I met the Fatah members at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital, alongside an elderly couple from Sderot who sustained light wounds after miraculously surviving a direct Qassam hit on their home. The condition of the Fatah men was much graver: they were shot in the ankles at close range, as a form of revenge.
Hamas rendered Fatah disabled – a symbol of those who dare stand in the Islamic organization’s way. Meanwhile, back in Israel, the Olmert government was overjoyed: Just like in 1997, we and the Palestinians were again the “good guys” facing Hamas. Olmert immediately ordered the handover of half a billion shekels to the Palestinian Authority, “earmarked for Abbas supporters’ salaries.” The funds transferred to Gaza were characterized as “money that would topple Hamas.”
As part of the dualistic policy towards Gaza, the Erez Crossing remained open, while the Rafah Crossing remained closed. Yet the Spanish observers in Rafah were made to flee, and the video cameras that supposedly enabled Israel to monitor the crossing were disconnected. (Indeed, a state that equips its soldiers with paintball guns can believe that video cameras are a sufficient monitoring means for the Hamastan-Egypt border.)
The fact that Hamastan is an enemy state, rather than some group of outlaws, has not yet been internalized by Israeli decision-makers. Perhaps a look at the Hamas government’s budget will convince our officials: Four years ago, Hamas had about 3,000 combatants in Gaza who operated on a $3 million monthly budget. Today, Hamas completely controls the Strip, its official budget exceeds $500 million a year, and it pays the salaries of more than 30,000 activists.
Yet while years ago, some of Hamas’ budget was earmarked for supporting the population in order to boost the group’s popularity, these days there is no need to do so: The world along with the Palestinian Authority assumed the responsibility for providing for Gaza Strip residents. Meanwhile, the Palestinian bank governor said that ever since Hamas took power, roughly $5 billion dollars were transferred to Gaza via the Palestinian banking system. The time has come to ask: Could there be some kind of link between the money being poured into Gaza (which is seemingly facing a “blockade”) and Hamas’ ability to flourish there?
Moving to Africa
The realization that the blockade is over prompted the Egyptian government to open the Rafah Crossing. All Israel needs to do now is to get it too, and make it clear to the world that it no longer holds any responsibility towards Gaza. It may take a year or two to disconnect the Strip from Israel’s electricity grids and water pipes, yet the disengagement is already in place in respect to other goods.
The diesel fuel for Gaza cars, for example, currently gets there on trucks from Libya that pour it via pipes that pass right under the barrier built by Egypt on the Rafah border. (By the way, the American engineers who worked with the Egyptians on building the barrier apparently saw what’s happening; according to recent reports they left Egypt and returned to the US earlier than expected.)
Now, Israel needs to put the final stamp on the situation and announce the immediate closure of the Erez Crossing. The border with Gaza is not a peaceful border, and it should therefore be sealed off – nobody should come in and nobody should go out.
Meanwhile, Israel would make it clear to UN personnel that it has no responsibility for Gaza whatsoever. Any UN official who wishes to assist the Gaza poor will be hereby invited to move to the Egyptian town of El-Arish, in Africa. From there, one can enter Gaza via the Rafah Crossing. The time has come to end the good life of UN staff in Jerusalem hotels, which enable them to travel to Gaza by day and return to the pleasant Jerusalem at night.
It is this convenience perhaps that may have turned Gaza into such a popular destination for UN visits. After all, Israel is a modern Western state. Meanwhile, 600 people were murdered in Sudan the other week (a record number in the past two years – before that, hundreds of thousands were murdered.) However, UN and world representatives nonetheless focused their attention on Gaza.
So does the current convenience of reaching Gaza contribute to Israel’s isolation in the world? This is certainly not the only reason. However, based on my own familiarity with many of the people in question – diplomats, UN officials, and foreign journalists – I would not be surprised to see the closure of the Erez Crossing bringing the global interest to Gaza down to a minimum.