Opinion

Lift the Siege on Gaza

Women look on during the funeral ceremony of five Palestinians, who were killed in Israeli strikes the previous day, in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza strip, May 6 2019.
AFP

In 2005, 14 years ago, Israel carried out the disengagement and evacuated itself, civilians and military, from the Gaza Strip. Israel did disengage, but it left behind 2 million people closed off in the largest prison camp in human history.

True, not an extermination camp. A measured amount of food, medicine and fuel were brought in to the place in a controlled, though very irregular, manner. Almost no work can be found there, and lacking work many chose to work at digging tunnels, which were dug as part of the fight against the Israeli enemy.

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A few days ago we marked Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. I emphasize the “heroes,” the terrible situation in the extermination camps, a reality that drove Jews to organize and attempt to rise up and escape – in Treblinka, Sobibor and in Warsaw. Unfortunately, only a few managed to escape and be saved from the inferno.

Despite the immeasurable difference in their circumstances, the 2 million besieged residents of the Gaza Strip have a similar feeling today.

How can the problem be dealt with? I’m not talking about this latest confrontation, the exchange of rocket fire and air force attacks. The cease-fire will last for days, maybe weeks or even a few years – and the problem will remain without a solution.

The time has come for a fundamental solution, and there is only one such thing: the complete removal of the Israeli blockade of Gaza by land, air and sea. At the same time, there will be a need to enlist resources to enable the development and rehabilitation of the Strip. And yes, every resident of Gaza who asks to leave should be able to do so without interference.

It will not be Israel that determines if a port is built in Cyprus or on an artificial island that will serve as a supervised harbor for the state of Gaza. It will not be Israel that decides if an airport is built and operated there, without Israeli supervision. Israel will not check every ship or fishing boat going out to sea. In short: The Israeli blockade will be removed and the disengagement from Gaza will be completed.

To advance this solution, a dialogue and coordination with Egypt, with other Arab bodies, with Washington and with the international community must be forged – with everyone who will be asked to take part in building the project. Doesn’t this hold a risk for Israel? Of course, but the military balance of forces allows us in Israel to take the risk, considering the benefit and accomplishment we hope to achieve.

It will likely require a long interim period of mutual deterrence, similar to what we have with Hezbollah on the Lebanese border. Let’s not make it conditional on the political status of Gaza: It doesn’t matter if it’s an independent country, whether the connection with the Palestinian Authority is tightened and preserved, or even whether we see an Egyptian protectorate in which the Gaza Strip will be part of the Sinai Peninsula.

Once the new government is formed in Jerusalem, it should fundamentally rethink these matters and strive for a permanent solution. This is the answer we must provide to the residents of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. They are desperate for such a solution. The new government must not disappoint them.

General (Ret.) Gazit was head of Military Intelligence.