Opinion |

Israel’s Offer to Hamas: Captives for Coriander

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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An aid convoy's trucks loaded with supplies send by Long Live Egypt Fund are seen at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on May 23, 2021
An aid convoy's trucks loaded with supplies send by Long Live Egypt Fund are seen at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on May 23, Credit: SAID KHATIB / AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Some kind of victory had to be extracted from the last war. If we didn’t succeed in toppling Hamas, destroying its arsenal of rockets or at least obliterating its political leadership, we can still make the lives of ordinary Gazans miserable. We’ve now lost interest in revenge or preserving deterrence (that is, prestige) and we can no longer threaten Hamas with more sorties.

From now on, we’re fighting a war to bring home the Israelis missing in Gaza and the bodies of fallen soldiers. “We need to offer, to the extent possible, basic humanitarian assistance. We need to condition anything beyond that with progress on a solution to the issue of the captives and the soldiers’ bodies,” announced Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He has coined a new phrase “basic humanitarian threshold” to be imposed on Gaza’s two million people.

We are the humanitarians, and therefore we will decide what is that basic threshold and what constitutes the rest. As we did back in 2010, we’ll create blacklists that detail what’s permitted and what’s prohibited from entering Gaza. A4-sized paper is barred as is coriander. Industrial margarine, notebooks, newspapers and scores of other products are fully or partly prohibited for short or long durations, all according to the madness of the decision-makers on any given day.

Suddenly, they have forgotten the warnings of intelligence and army experts that we create a combustible situation in Gaza with such draconian rules.

Forget the stifling blockade that was imposed on the enclave since Hamas seized control in 2007 but failed to achieve the desired results. Only by the wholesale release of prisoners did Israel succeed in getting back the soldier Gilad Shalit.

Even after that, the blockade was left intact, as if it would prevent the next round of fighting with Hamas. Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Pillar of Defense in 2012, Protective Edge in 2014, Black Belt in 2019 and Guardians of the Wall in 2021, not to mention the suffering, poverty, fear and want, which is incendiary material that keeps the flames of war burning. Gantz’s “basic humanitarian threshold” will ensure that it continues to burn.

Those who want the bodies of the dead soldiers and the captives don’t need to have a war or to apply the instruments of economic torture on an entire population. They need to agree to an exchange of prisoners, a lot of prisoners. Economic pressure isn’t effective – it’s a sham, it’s a declaration of continued war through inhumane measures, a kind of poster hung on the site of a ruined building announcing, “Warning, misery in progress.”

Yet, a system is now being put in place that will decide what goods can enter Gaza based on Israel’s standard of humanitarianism. This well-oiled mechanism has shown in the past its absurdity by preventing students from taking exams, cancer sufferers from getting needed treatment and parents from accompanying their children to hospitals in Israel and the West Bank. It’s a system that both allows an influx of millions of dollars every month into Gaza and allows farm products to wither on the vine and drive growers into poverty. True, this isn’t genocide, nor is it apartheid because there are no Israelis in Gaza enjoying more rights than its Palestinian population.

Gaza is ruled by Hamas, which is deemed both a terrorist organization by Israel and the body tasked with managing the enclave on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, it’s regarded as an enemy who needs to be destroyed, but more often it’s treated as a partner that saves Israel the need to rule Gaza directly. And still, it’s Israel who decides what Gazans will eat and what medicines they can take.

The European Union, which is examining with a magnifying glass what goods originate in settlements, and the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Syria and Russia for failing to let humanitarian aid reach internal refugees in Syria, have shown no interest in what is being done in Gaza.

Israel’s humanitarian threshold is setting off a predictable chain of events: blockade, violence, war and negotiations and back again to square one. This time, too, there is no reason to expect a different ending to this movie. Spoiler alert: The hero doesn’t really die, he comes back as a zombie.

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