this would only continue until Hamas launched the next war, or massive terrorist and rocket-firing campaign, against Israel.
In this regard, the most fundamental points are being distorted. The Gaza Strip is an agricultural area, and there has never been any hunger there. Many photos have been published showing that the shops are full of basic commodities. True, this is being supplemented by smuggling across the border with Egypt, but the outcome is the same.
Additionally, the Gaza Strip has always been a poor area, even in comparison to the West Bank. Statistics are being distorted to act as if the relatively lower living standards in the Gaza Strip are being caused by the sanctions, rather than largely being a continuation of history. Naturally, with a Hamas dictatorship that provoked last year’s war, things are going to be worse than with a government that is moderate, seeking stability, and cooperative with the West.
Here’s an example: On June 1, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) stated that the Gaza Strip "has one of the world's highest infant mortality rates." The obvious implication? It is Israel's fault, because of its sanctions. In fact, the Gaza Strip has an infant mortality rate of 17.71 deaths per 1000 births -- about the same as Mexico and better than Brazil, Romania, neighboring Egypt (26.2), Turkey (24.8), and Iran (34.7).
None of those, of course, can be blamed on Israel.
Another important point, generally forgotten now, is that U.S. and European strategy has been to pour money into the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank so that Palestinians could draw the comparison. People in the West Bank, relatively peace-oriented and moderate, would have much higher living standards than those in the Gaza Strip. The lesson: if you had a non-radical government that abandoned terrorism and was willing at least to talk about peace with Israel, you’d be better off, too!
Now, at least in terms of public discourse, this plan has been abandoned. Instead, living standards in the Gaza Strip should be raised as high as possible. The lesson: having a terrorist, etc., etc., regime will cost you nothing at all. Why should you turn against Hamas? You might as well support them!
It is also useful to compare the current embargo on the Gaza Strip to that put in place against Iraq from around 1992 to 2002. We now know that the campaign conducted by Saddam Hussein and his supporters had three paramount features: it lied about the effects of the sanctions (there were many false claims that millions of children were dying as a result), when more money and goods were available they were used to benefit the political elite rather than the masses, and funds that were supposedly for humanitarian purposes were used secretly to buy arms.
All these factors apply to the situation in the Gaza Strip today.
Perhaps the most important single scam to date was over electricity. Gaza’s electricity came from Israel, Egypt, and local generators. Israel continued to supply electricity for a long time despite the attacks against it coming from Gaza and the fact that Hamas did not pay the bills to the Israeli electric company. Shipments of fuel to the generators also continued. When it was discovered that the fuel was being diverted by Hamas for military purposes, Israel announced it would make big cuts in the shipments.
Even before the cuts were implemented, the Los Angeles Times reported that the non-existent cuts were causing severe hardship in Gaza. Their source? Hamas, its supporters, and those intimidated by the regime. Once the cuts were made, there were various public relations stunts, including, memorably, the conduct of a Palestinian parliament session in the dark.
This received widespread coverage -- though it was pointed out that, in fact, the meeting was held during daylight hours, with darkness provided by merely closing all the curtains.
The Gaza flotilla is a similar publicity stunt. Certainly, part of the supplies were useful, including wheelchairs, crutches, and hospital beds. But a lot of the material was in the form of used clothing and medicines past their due date. When Israel offered to transship the supplies after inspection, and Egypt made clear it would do so even without inspection, these offers were refused. After all, the goal was not to help the Gazans but to break the embargo.
Similarly, after the shipments were unloaded and transferred to the Israel-Gaza frontier, Hamas refused to accept the material. Again, by inflicting suffering on its own people the regime sought to make political gains.
If someone was making Gazans suffer, isn’t Hamas the guilty party?
Many other examples can be offered. The Associated Press reports: “The World Health Organization reports that 95% of Gaza's water fails water quality standards, leaving thousands of newborns at risk of poisoning, while 48% of Gazan children under the age of five suffer from anemia.”
But why is this so? Western aid provided before the embargo tried to build major improvements to the water system in Gaza -- but the money was embezzled and the PA government did not follow through on the projects. It is easy to forget that the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip has been under a Palestinian government now for 16 years, and that this government received massive aid during this period. Where did those funds go?
In the mid-1970s, Israel proposed to build new housing for those living in refugee camps, and tried to move people into them. The UN General Assembly then passed Resolution 32/90, which condemned this project and demanded the return of the refugees to the camps. The PA wanted to keep them in worse conditions for several reasons: to maintain their revolutionary militancy, to use them as pitiful sights to gain international sympathy, and to show insistence that the only acceptable resettlement would be their return to live within Israel.
So who got the new housing? When the PA ruled, it was given as rewards to Fatah supporters. Now apartments are given by Hamas as a reward for its activists and the families of its martyrs.
Indeed, it is also largely forgotten that if Hamas merely accepted the Oslo Accords, abandoned terrorism, and stopped trying to wipe Israel off the map, the embargo would be immediately lifted. What Hamas wants is to maintain its revolutionary, terrorist, and genocidal policies while merely removing any cost for pursuing them. Curiously, a lot of the world seems willing to help it achieve such a victory.
Oh, and by the way, because of its own interests, Egypt also maintains a tight embargo, though it is breached because of venal Egyptian officials who can be bribed into looking the other way when smuggling is going on.
Finally, it should be pointed out -- since it never is in the mass media -- why Israel maintains an embargo on the Gaza Strip. Most obviously, it is to keep out military equipment. But it is also to keep out some other categories of goods: luxuries (enjoyed by the Hamas elite and used as pay-offs for political support to the regime) and materials siphoned off by Hamas for military use (concrete for building bunkers; fuel for the Hamas military forces). And, above all, the goal is to stop Hamas from becoming a long-term stable regime that enjoys popular support.
The current campaign is an extension of Hamas' use of its own people as human shields, as well as the jihadists on the Gaza flotilla doing the same thing. It isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened (it was pioneered by the PLO and imitated by Saddam's regime, among others) and these tactics will be increasingly seen in the world as part of asymmetric warfare: make your people suffer, blame it on the enemy, and use it to gain international sympathy to bring you victory.
By leaving out all these factors and turning this into a humanitarian issue, Western governments, institutions, and media are creating a gigantic strategic problem that will cause future wars, bloodshed, suffering, and instability out of all proportion to the current “humanitarian” problem. That is, of course, what Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Islamist regime in Turkey, and their supporters want.
Yet why should the West be fooled and give it to them?