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Beinart’s Challenging Critique on Gaza

By Ralph Seliger

The detail in Peter Beinart’s analysis of how grim things are in Gaza, and how Israel could reasonably ease up to make some things better, is of great value (“American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza — And the Truth“).  Considering what Hamas is like and much Palestinian opinion and behavior, however, it’s hard for most Israelis and American Jews to feel a lot of sympathy for the Gazans; hence, I have difficulty with Beinart’s moralistic tone. He also says nothing about what Israel should do right now with masses of people trying to break down the border fence. 

I feel both sympathy for, and exasperation with, the people in Gaza.  A photo included with Beinart’s Forward article (see Getty image above) produces some of this exasperation; it shows masked Gazans sending a message via kite in Hebrew and Arabic as follows: “Zionists: There is no place for you in Palestine. Go back to where you came from.” 

There is also a partial response to Beinart, likewise published in The Forward, “Why Won’t Liberal Jews Admit Israelis Are in Danger?” The author, Jonathan Dekel-Chen, is a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who lives on Kibbutz Nir Oz near the Gaza border.  It surprised me that as a self-identified liberal and a professional historian, he did not mention the Saudi/Arab League peace initiative on offer since 2002, but this is a pithy quote that balances Beinart’s indictment in a nuanced way:  

. . . Beinart correctly observes that this cycle [of violence and counter-violence] only creates more suspicion and pain on all sides. That being said, it is disingenuous for anyone, including Beinart, to obscure that Hamas continues to invest vast amounts of its available resources in constructing elaborate attack tunnel systems and other weapons designed to kill Israeli soldiers and civilians instead of rebuilding Gaza’s economy and educational system.

As a result of these historical truths, Israelis along the border and the IDF have good reason to believe that our lives would be at risk if thousands of enraged Gazans — whatever the justification for their anger — tore down the border fence. 

Still, it behooves us to put aside whatever reservations we may have for Beinart’s tone and tendentiousness to seriously consider the substance of what he’s telling us about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and Israel’s role in this.  The following are selections from Beinart’s long article: 

. . .  Israel controls Gaza’s population registry. When a child is born in Gaza, her parents register the birth, via the Palestinian Authority, with the Israeli military. If Israel doesn’t enter her in its computer system, Israel won’t recognize her Palestinian ID card.  . . . she will not legally exist.

. . .  If Israel doesn’t recognize your Palestinian ID card, it’s unlikely to allow you into, or out of, Gaza. And because Israel sees Palestinians as a demographic threat, it uses this power to keep the population in Gaza — and especially the West Bank — as low as possible. Israel rarely adds adults to the Palestinian population registry.  . . . 

. . .  So when Palestinians move from Gaza to the West Bank, Israel generally refuses to let them update their addresses, which means they can’t legally stay. Israel can even prevent children in Gaza from changing their address to the West Bank to live with a parent.  . . .

. . . As the indispensable Israeli human rights group Gisha has observed: “Gaza residents may not bring a crate of milk into the Gaza Strip without Israeli permission; A Gaza university cannot receive visits from a foreign lecturer unless Israel issues a visitor’s permit; A Gaza mother cannot register her child in the Palestinian population registry without Israeli approval; A Gaza fisherman cannot fish off the coast of Gaza without permission from Israel; A Gaza nonprofit organization cannot receive a tax-exempt donation of goods without Israeli approval; A Gaza teacher cannot receive her salary unless Israel agrees to transfer tax revenues to the Palestinian Ministry of Education; A Gaza farmer cannot get his carnations and cherry tomatoes to market unless Israel permits the goods to exit Gaza.” . . .

. . . In three wars — in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014 — Israeli bombing damaged roughly 240,000 Gazan homes. According to The New York Times, Operation Cast Lead alone, in 2008-2009, cost Gaza’s economy $4 billion, almost three times the Strip’s annual GDP. Operation Protective Edge in 2014 damaged or destroyed more than 500 schools and preschools, affecting 350,000 students.

. . .  Israel’s buffer zones and partial blockade make it impossible for the Strip to effectively rebuild. Over the past three years, . . .  because of “continued export restrictions” and “restrictions on import of material and equipment necessary for local production[B3],” Gaza exported less than one-fifth as much in 2016 as it had in the first half of 2007.

. . .  According to the United Nations, roughly half the people in Gaza are “moderately-to-severely food insecure,” up 30% from a decade ago. Hospitals lack essential drugs. A shortage of teachers and buildings has forced many schools to run double and even triple shifts, which means many children attend school for only four hours a day.  . . . Most people in Gaza receive only a few hours of electricity per day. Abbas — who in an effort to weaken Hamas last year slashed the amount he pays Israel for Gaza’s electricity — bears some of the blame for that. But so does Israel, whose export restrictions deny utility officials in Gaza the money to purchase sufficient fuel or to fully rebuild the Gaza power station Israel bombed in 2006.

Most alarming of all is Gaza’s dwindling supply of water. In 2000, 98% of Gaza’s residents had access to safe drinking water through its public water network. By 2014, the figure was down to 10%. . . . The best long-term solution is to build a new desalination plant. But Gaza has neither the electricity nor the money to do so.  . . .  

With rare exceptions, students from Gaza cannot travel to the West Bank to study. Academics and researchers in Gaza cannot normally leave to attend international conferences, nor can foreign academics visit the Strip. Families in Gaza cannot travel to the West Bank or Israel proper to see their families unless a “first degree relative” (parent, child, sibling) gets married, dies or is about to die. Letting someone leave Gaza to visit his dying grandparent is an unacceptable security risk, evidently, while letting them leave to visit a dying parent is not.

. . . Israel allows farmers in Gaza to sell tomatoes and eggplants to Israel but not potatoes, spinach and beans. It allows them to export 450 tons of eggplant and tomatoes per month but not more. Spinach, evidently, is more dangerous than eggplant. And 500 tons of eggplant and tomatoes are more dangerous than 450.  . . .

Read the entire article here:


3 Responses to “Beinart’s Challenging Critique on Gaza”

  1. Stan Nadel
    May 2, 2018 at 6:20 am #

    On a number of his points Beinart seems to believe that Gaza has no border with Egypt-
    Israel couldn’t do some of what he claimed if Egypt didn’t do exactly the same things.

  2. Ralph Seliger
    May 2, 2018 at 10:26 am #

    Evidently, Stan, Israel’s two border crossings with Gaza are more important than the one crossing into Egypt. This is how Beinart explains it:

    It’s true that — in addition to Gaza’s two active border-crossing points with Israel — it has a third, Rafah, with Egypt. But even here, Israel wields substantial influence. . . .

    This doesn’t excuse Egyptian leader General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who to his discredit, has largely kept the Rafah crossing closed since he took power in 2013. But even when Rafah is open, it isn’t a significant conduit for Gazan exports. As Sari Bashi of Human Rights Watch explained to me, there is little market in Egypt for goods from Gaza, both because those goods are expensive for Egyptian consumers and because transportation across the Sinai is difficult. . . .

    Read more:

  3. Shulamit S Magnus
    May 8, 2018 at 8:06 am #

    Do read this, by Khaled Abu Toameh

    Palestinians: The Real Gaza Blockade – Gatestone Institute

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