Managing the reality of Gaza

Mar 20, 2008 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

March 20, 2008
Number 03/08 #06

This Update focuses again on the situation in Gaza, and especially on Israeli options for managing it, as well as the original responsibility for the admittedly very difficult situation of Gazans.

First up,  the always insightful Professor Barry Rubin looks again at Israel’s various options for dealing with the violence coming out of Gaza. Rubin argues that there are no good solutions, only plans to manage the problem. And he advances his own novel and limited way to do so, based on a temporary re-occupation only of northern Gaza until rocket defences are prepared for Israeli communities. For his  full arguments, CLICK HERE. Also examining Israel’s strategic options for Gaza is former General Shlomo Brom, who urges exploration of the possibility of a temporary ceasefire on terms Israel can accept. Pointing out the impossibility of a ceasefire on terms proposed by Hamas, including a complete ban on all Israeli arrests in the West Bank, is former academic and peace activist Yossi Alpher. Strongly opposing any attempt to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas is another former General, Yaakov Amidror.

Next up is Nonie Darwish, the daughter of an Egyptian officer whose job was organising anti-Israel terror from Gaza in the 1950s and was killed by Israel. Darwish argues the roots of the current problems, including Hamas’ destructive role, can be seen in the Arab decision to keep the Palestinian refugees in camps for 60 years and make Gaza into a sort of prison in order to use the Palestinians against Israel. For this important argument from a fascinating source, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, another Arab intellectual, Masri Feki, an Egyptian writing in a Turkish periodical, argues Israel should finally be accepted as an integral part of the Middle East.

Finally, this update includes a rather touching story about the Shafii family from Gaza. Because of medical complications, Iman Shafii was sent to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon, Israel, to give birth to twins, but while there, found herself under fire from rockets from Gaza. This in turn led to some questioning of the conventional narrative in Gaza. For the full story from Germany’s Der Speigel, CLICK HERE.

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The Region: What to do about Gaza: The realistic scenario

Barry Rubin


Not only is there no good solution to the Gaza problem, there’s no “solution” at all. But in the Middle East, solutions are rare; what’s needed is the best imperfect option among alternatives.

The first option is to continue current policy. Israel absorbs damage and casualties in Sderot and some other places. Few are affected; almost all the country functions normally. International pressure and casualties are limited. Israel hits rocket launchers, terrorist bases, and leading terrorists periodically. Eventually, there will be an anti-rocket defense.

But aside from government’s duty to its citizens, things will change. Hamas will produce larger and longer-range missiles against Ashkelon and eventually Ashdod.

Another problem with this strategy is that Western criticism defines even minimal self-defense methods as disproportionate. If you get slammed for taking punches, you might as well fight back. Moreover, the West basically protects Hamas’s rule in Gaza, despite sanctions and diplomatic isolation, neither of which might last.

As Hamas grows more aggressive, Western policies might become more appeasing. Meanwhile, being “soft” on Hamas doesn’t make peace talks work, but does make Hamas look more effective than the less violent PA and Fatah.

At the same time, Israeli public opinion will continue to press the government to change policy.

THERE ARE three proposals playing off a thirst for neat solutions. A cease-fire is an ideal dovish solution; overthrowing Hamas is a solution which appeals to hawks; and giving the mess over to an international force makes both philosophies happy.

Unfortunately none of these ideas would work. A cease-fire is riddled with problems, paradoxically bringing even more violence. Hamas wouldn’t observe it, letting both its own members and others attack Israel while inciting murder through every institution. The cease-fire would not last long; Hamas would use it to strengthen its rule and army while demanding a reward for its “moderation”: an end to sanctions and diplomatic isolation, even Western aid.

THE NEXT alternative – reoccupying Gaza and destroying Hamas – might sound good. But how?

Israel isn’t being hit hard enough to make such a huge undertaking worthwhile. Once again, Israel would be involved in the daily rule of more than one million hostile people. Troops would face constant attack from all directions. Too many would be tied up to permit proper security in the West Bank and Lebanon border. Such a move would be high-cost in casualties, money and international friction.

And, in the end, Hamas would not be “destroyed.” To defeat Hamas is not to eliminate it, but to keep it as weak as possible (through military strikes, isolation, etc.) and limit its ability to hit Israel.

Then there is the fallacy that Gaza can be turned over to a “moderate” Fatah and PA. Well, there is no chance of their accepting this gift. In fact, Fatah would rather make a deal with Hamas than fight it. And why believe they would do a better job than last time?

ANOTHER idea is essentially a gimmick: turning Gaza over to an international force. This is a fantasy. Countries are not going to send forces into a war there, to be attacked every day; nor will they brave criticism from Arab and Muslim states as well as terrorist attacks for no benefit.

Besides, what would the force do? Certainly not arrest thousands of Gazans, kill those trying to attack Israel, hold mass trials of terrorists and sentence them to long prison terms. It would definitely not disarm Hamas or stop arms smuggling from Egypt.

And when rockets keep falling, the international force would block Israeli military action in Gaza.

The option would also be a political disaster, with the sponsoring countries rushing to establish a Palestinian state and negotiate with Hamas. Finally, as noted above, the PA and Fatah wouldn’t take Gaza from an international force.

WHAT IS needed, instead, is an option based on reality, not wishful thinking: to push Hamas back. Israel’s interest is to minimize attacks on its soil and citizens while limiting the cost of the response needed to achieve that goal. This can best be done by combining a more active version of current policy and the creation of a security zone in the northern Gaza Strip to push Hamas and its allies out of range.

Such a zone could be made relatively secure because it would be on a narrow front, with flanks protected by the sea on the north and Israel proper on the south and east, with Israel controlling the airspace. This would be an interim policy until anti-rocket defenses could be implemented, in perhaps three years.

Of course, there is risk. Israeli forces would be attacked, yet they would be in a strong, fortified position and know they were protecting the civilians behind them. Some rockets would fall on Israel, but the numbers would be far reduced and the area affected limited. Israel would continue to operate within Hamas-held Gaza as needed.

Would the world, which already claims Israel is occupying Gaza, do much if Israel temporarily took back 10 percent?

THIS ISSUE will not be solved by negotiations, concessions, appeasement, force, or anything else. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is right: “It’s not the end, the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning.”

The same logic applies to Gaza, the West Bank and the Lebanon border. The main goal is for the army to minimize danger and damage, so people can go about their normal lives and build up the country, protected by their soldiers.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.

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The Gaza Prison Camp

Nonie Darwish

The Huffington Post, Posted March 16, 2008 | 11:34 PM (EST)

“Gaza conditions at ’40-year low'” the BBC headlined last week. Rarely a week goes by without a politician or organization deploring the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. But I do not hear anyone describe its root cause: 60 years of Arab policy aimed at maintaining Palestinians as stateless refugees in order to pressure Israel.

I lived in Gaza as a child in the 1950s when Egypt conducted guerrilla-style operations against Israel from Gaza, then under Egyptian control. My father commanded these operations, carried out by “fedayeen,” (which means, “self sacrifice”). This became the frontline of Arab Jihad against Israel. My father was killed by Israel in a targeted assassination in 1956.

Today the Gaza Strip, now under the control of Hamas, has become the Gaza prison camp for 1.5 million Palestinians and continues to serve as the launching pad for attacks against Israeli citizens.

This is the legacy of the Arab world’s Palestinian refugee policy, started 60 years ago, when the Arab League implemented special laws regarding Palestinians that all Arab countries had to abide by. Arab countries could not absorb Palestinians. Even if a Palestinian married a citizen of an Arab country, that Palestinian could not become a citizen of his or her spouse’s country. A Palestinian can be born, live and die in an Arab country, but never gain its citizenship. Even now I receive e-mails from Palestinians telling me they cannot have a Syrian passport, for example, and must remain Palestinian even though they have never set foot in the West Bank or Gaza. Forcing the Palestinian identity on them is designed to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee status. Palestinians have been used and abused by Arab nations, and by Palestinian terrorists, for the purpose of destroying Israel.

The 22 Arab states certainly do not have a shortage of land. Many surrounding Arab areas, such as the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, are very sparsely populated. But absorbing Palestinians would end their refugee status and their desire to harm Israel.

Arab wealth, which is increasing dramatically because of skyrocketing oil prices, is not used to improve the lives, infrastructure and economy of the people of the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, it supports terror groups who reject Israel’s existence and oppose peace with Israel. The average Gaza man has a better employment opportunity if he joins Hamas.

Gazans’ breach of their checkpoint with Egypt in January, orchestrated by Hamas, is a result of the Palestinian refugee policy. The checkpoints on the Arab side of Gaza could not keep the inmates inside. The Arab plan to overpopulate Gaza exploded in the wrong direction. After this explosion, Suleiman Awwad, an Egyptian administration spokesman, said, “Egypt is a respected state, its border cannot be breached and its soldiers should not be lobbed with stones.” In other words, Egypt is not like Israel, which is a disrespected state. Gazans should not direct the violence at Egypt, only at Israel. This is Arab conventional wisdom.

Last month Hamas threatened to bring 40,000 Palestinians, primarily children and women, to the Gaza border with Israel to protest Israel’s restrictions on Gaza. Some Hamas leaders hinted they would send these protestors to breach the border, once again demonstrating that the Palestinian terrorists have no qualms about endangering the lives of innocent people — Israelis or Palestinians. Fortunately, only 5,000 showed up.

But Hamas did succeed two days later in killing an Israeli: a 47 year-old father of four during a rocket attack from Gaza while he was sitting in his car next to Sapir College near Sderot. Two weeks earlier, two Israeli brothers, Osher and Rami Twito, ages 8 and 19, were seriously injured by a rocket from Gaza while buying their father a birthday present. Osher’s left leg had to be amputated.

Israel completely left Gaza in August 2005. In May and June 2007, Hamas waged war against its Palestinian brothers in Fatah to gain control of Gaza. Hamas intensified its rockets attacks on Israeli towns, compelling Israel to take economic and military measures against Gaza. Hamas has become a danger not only to Israel, but to Palestinians and to neighboring Arab countries, as well. Nevertheless, the Arab world still refuses to see its role in creating this monster. It is difficult to find a similar situation in human history: the intentional creation of a refugee status for a million and a half people, sustained for 60 years. The Arab world has cut its nose to spite its face.

The world needs to understand that this dangerous mess started when 22 Arab countries agreed to create a human prison called the Gaza Strip. Arabs claim they love the Palestinian people, but they seem more interested in sacrificing them. It is time for the Arab world to open their side of the borders and absorb the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza who wish to be absorbed. It is time for the Arab world to truly help the Palestinians, not use them.

Nonie Darwish, who grew up in Cairo and Gaza City, is the author of, “Now They Call me Infidel.”

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Palestinian Twins Under Rocket Fire from Gaza

By Christoph Schult in Ashkelon

Der Spiegel, March 11, 2008

When a Palestinian woman gave birth to twins in an Israeli hospital she experienced what it is like to be the target of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The humming noise in the sky over Beit Lahia grows slowly louder. It sounds as if the buzzing of a hornet were being amplified by loud speakers in a football stadium. Residents of the Gaza Strip call them “Sannana,” or the humming ones, the small unmanned drones that the Israelis use to scan the border region for rocket commandos — and then to liquidate them with precisely targeted missiles.

Ashraf Shafii has climbed onto the roof his house and is looking across strawberry fields toward the border wall. The smoke-belching towers of the power plant in the Israeli city of Ashkelon jut into the sky along the horizon. His wife is over there in Ashkelon today.

Shafii, a 34-year-old lab technician at the Islamic University of Gaza, glances at his six-year-old daughter. “We were so desperate to have more children,” he says. For years, he waited in vain for his wife to bear a son. When she turned 30, the couple decided to get fertility treatment.

Iman Shafii finally became pregnant. During an ultrasound examination, doctors discovered four small embryos. The first died in the fifth month of pregnancy and the second died a few weeks later. Shafii was admitted to the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, but the condition of the two remaining embryos became increasingly fragile. “You have to go to Israel,” the doctor told her.

Because Israel refuses to engage in any contact with the authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza, patients turn to private brokers who submit their entry applications to the Palestinian Authority of moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. But it can be a lengthy process.

The Shafiis were lucky. Iman was permitted to enter Israel after only 24 hours. She took a taxi to a spot near the Eres border crossing, and then she was pushed in a wheelchair across the last 500 meters of bumpy ground. She reached the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon just in time. She gave birth on Feb. 25, by Caesarean section, to a girl, Bayan, and to the couple’s long-awaited son, Faisal.

Iman Shafii, 32, wearing a headscarf and oval glasses, and speaking in a soft voice, sits on a chair between two incubators. Today is the first day she is permitted to hold her babies in her arms. A nurse brings out the boy first, then the girl. As the tears well up in her eyes, Shafii kisses her children on their foreheads. “If the children had stayed in Gaza, they would not have survived,” she says.

Her only impression of Israel has been the one she gets on Palestinian television, which usually shows tanks and soldiers, and celebrates attacks, like the recent shooting inside a Talmud school in Jerusalem, as acts of heroism. But now a doctor wearing a yarmulke walks into the room, says “Shalom” and asks her in English how she is feeling.

Dr. Shmuel Zangen, the director of the hospital’s neonatal unit, doesn’t care who he treats. “As a doctor, I enjoy the privilege of not having to think about it,” he says. “It certainly is odd that we take care of Palestinian children while they shoot at us. It’s the sort of thing that only happens in the Middle East.”

‘Not a Just War’

In the past, Shafii saw the Israelis exclusively as perpetrators, but in Ashkelon she is encountering, for the first time, victims of the acts of terror committed by her own people. One of them is nine-year-old Yossi, who is sitting in a wheelchair. A steel frame holds his left shoulder together. It was fractured by shrapnel from a rocket that landed in the city of Sderot. “The people in Sderot are suffering just as we are in Gaza,” she says.

There was a sharp increase in the Palestinian rocket attacks after Israel cleared the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in September 2005. The Israeli military counted 2,305 hits last year, and there have already been 1,146 in the first two months of this year. Until now, almost all of the missiles have been Qassam rockets, which are made in the Gaza Strip and have a range of about 12 kilometers (seven miles).

But the breaching of the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt by Hamas in January made it possible to bring in Russian and Iranian rockets with longer ranges. This means that cities considered safe in the past are now threatened. One of them is Ashkelon. On the second day after the birth of Bayan and Faisal, a Soviet-made “Grad” rocket landed on the hospital grounds. “I heard it hit, 200 meters away from me,” says Shafii. The neonatal unit was moved to a bunker the next day. “The groups that are firing the rockets are not fighting a just war,” says the Palestinian mother, adding that they are not abiding by what the Prophet Muhammad said: that wars may only be waged between soldiers, but not against civilians.

The buzzing drone in the sky over Beit Lahia has flown away to the south. The sound of an Israeli missile striking its target can be heard a short time later. Within a few minutes, there are reports that a member of the group Islamic Jihad was killed.

Ashraf Shafii describes how young, masked men repeatedly set up their rocket launchers under the cover of houses in Beit Lahia. “They shoot at Israeli civilians, which is completely unacceptable,” says Shafii. “And they put us Palestinian civilians in grave danger, because the Israelis shoot back.”

Why doesn’t he object? “They are armed,” says Shafii, “and they shoot at anyone who gets in their way.”

The father is holding the first photos of his newborn twins in his hands. He is worried about the rockets being fired at Ashkelon. He says that he would never have believed it possible that he could be indebted to the Israelis for anything. “What a confusing situation,” he says.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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