Clueless in Gaza.

Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the 1967 “Six Days War.” In 2005 Israel ended its military occupation of the Strip, handing over government to the Palestinian Authority. In 2007 Hamas won elections in the Strip (although not among all Palestinians), then followed up electoral victory by seizing control of the government in Gaza from the Palestinian Authority.   Israel saw this development as a grave danger. Hamas does not recognize the right of Israel to exist. Hamas militants backed up words with deeds by firing rockets into Israel. Israel responded by imposing a tight blockade on Gaza. All sorts of things–from computers to food–were barred from entry, and most Palestinians were barred from leaving Gaza.

The blockade wrecked the economy of Gaza. In early Summer 2014, there were 1.8 million people living in the Gaza Strip; 40 percent of them were unemployed; almost half of them received food aid from the United Nations; and 80 percent of them lived under the level defined by the UN as in poverty. At the same time, Hamas circumvented the blockade by digging many tunnels into Egypt which allowed the import of all sorts of goods. (It is difficult to believe that there wasn’t also a large “black” economy that never figured into UN calculations of living standards.)   So long as the Egyptians tolerated the Hamas tunnels, Israel’s blockade could not have full effect as a form of non-military coercion. However, Hamas had begun as an extension of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. When the Egyptian military overthrew the government of Mohammad Morsi, the new government cut-off the Hamas tunnels. The people of the Gaza Strips suddenly began to suffer a great deal more than before.

In April 2014 Hamas went so far as to form a unity government with its old rival Fatah, which rules the West Bank (after a fashion). This got Hamas nowhere. Israel sank the peace-talks being pushed by the United States rather than deal with Hamas.

Hoping to force an end to the blockade, Hamas went onto the offensive in Summer 2014. Hamas could not hope to coerce Israel directly. Hamas could hope to provoke a humanitarian crisis that would lead to international pressure on Israel to ease or end the blockade. Hamas had imported a large stock of missiles through the tunnel system before the coup that put Morsi in prison. Now these missiles began to rain down on Israel. The Israelis struck back with air attacks, artillery fire, and a ground incursion. In the process, the Israelis discovered many tunnels that ran not into Egypt for smuggling, but into Israel. Between 2001 and 2005 Palestinian suicide bombers had killed 800 people in Israel until the Israelis walled themselves off from the Palestinians. Finding this defense penetrated by the tunnels, the Israelis went wild.

Israel’s air and ground offensive against Hamas certainly provoked a huge humanitarian crisis. It killed about 1,900 people; destroyed 10,000 homes; and forced the emergency relocation of perhaps 400,000 people within the confines of the tiny area. Criticism of Israel’s actions came from all around the world. Israel has been pushed back toward revisiting the situation of April 2014 in the sense that it will negotiate through the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. On the other hand, Hamas also came in for much criticism for using Palestinian civilians as human shields as they fired their rockets from the midst of civilian areas. Much of this criticism, little noticed in the West, comes from other Arab governments. Moreover, Israel demands the effectively-supervised disarmament of Gaza as a prerequisite to ending the blockade. Fatah sees a chance to make gains against its rival, Hamas.  Hard to make a deal when no one wants a deal.

“Misery in Gaza,” The Week, 22 August 2014, p. 11.)

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