Opinion |

Lieberman Is Right, There’s No Crisis in Gaza – This Is Disaster

A 'crisis' involves a breaking point, and Gaza got there long ago. This is beyond a break in routine. This is a humanitarian disaster

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A woman is crying as she asks for a travel permit to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 8, 2018.
A woman is crying as she asks for a travel permit to cross through the Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt, after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases, February 8, 2018.Credit: \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

In the disagreement between the military chief of staff and the defense minister over whether there is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is right. There is no crisis. A crisis involves a breaking point of some kind that goes beyond what is routine, striking like a meteor. That’s not the situation in Gaza, where there is a constant and foreseen deterioration. Any given point in the decline is a humanitarian disaster.

The preceding paragraph and each sentence that follows could be the subject of an entire article, but I don’t have the time. In the “Don’t Say You Didn’t Know” column, pressing issues are piling up, and in the north there is a danger of war. So we’ll stick to the main points.

Every few months an international or Palestinian organization warns that Gaza is on the verge of collapse. They’re not lying. The warnings scratch up a little emergency aid that doesn’t deal with the causes, and only slows the rate of deterioration. It’s safe to assume that a few shipments of medicine as well as funds for emergency fuel are now on their way.

The Palestinians of Gaza have become a community of beggars. It’s a disgrace. And the disgrace is not theirs.

The Israelis and Americans are right, for all their outrageous hypocrisy, when they ask Hamas why it has money for weapons but not to pay the full salaries of medical personnel, or for hospitals and medications.

Hamas is imitating Israel. Like Israel, it shifts the burden of looking after Gaza’s civilians to the Palestinian Authority and the donor countries. Like Israel, it wants to have it both ways: to control the Gaza Strip in practice while evading responsibility for its population, but with one basic difference: Israel is a cunning, wicked occupier that aims to use economic and humanitarian disasters to force the Palestinians into surrender and mass emigration. Hamas is the flesh and blood of the special Palestinian community that is living in the Strip. Shifting responsibility upon others while strutting like a peacock with its weaponry and the armed struggle, only has weakened its people, 40 percent of whom want to emigrate.

When senior officials of the Palestinian Authority, particularly Mahmoud Abbas, speak about the “State of Palestine,” which has been recognized by the United Nations, it includes the Gaza Strip. Gaza is needed for their political narrative, but in practice those officials show indifference to the fate of Gaza’s citizens.

A shortage of 40 percent of the medicines in Gaza’s public health system is not a divine decree. Hamas and Gaza’s residents are right to accuse the Palestinian Authority of deliberately delaying shipments of medicine to pressure Hamas. This is not politically wise, either. Gazans openly criticize the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas.

The delay of shipments of medicine is not economically wise. Instead of patients being treated in the Gaza Strip, they are belatedly referred for treatment outside. The Palestinian Authority pays, and the cost comes to dozens of times the price of the medicines. What folly!

It’s reasonable to assume that the rate of disease is skyrocketing in Gaza due to water that is not fit for consumption, a dwindling underground aquifer, untreated sewage that is directed into the sea, land that is laden with chemicals left behind by the countless, relentless aerial bombardments by Israel; the garbage that is so difficult to dispose of; the constant state of fear; the numbers of wounded, disabled people and the many who suffer from post-traumatic effects after losing loved ones in Israeli attacks.

The residents of Gaza have resiliency and stamina that are hard for us to imagine. Surgeons from abroad who volunteer in Gaza are amazed at how children there are on their feet two days after surgery. It takes children in Madrid a week, I was told by Steve Sosebee, director of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which brings hundreds of volunteer doctors to the occupied territories. Does it explain, then, the ability of Gazans to deal with the collection of maladies listed in the preceding paragraph?

Instead of competing over who’s first at burning out medical personnel and cutting their salaries, maybe the leadership of each of the two Palestinian factions could engage in the opposite kind of competition: over who’s first at raising the salaries of medical teams out of recognition of the importance of their work, and their diligence and dedication over the years, for which they have not been rewarded?

Sosebee said a French volunteer physician came away with the impression that all doctors in the Gaza Strip are depressed; Sosebee called it an epidemic of depression. The doctors know exactly how to treat their patients but they don’t have the means. It’s a depression that unconnected to the partial salaries they receive, and it goes beyond the depression of two million imprisoned residents who can’t come and go from the Strip in freedom.

With its policy of mass incarceration, which began in 1991 and was stepped up in the 2000s, Israel hoped to pressure Egypt into annexing Gaza. This failed. It’s time for Europe to demand something in return for its funding. The Europeans should say that for every $1,000 they donate to save the Strip, Israel must let 1,000 more Gazans leave for studies, for work, for continuing education of doctors and teachers, and for travel and visits to friends and relatives.

This should be said over and over again: The regular cycle of near-collapse will only be halted when freedom of movement for people and goods is restored. Let them work, including in Israel, as before. They will earn an honest living, they will market and export goods, the Palestinian treasury won’t have to collect handouts from the world, and people will want to come home to Gaza because no one will prevent them from leaving.

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