AMAC Exclusive – By Walter Samuel
Those words have resonance with the Jewish people. They are also a principle that should guide Israeli policy following last week’s atrocities.
But the promise of “never again” cannot be fulfilled as long as the conditions which gave rise to Hamas in Gaza persist – conditions which were created by an international community that has used the Jewish state as a scapegoat.
The hard truth is any cease-fire which merely reproduces the circumstances which precipitated last week’s atrocity will only lead to more bloodshed.
Hamas’s attack on Israel was carried out with an almost unimaginable level of brutality, including the murder of children in front of their parents. It has produced a wave of disgust that, at least for a time, has led to widespread feelings of solidarity with the Jewish people, and an overdue isolation of the antisemitic left.
History sadly indicates that this solidarity will be temporary. Antisemitism, latent and explicit, will continue, but the driving force will not be either hostility toward Israel or sympathy for the Palestinians.
Rather, the world’s priority will be to keep the Palestinian population in an already uninhabitable Gaza Strip. This priority has been and will continue to be pursued with a disregard for the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. It is a policy promoted by the erstwhile champions of the Palestinian people and a two-state solution that has done more than anything else to cause mass suffering on the former and render the latter impossible.
We need to be clear. Neither Hamas nor its actions appeared out of nowhere. It is not pandering to left-wing moral relativism to admit that if Hamas emerged from the widespread antisemitism of the Gazan population, and was armed as a tool of Iranian policy, its tyranny over Gaza would not have been possible without the desperation of the population.
It is also not a lie to say that Gaza is an “open air prison” – but left-wing activists miss the significance of that comparison when they speak of an Israeli “occupation.” There is no Israeli occupation of Gaza. Israel has no claims on Gazan land. On the contrary, Israel tried to give Gaza away to Egypt, and most recently an international force. The fact is that no one wants Gaza, not even the Gazans. If Gaza is an “open air prison,” it is because the Palestinians want to leave but cannot.
The cause of conflict in Gaza is not, as anti-Israel voices have screamed, an Israeli desire to drive the Palestinian population out. Rather, it has been the refusal of anyone in the world to allow the Gazans to leave and resettle.
Even now, it is Egypt, not Israel, that is blocking Gazans from leaving a combat zone out of fear they might not return home. While real historic, economic, and religious issues are at stake in the West Bank, the conflict over Gaza could have been solved any point over the past few decades if the foreign donors who have poured billions into propping up Hamas leaders’ lives of luxury in Qatar had been willing to pay to relocate any Gazans who wished to leave.
The reality is that Israel was the only actor keeping Gaza alive. Jerusalem provided electricity and water free of charge, despite the insistence by Hamas and Palestinians that they did not recognize Israel. The so-called “blockade” amounts to Israel and Egypt keeping their border crossings closed. Pro-Palestinian activists argue that Israel seeks to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, yet the actual aggrievement of Gaza’s 2.4 million Palestinians is not that Israel wishes to take their land, but rather that Israel will not let them leave it.
The desire to leave is understandable. Any sane person with aspirations for themselves or their families would wish to leave Gaza. Even in the best of historical and economic circumstances, it would be hard for 2.5 million Palestinians, or any other group of people for that matter, to build lives on that desolate territory with a population density of nearly 17,000 per square mile. A city such as Singapore or Hong Kong can maintain that density with a hinterland, but the premise of any “two-state” solution is that Gaza will not have access to any hinterland.
In a sense, this is one reason why Hamas’s message has been so popular in Gaza, and why pro-Palestinian activists denounce an “Israeli occupation” of Gaza’s straits, despite the absence of any Israeli military presence since 2005 and every settlement having been dismantled by the IDF. The very existence of an Israeli state within its 1967 borders would render the Gaza Strip economically non-viable. In effect, for Gaza to live, Israel must die.
Even without the historical animosity between the populations, Israel could no more be expected to open its border than America could if Mexico faced decades of total state collapse. With the animosity, asking Israel to accept the free movement of more than a million Gazans would be like asking America to accept the free movement of 90 million hostile refugees. It doesn’t matter if the Palestinians have grievances they feel are valid. Precisely because they do, it is to ask Israel to commit an act of suicide.
What does this mean? It means that in the long run there is no plausible two-state solution or any other peace deal involving Gaza. Any hypothetical agreement which allowed Gazans free movement would doom Israel even within its 1967 borders, while any movement which lacked those conditions would leave Gaza economically non-viable and dependent on international and Israeli charity. This situation would rightfully leave Gazans feeling cheated by whatever leaders made such an agreement and ready to embrace groups like Hamas which promised something better.
In the short term, any resolution to this conflict which does not deal with Gaza will only make the suffering worse on all sides. Before the current military campaign, Gaza was already economically non-viable, overpopulated, and dependent on international charity.
Fighting over the last week will have destroyed infrastructure, devastated housing, and killed enough people on both sides to create a new generation of grievances. If Gaza was unlivable before, it will be almost uninhabitable now.
That will be the case even if Hamas is destroyed. The new rulers, whether Israel, the Palestinian Authority, or an international administration, will be unable to solve these problems because they are unsolvable. When they fail, Hamas or a successor organization will reappear, playing on these grievances to create an insurgency, and the cycle will continue.
Over the next month, the world needs to decide whether it will face this reality. Are we willing to step up and build a collective solution, or will we beg Israel to forgo justice to maintain an “open-air prison” that ensures the future suffering of Palestinians and a repeat of the atrocities of last week?
At the moment, the prospects for a lasting solution are poor.
We are already seeing caveats. Even a significant contingent on the left who still claim to support Israel have said that retaliation is justified, but it must be carried out, as Joe Biden termed it, in accordance with “the laws of war.”
The “international laws” which have concerned critics have not been ones regarding civilian or military deaths, but rather Israel’s decision to cease supplying water and power to Gaza. No nation is under an obligation to provide free resources to another, but the European Union and U.N. have nonetheless suggested Israel may have violated international law, as have Turkey and Egypt.
Egypt has refused to open a humanitarian corridor for refugees, pointing out that Palestinians stated it could drive “more refugees to safe areas, including Europe.” Virtually total panic broke out in the international community when Israel requested that 1.1 million Gazans evacuate in the face of a possible ground offensive.
Israel has also bent over backward to avoid civilian losses. Over 440,000 Palestinians had been reported as displaced as of Friday, but the death toll was under 1,800, including Hamas combatants. Foreign governments worry more about displaced living Palestinians than dead ones.
The irony is that the actual Gaza situation is the one area of the conflict where there is an obvious way to solve this in a manner acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians. Most Gazans want to leave, and the reason Israel and Egypt guard their borders is to prevent nearly the entire population from pouring out.
In turn, the migration of a large portion of Gaza’s population would aid Israel. The reason the problem persists is that the entire world insists that Israel must keep 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza against their will, and then denounces the Jewish state for creating “an open-air prison.” The European Union funds Hamas, which terrorizes the Palestinians, and when Hamas commits acts of barbarism, their greatest fear is a refugee crisis.
The words “never again” have held a special meaning for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. They resonate even more loudly after last week. If the international community refuses to confront the role they have played and continue to play in perpetuating violence, then the atrocities we have seen will happen again. And the countries that cowardly asked Israel to sacrifice their children on the altar of international hypocrisy will have the blood of more innocents on their hands.
Walter Samuel is the pseudonym of a prolific international affairs writer and academic. He has worked in Washington as well as in London and Asia, and holds a Doctorate in International History.