Reflections on the Gaza-Israel Conflict and a Possible Solution
On June 30th, the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, Gilad Sha’ar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frenkel, were found by a civilian search team in the Gush Etzion area. The State of Israel accused Hamas, while Israel’s counterparts in the international community were skeptical. Recently, Hamas confirmed and celebrated that it was two known operatives who carried out this atrocious act. In response, Israel decided to launch Operation Protective Edge, a large scale ground offensive on the Gaza Strip that dominated national television screens and social media pages. However, no concrete goals were ever presented during this operation, which has left Israel suffering enormous blowback from both its citizens and the international community. Many accused Israel of committing war crimes, even genocide. So the question remains, after having what is now the third Gaza operation in only the past six years, how can Israel put an end to repeatedly hurting its image on the international stage and to the unacceptable rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip?
When I look at the primary critics of the Israeli government’s treatment of Gaza and its residents, I find that there is one primary accusation: “Israel illegally occupies the Gaza Strip”. Recently, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a video seemingly attempting to refute this claim. The video mentions how Israel completely left Gaza in 2005, with no single Israeli resident or soldier remaining in the territory. Occupation, according to international law, was defined as effective control over a territory. The video then continues to explain that Israel does not indeed control all of Gaza’s borders, which includes one with Egypt. It places complete blame on Hamas for being the occupier, for violently overthrowing the legal Palestinian government and for terrorizing any Palestinian that opposes its rule.
However, if we examine the situation in Gaza a little more closely, a different picture begins to emerge. The Jewish nation has a legitimate claim to sovereignty over the Judea and Samaria regions and Gaza, which from a historic perspective are not only intrinsic parts of the Jewish homeland but also the cradle of Jewish civilization.
Seemingly, it would be grossly inaccurate to refer to an Israeli presence in these regions as an "occupation" as that term implies these territories to lie beyond Israel's legitimate historical borders. Yet, at the same time, its true that there are millions of Palestinian Arabs living in these territories under a military bureaucratic open-air prison, that forces them to endure humiliating checkpoints and intrusive walls while severely limiting their freedom of movement on a daily basis. Furthermore, Israel does not simply monitor everything that goes through Gaza, it evidently attempts to controls almost everything that comes in and out of Gaza. Israel’s missiles, though aimed at terrorist infrastructure, hit numerous locations along the strip. Special forces are often secretly deployed in overnight raids and reconnaissance missions to capture terrorists. The air force and drones regularly fly over Gaza, and Israel enforces blockades where they control Gaza’s waters, airspace and sea. Additionally, Israel carries out large-scale operations every couple of years when the situation escalates. From this perspective, an "occupation" very much exists and those claiming - based on the Jewish people's legal and historic right to the territories - that there is no "occupation" sound foolish at best.
Both above narratives--Israel’s legitimate right to the gazan territory but Israel’s current treatment of those who reside there-- are equally valid. But so long as they seek to negate or eclipse one another, both peoples will continue to suffer. Even if one narrative were to finally win out over the other, it would lead to injustice for either Jews or Palestinians.
The sad truth is that Israel's military occupation of the "West Bank" and Gaza actually undermines the Jewish people's legitimate right to Judea, Samaria and Gaza. To put this in simple terms, Israel is not a Western country acting in foreign territory. The Jews in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are not the Americans in Afghanistan or Iraq. We are not defined ‘occupiers’ in someone else’s homeland. The problem is that many of our political and military leaders behave like the Americans in Afghanistan, carrying out policies in Gaza reflecting the same policies of the American forces in Afghanistan, which bestows credibility on claims that we don't belong in our own country. Our policies reflect the policies of a western power occupying a land that does not belong to them. Checkpoints, walls, restrictions of movement, and the way Palestinians are treated in Gaza reflect Israel behaving like something it is not.
Gaza is part of our Israel country. If anything I believe our occupation of Gaza began in 2005. Prior to 2005 it was objectively disputed territory. Israel considered it part of our homeland while the international community said it was not and the debate continued on the international stage. In 2005, not only did the Sharon government forcibly expel all the Jews who lived there and removed buses, postal services and military police from there, he also relinquished the Jewish people's claim to Gaza on a national level. Yet, Sharon and our subsequent governments still insist that we have a right to control airspace, borders, and shores. That is occupation. It is morally unjust to claim that it is not your country yet at the same time try to control everything about it. Either we say Gaza is part of our homeland and we should be able to live there, or it is not and we should have zero say as to what happens in the strip. When a land is controlled by military force, it is occupied. When a people fight the occupier, it is resistance. When an occupation bombs cities, it is a crime. When a regime separates, segregates and discriminates, it may not be official South African-style apartheid but it can certainly be considered something very close . By acting in this fashion, we are undermining our historical claim to the land because we are treating it as though it is not ours.
In order for both peoples to achieve justice without creating any new injustices for either side, we must collectively arrive at a larger narrative, big enough to encompass both seemingly rival narratives.
I believe there is only one course of action in due process in which we can fully put an end to this horrible situation in Gaza.
First, Since the Disengagement took an enormous psychological toll on the State of Israel, our government needs to acknowledge and fully admit the fact that they made a terrible mistake in forcibly expelling our citizens from the Gaza Strip.
By doing so, we will be able to move towards the second step, which would be going back into Gaza and proving a decisive victory in which Israel retakes full control of Gaza and completely neutralizes Hamas. For those who think it is not possible to destroy Hamas, Colonel Yonatan Ranski, a senior commander in the IDF who operated one of three divisions to carry out Operation Protective Edge recently confirmed at Yeshiva University that if given the order, the IDF is 100% capable of completely destroying Hamas.
Third, since Israel holds more cards in this situation for obviously being the superior power, Israel should give an immediate gesture to the Palestinians that shows them we're serious about giving them a better future which will help them trust us.
Fourth, Israel would have to put forth a 5-10 year plan that would step-by-step incorporate the Gazan Palestinian population into Israeli society in a one-state solution as equal citizens, which will include: full Israeli citizenship, equal access to social services (healthcare, education etc.) entrance into the job market and employment, and freedom of access to all resources.
Fifth, Israel would revive Jewish life in Gaza, by rebuilding all communities destroyed by Ariel Sharon in 2005. And finally, possibly leveling disparity between populations through financial incentives and government to support any Gazan Palestinians interested in cultivating the Negev (which is currently booming).
In order for the State of Israel to ensure that every step of this gradual process would be successful, this process would demand reciprocity after each step in order to reach the next step. Just as the Palestinians will need to overcome their hatred and mistrust, so would the Israeli public. We will need to be decisive in our response to any Palestinians still working towards killing Jews or destroying Israel. While winning over those whose hatred of us is largely anecdotal, we must make sure to isolate those elements whose hatred is ideological (as opposed to strengthening them in Palestinian society with our policies, as we’ve clearly been doing until now).
As MK Nissan Slomiansky said prior to the Disengagement: "When you run away from the Gaza Strip, it will come back to haunt you." This process will have to be gradual, but I believe it can happen quicker than we think.