It was a dramatic situation when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired nearly 700 rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli communities in the south of Israel, killing four Israelis in a two-day eruption of violence earlier this month.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad “either forgot or just decided to ignore the fact that we fight back,” my colleague Marcy Oster wrote last week in the Cleveland Jewish News and indeed Israel did fight back, bombing terrorist targets in Gaza and assassinating the Palestinian man in Gaza who handled the flow of funds from Iran to the Hamas-controlled territory.
Any Israeli military analyst would tell you we had no choice, but to fight back to restore a semblance of deterrence against such rocket fire. But that cannot be the end of the story. There have been periodic eruptions of this kind over the past decade and Israel has responded with force each time, only to find itself back in the same situation sooner or later. Israel dealt a major blow to Hamas in 2014 in an all-out war, but ultimately the situation recalls the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
There are those in Israel who suggest there is no solution to the conflict with Hamas, which took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority by force in 2007 after the Palestinian Authority failed to recognize Hamas’ victory in Palestinian legislative elections the previous year. Many Israelis acknowledge the only way to oust Hamas, which doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, would be through a ground invasion, which would cost large numbers of Israeli and Palestinian lives and leave Israel governing Gaza’s population of roughly 2 million. I really don’t see that as an option.
Since Hamas came to power in Gaza, Israel has imposed a blockade on the territory to put pressure on the regime, apparently in the hope that it would collapse, but there is a real disconnect with reality in this respect, too. Israel has been engaging in indirect negotiations with Hamas through Egyptian mediation over an arrangement that would not only ensure long-term quiet along the Gaza border, but also perpetuate Hamas’ rule in Gaza and the split between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
The blockade, which is also being imposed by Egypt along its small shared border with Gaza, is wreaking a real toll on the Palestinians living there, restricting the passage of goods, but also severely curbing freedom of movement of people in and out of the strip, even for medical reasons. A United Nations’ report predicts Gaza will become unfit for human habitation next year.
Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz, where I work, made reference last week to the “Gaza Ghetto” and the “Gaza Ghetto Uprising,” a deliberately shocking reference to the Holocaust. The parallel is inappropriate. There is no Holocaust going on in Gaza, but the only time the dire humanitarian situation there attracts the attention of the Israeli public is when rockets are shot over the border into the south of Israel or when sewage seeps up the coast to Israeli beaches just across the border.
What is necessary in Gaza is not more of the same, but creative policies that will ease the situation for the people there, rather than strengthening Hamas. It should include direct delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gazans and steps to reintroduce rule by the Palestinian Authority. And if that proves unfeasible, we should be thinking about other policy approaches – beyond more of the same.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel.