The media reported effusively over the weekend on the rate of progress of the underground barrier being constructed along the Gaza border. The fear of tunnel traumas of the sort that happened during the 2014 Gaza war has left its imprint. It is apparent in a budget of 3 billion shekels ($836.8 million), a length of 65 kilometers, hundreds of workers, dozens of construction sites, a concrete wall dozens of meters deep, and a high fence including cameras and means of deterrence.
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According to the plan, the project is to be completed in mid-2019. It might indeed be successful in defending against the threat of tunnels and in thwarting Hamas. That is precisely the reason it is important to ask: What will happen in the Gaza Strip and mainly who will make sure that its inhabitants live under reasonable conditions?
There is a consensus among leading intelligence officials that Gaza is in the throes of a severe humanitarian crisis and its infrastructure is collapsing. Most of the water from its aquifer is undrinkable; purified water is transported to homes under unhygienic conditions; electricity is provided for only about three or four hours a day, sometimes even less; thousands of cubic meters of sewage are channeled into the sea every day; unemployment is sky-high and the poverty rate is enormous.
The government tends to slough off these matters as a “question of responsibility.” From Israel’s perspective, since disengagement in 2005, it no longer rules the Gaza Strip, despite the almost hermetic closure it has imposed on the Strip. Israel can also cling to the fact that even Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in a serious conflict that takes its toll on the inhabitants.
But the dispute over responsibility does not help change the situation. Behind the strategic discussions and the arguments in principle are human beings – hundreds of thousands of people living in intolerable poverty and scarcity.
Not by chance, it is the heads of the defense establishment – the coordinator of government activities in the territories and the intelligence branch – who are telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman about the severe humanitarian conditions in the Strip. The defense establishment understands full well that there is a direct link between the process of collapse in Gaza and military considerations of the Hamas leadership. The more the feeling grows of “nothing to lose,” the greater are the chances of another round of fighting.
But Lieberman, backed by Netanyahu, has refused to authorize steps to ease the situation in Gaza – such as changing the tactic of closure, creating a system for the sick to be able to leave the Strip, channeling large quantities of water and supplying electricity. When on the one side a fence is being built and on the other, the Palestinian Authority is not bringing pressure to bear because of internal considerations – Israel looks on with equanimity at the humanitarian disaster in Gaza. Netanyahu and Lieberman must understand: Human suffering cannot be part of the strategic game. The inhabitants of Gaza are not the enemy. They are suffering human beings who need help. Israel can and must help.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel