By: Daniel Carmon
Once again, another ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is about to expire. Almost all parties involved in the indirect negotiations or affected by it share the expectation to reach a lasting agreement or at least extend the ceasefire. All but Hamas. This terrorist organisation had already rejected a few Egyptian proposals for a long-term Gaza truce. Hamas’s spokesman even said on Monday that if Israel will not accept all their demands it will “face a long war”.
Israel’s operation in Gaza over the past month is first and foremost a reaction to the terrorist organisation Hamas’s aggression, as more than 20,000 rockets were fired by Hamas and other terror organisations since 2007. Rockets are aimed to kill. Even the smallest of the more than 3,300 Hamas projectiles launched at Israel since July 7 can kill. Mortar shells that were fired and hit Israel caused a number of casualties in Israel, while in other cases they landed on the Palestinian side causing civilian casualties there too.
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Israel completely evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005 and handed over the keys to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel’s wish — and the international community’s dream — was to see Palestinians take responsibility for their own fate and to show the world their capability of successfully managing their territory.
Unfortunately, this did not happen. In 2007, the terror organisation Hamas violently seized control of the territory of Gaza and imposed its ruthless rule on the population in an actual coup d’état against the PA.
Hamas did so as part of its radical agenda, based on the two pillars mentioned in the Hamas charter — one is the fight against Israel and the other is transforming Gaza and the whole territory between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea into a radical Islamic caliphate, similar to the Islamic State’s intentions in Iraq. Trying to amass support around the first objective is the road to achieve the latter.
Hamas is designated as a terror organisation by the international community. Its terrorist armaments and belligerent activities breach United Nations resolutions on combating terrorism. It also contradicts agreements between Israel and the Palestinians on maintaining Gaza, like the West Bank, with weapons only for internal security and police tasks.
Instead of making Gaza a thriving economy for the benefit of its people, Hamas made sure it became a base for terror, death and destruction by firing rockets deliberately at the Israeli population from civilian installations and initiating terrorist attacks through terror tunnels, while endangering the local population. Using the population as human shields, Hamas wants the humanitarian situation to deteriorate in order to bring pressure on Israel.
That is why Hamas likes to manipulatively wave the flag of “siege over Gaza”. Not only do food, medicine, fuel and aid enter freely at all times, but commodities and consumer goods of every type are transferred daily from Israel to Gaza. The types and amounts of consumer goods are determined by Palestinian merchants and depend primarily on market forces in Gaza.
Since January 1, 2014, approximately 60,000 individuals entered Israel from the Gaza Strip. Many of these were patients who received medical treatment in Israel and elsewhere, while others were businessmen and merchants. In the first five months of 2014, over 18,000 trucks, carrying nearly 228,000 tonnes of supplies, including 181,000 tonnes of construction material, passed through the Kerem Shalom land crossing into Gaza. The same crossing that during Israel’s operation saw more than 2,300 trucks entering Gaza and more than 4,000 people entering or leaving Gaza, from and to Israel, while suffering the fire of mortar shells daily.
The events of the last few weeks proved that Hamas had been cynically misusing humanitarian aid sent to Gaza by diverting it to its terrorist use — building tunnel fortifications and armaments instead of schools and hospitals. Hamas’ priorities are well understood. That is why the next phase of the rehabilitation in Gaza has to be monitored by the international community for the well-being of Palestinians.
That step should comprise of economic development and rehabilitation, coupled with the demilitarisation of Gaza. It has to entail a free, peaceful and prosperous society in Gaza that is not captive to Hamas’ whims. The residents of Gaza deserve a better future. The citizens of Israel deserve quieter days. Guaranteeing the calm is imperative in order to achieve stability. That can be done by demilitarising Gaza while providing monitored international aid that will help build a sustainable future for the Palestinians in Gaza.
Last Friday, European Union foreign ministers called again for all terrorist groups in Gaza to disarm and pointed out that the EU is willing to reactivate an EU mission on the Egypt-Gaza border to help stabilise Gaza. Israel had welcomed these repeated calls by the EU and reiterated that dedication to the principle of demilitarisation that will be enforced by an effective mechanism will ensure a fundamental change of the situation.
This is not a “zero-sum game”. Both Israelis and Palestinians can and should gain. Rehabilitation efforts in Gaza will be sustainable as long as these are coupled with making Gaza terror-free and the disarmament of terror organisations that endanger its stability and the hope for a better future.
The writer is Israel’s ambassador to India