Opinion |

Gaza's Prison Warden and the Strip's Ever-rising Collapse Threshold

The isolation of the Gaza Strip and its residents, as a political project rather than a security project, began long before the Qassam rockets did

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinian children walk in a street on a rainy day in the Southern Gaza Strip on January 6, 2018.
Palestinian children walk in a street on a rainy day in the Southern Gaza Strip on January 6, 2018. Credit: Braheem Abu Mustafa/ Reuters
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The warden warns that the internment camp is on the brink of collapse. Its good that he does so, and its good that his warning became the lead headline in Haaretz. But its hard to miss the target of this warning: the government, and above all Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The concern of the warden — that is, high-ranking career officers of the security establishment — seems genuine. Theres no reason to suspect that theyre merely planning their defense in the International Criminal Court, for the day that suspects are sought in the ongoing disaster known as Gaza Strip Prison.

Gazas collapse threshold rises every year, due to the Palestinians unendurable capacity for endurance. Israels political fantasy of the Gaza Strip as a separate geographic and political entity can only be realized by destroying its economy and infrastructure and the physical and mental health of its inhabitants. Nothing illustrates this better than the water issue.

When Israeli officers sanctimoniously warn that 95 percent of Gazas water is unfit to drink, they ignore the original absurdity: Israel forces Gaza to make do with water from the aquifer located within its borders. This aquifer, which supplied water to some 300,000 people in 1950, is now supposed to supply the same amount to two million people. Its no wonder theres overpumping and contamination by sewage and seawater.

The Israeli fantasy of the Gaza Strip as a separate geographic and political territory caused and continues to cause a cascade of losses whose magnitude is difficult to estimate. The authorities, donor states and each individual family has spent and continues to spend enormous amounts of money to purify drinking water. Like the tunnels, this comes at the expense of spending on health, education, infrastructure and childrens games.

Ill say it for the millionth time: The only near-term solution is to pipe water into Gaza from Israel and the West Bank, without haggling over the price or waiting for the Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Seven million to 10 million cubic meters a year is like pouring a cup of water into a swimming pool.
Desalination is impossible when sewage flows into the sea. And sewage will continue to flow into the sea until Israel relaxes its rigid restrictions on the entry of raw materials and pumps to Gaza and on the freedom of movement of engineers, contractors and consultants. Every restriction entails time and energy wasted, payments to lawyers, unnecessary expenditures to fix damage that has already been caused, medical expenses for illness that could have been prevented had a pump been allowed to enter in time, underutilization of manpower and expertise, and a brain drain.

The same is true in every other walk of life. Israeli security professionals faithfully carry out their orders to ban fishing, shoot farmers and force people to wait six hours for a two-minute interrogation by the Shin Bet security service, and then tut-tut about the decline in the number of cargo trucks entering Gaza due to the decline in purchasing power.

The isolation of Gaza and its residents, as a political rather than a security project, began long before the Qassam rockets did. The isolation of Gazas young people from the world contributed to Hamas fantasy messages. Yet Israeli propaganda has succeeded in putting the blame on Hamas arms buildup, always an effective tool in the internal Palestinian leadership battle.
Israel deliberately exaggerates the strategic danger posed by Hamas arms, thereby strengthening the organizations image as a savior in the eyes of the desperate. Hamas propaganda has succeeded in putting the blame on the Palestinian Authoritys funding cuts and by silencing criticism of its military pretensions. The PA grew to accept the isolation of Gazas population, even before Hamas rose to power.

Gaza is not an island. Treat its residents like human beings. Let them leave to study or party in Nablus and Bethlehem, and also in Haifa; let them leave to work and to visit friends and family. Let them manufacture and farm and export. Let Israelis, West Bankers and tourists visit Gaza. Gaza will be spared collapse, and Israel will be spared a trial in The Hague.

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