Some 1.8 million residents have been imprisoned for a decade in the Gaza Strip, one of the most crowded regions in the world. They are not allowed to leave the area where they live, cannot export their products freely, study in institutions of higher learning outside the Strip or receive visitors and families from outside. The unemployment rate there is over 60 percent, and among young and educated people it is even higher.
- Worn, tattered or stained, the market for used Israeli clothes is booming in Gaza
- Israel must make Gaza a priority in any diplomatic efforts with Palestinians
- Keeping an eye on Gaza while preparing for the next Lebanon war
The Gaza Strip is seemingly under Hamas rule, but in practice Israel, which has imposed a blockade on Gaza, is also responsible for the residents’ quality of life and the horrible economic situation there. The claim that as long as Hamas controls Gaza the blockade will not be lifted has no rational basis. Israel itself admits that Hamas is making an effort to prevent rocket fire and terrorist attacks coming from Gaza.
Hamas may continue to dig tunnels whose target is to attack Israeli communities, but this is clear evidence that the blockade in itself cannot prevent the motivation of Palestinians to commit terrorist attacks. It may even encourage them.
The Israel Defense Forces has already grasped the concept in which a significant easing of the living conditions of the population in Gaza and the West Bank, an increase in the number of work permits in Israel and generosity in providing opportunities for development could dampen the frustration and the feeling of no economic future, and to stop, at least temporarily, the expected explosion in the direction of Israel. Warnings in this spirit have been made recently by senior IDF officers, including the head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, in his presentation to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
These same senior officers, who find partners among politicians too, propose considering the establishment of a commercial port in Gaza, among other things, or the construction of the port on an artificial island off the Gaza coast, which will be connected to Gaza by a bridge.
The security fears accompanying these ideas, as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon presents them too, are not insignificant, mostly because of the danger that the port will serve as a transfer point for weapons and explosives for Hamas. At the same time, the enormous economic benefit of the port embodies a security benefit too, because one can assume that the regime in Gaza will not want to lose this economic asset because of an attack or rocket fire on Israel.
Building a seaport, increasing the number of work permits and removing the blockade are not an alternative to the diplomatic process, and they must not be seen as a gesture of good will. It is the obligation of the occupier to the occupied. But when the IDF estimates that without such steps the security threat against Israel will increase significantly, implementation of the IDF’s recommendations is already part of the government’s obligation to the citizens of Israel.