The Gaza Strip has become an integral part of the State of Israel. Not because it is under the security control of the Israel Defense Forces or because its two million inhabitants need Israel’s approval in order to breathe. Gaza is an important component, if not the most important one, of Israel’s political discourse.
Like the collapsing health-care system or the budget deficit, like the faulty handling of railroad problems or the crushing of the legal system – Gaza is an election slogan, an unfulfilled promise, concrete proof of the failure of the government to protects its citizens. And, alternatively, a focal point for garnering support for the omnipotent leader.
Occasionally Gaza wakes up in order to remind us of its existence – like in the case of the story of the 97-year-old woman who spent hours in the emergency room, or of the children of migrant workers who arouse pity every time the Immigration Authority flexes its muscles to harm them.
And like them, Gaza is also becoming a boring habit, a nuisance we have to live with because there’s nothing to do about it, just like the residents of the Gaza border communities that have started to get on our nerves. How much more can we hear about the “miracle” that happened in the kindergarten that was almost hit by the missile, about the anxiety that disturbs the sleep of children in the kibbutzim and the moshavim, or about the wedding that was cancelled because of a “Code Red” siren.
Dear friends, stop whining. More people were killed in work accidents, more women were murdered in “honor killings,” and more children and elderly people lost their lives after being hit by electric scooters and bicycles – than by all the Hamas missiles.
The Gaza Strip is not an existential threat, nor is it an Iranian nuclear device (heretofore nonexistent). Gaza is an Israeli political entity, which serves to label leaders and politicians who want to be leaders. Anyone who doesn’t know how to solve Israel’s social and economic problems, anyone who has no operative plan for organizing proper transportation or preventing crime in the Arab community, can always promise success in a war against Gaza. All he has to do is make sure not to be too successful.
Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman can tell everyone about the political price he paid because of the immortal saying he coined in Israeli discourse in 2016, in reference to senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh: “If I’m defense minister, I give Mr. Haniyeh 48 hours: Either you return the bodies [of Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 war] or you die.”
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Nor does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerge unscathed, in this regard. The leaders of the left used to mock Netanyahu – and still do – and describe him as a weak leader because he hasn’t solved the Gaza problem “once and for all.” ln Israel the concept of “suitcases of money,” the payments Qatar transfers to Hamas, has become a symbol of weakness and defeat, which is useful both to Netanyahu’s rivals on the right and to their imitators in the opposition.
The generals of Kahol Lavan, including warlord Yair Lapid, promise that only they can change this threatening situation. They won’t transfer suitcases; suitcases are for sissies. “We’ll crush them from the air and we’ll return to targeted assassinations,” promised party leader Benny Gantz at the Herzliya Conference in June.
There is no longer any point in reminding Gantz, too, that his grandiose crushing activity – in the form of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014 – also had an expiration date, and that only those “suitcases” have prevented an all-out battle against the Strip, whose outcome nobody can guarantee. The suitcases are the best and cheapest thing that have happened to Israeli politics. They make it possible to maintain relative calm on the part of Hamas, while at the same time providing fodder for everyone’s election propaganda.
Gaza will continue to be a political drama disguised as a security threat, because it serves the entire political array in Israel. Any diplomatic or economic solution that would really lead to long-term quiet will demand a political price, which not a single leader is now prepared to pay. To lift the closure? To build a port in Gaza? An airport? How many people would vote for anyone who proposes such nonsense? We’re already used to the noise of Gaza, the quiet is likely to deafen us.