Daily Telegraph (London) correspondent Tim Butcher recently reported from Gaza after the war, stating: “Targets had been selected and then hit… but almost always with precision munitions… I was struck by how cosmetically unchanged Gaza appeared to be. It has been a tatty, poorly-maintained mess for decades and the presence of fresh bombsites… did not make any great difference…” Butcher continued, “[O]ne thing was clear. Gaza City 2009 is not Stalingrad 1944.”
Despite this, as far back as 1996, the NGO Human Rights Watch has been predicting an “imminent humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. Indeed, various NGOs have lodged annual claims that the Jewish state is responsible for the “imminent humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip. Might they have stopped to ask: How has the Gaza Strip been “on the verge” of a humanitarian crisis in excess of 10 years?
In actuality, Israel has gone to extraordinary lengths, including the creation of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) where representatives of the IDF and government ministries work day and night, to prevent a humanitarian crisis. CLA commander Col. Nir Press spoke candidly of Hamas’s “well-oiled media and propaganda machine which has succeeded in creating humanitarian ‘crises’ out of thin air.” He gave as an example Israel’s decision to suspend fuel supplies in early 2008 after a Palestinian attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot. Before restricting the supply, Israel filled all gas tanks in Gaza to their maximum. Yet, “taking advantage of this as a PR opportunity,” Hamas refused to draw on the fuel and “sent hundreds of people to gas stations in Gaza to stand with buckets in a long line.”
Tony Blair, former British prime minister and current Quartet peace envoy, explained that “most people don’t understand -that we’re trying to urge Israel to get fuel into Gaza, and then the extremists come and kill the people bringing the fuel in. It’s a crazy situation.” Thus, time and time again, the aid that Israel has allowed to enter Gaza fails to reach the intended recipients: Palestinian civilians in need.
The “imminent humanitarian crisis” chorus is not only exaggerated, it is also entirely specious. In the words of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the critics “should point their criticism toward the Hamas terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip.” A ministry spokesman also stated that “Israel allows shipments of food, medicine, fuel and electricity to Gaza because it doesn’t want a humanitarian crisis, but… there is ‘foolproof’ evidence that Hamas diverts supplies for ‘terrorist use.’ If only the Palestinians choose to cease their pointless and indiscriminate firing of rockets against hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, the entire region would return to normal.”
Let’s look at the facts.
According to the World Bank, the Palestinians are the largest per capita recipients of foreign aid worldwide. Regrettably, over the past 60 years, tens of billions of dollars have been mismanaged by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) due to the organization’s lax oversight and faulty accountability mechanisms. Last year, James Lindsay, former legal adviser to UNRWA, wrote a highly critical report calling on the organization to “ensure the agency is not employing or providing benefits to terrorists and criminals.” Moreover, a member of the US Congress recently declared “there is absolutely no reason why the United Nations cannot take aggressive action to ensure that not one penny of US dollars is being redistributed to terrorists.”
In the aftermath of the recent Gaza war, the immediacy of their criticism has never been greater, as nations with the best of intentions line up to donate millions for the so-called reconstruction of Gaza.
Several other relatively unknown facts regarding Gaza’s potential are worthy of mention. First, Gaza’s offshore gas deposits are worth an estimated $4 billion. This natural resource could be accessed to improve the lives of residents of Gaza once the anarchy and violence of Hamas is curtailed. Second, the population of Gaza is comparatively healthy and well educated. Life expectancy in the Gaza Strip is more than 72 years, which is higher than in Russia, the Bahamas, India, Ukraine and Glasgow East (Scotland).
Third, Gaza has a much lower infant mortality rate than Angola, Iran, India, Egypt and Brazil. Perhaps the most astonishing fact, is that literacy in Gaza stands at a staggering 92 percent.
Likewise, despite the ceaseless repetition by journalists that “the Gaza Strip is the most densely populated place on Earth,” it is in fact markedly less densely populated than an array of other locales, including a number of economic success stories such as Monaco, Hong Kong, Singapore and Gibraltar. Additionally, Macau has nearly ten times the population density of Gaza. This is not intended to compare life in Gaza with Manhattan’s Park Avenue or Beverly Hills. Neither should it be denigrated as a disaster zone.
NGOs and certain governments accuse Israel of violating international law by engaging in “collective punishment.”‘ However, exercising legal countermeasures against a hostile entity (such as Gaza) does not constitute collective punishment under international law. Furthermore, there is nothing in international law that requires Israel to maintain open borders with a hostile entity. Examples abound of countries that elect not to trade with hostile neighbors for a variety of reasons: military, religious, economic and political. Thus, in the past, apartheid South Africa and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were subject to economic sanctions. Recently, others have sanctioned Cuba, Iran and even Israel.
Some provisions of international law impose upon Israel duties to act against Gaza and the Palestinian terrorists who are based there. First, Israel has the duty to prevent and punish Palestinian acts of genocide covered by the Genocide Convention (1948). Second, Israel has the duty, under UN Security Council Resolution 1373, to take various steps against Palestinian terrorists. Among the required steps, states must “refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts.”
Thus, arguably, Israel is forbidden to supply aid to the Palestinian Authority, knowing that part of it will be diverted to Hamas and other terrorist groups and will, therefore, become passive support for terrorist acts. Additionally, Israel is required by Resolution 1373 to “prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls.” This means that Israel is required to continue maintaining strict controls on the passage of persons from Gaza to Israel.
The conflated message of the NGOs and the Hamas authorities in Gaza has long manipulated a complex reality to reap political and financial gains. In reality, the Palestinian-Israeli fighting in Gaza has been characterized by the extensive commission of war crimes, acts of terrorism and acts of genocide by Palestinian fighters. On the other hand, Israeli countermeasures have conformed to the requirements of international law. International law requires that Israel and other states take measures to bring Palestinian war criminals and terrorists to justice, to prevent and punish Palestinian genocidal efforts and, most importantly, to block would-be humanitarian donations from being misappropriated by Hamas. If you pay the piper, you get to call the tune.
In conclusion, there should be no free lunch. Why should the Hamas leadership, responsible for destroying what existed, be entrusted to dole out reconstruction financing? Simply put, terrorists and those complicit with them should not be handed the purse strings that will finance a new war.
Justus Reid Weiner is an international human rights lawyer and a member of the Israel and New York Bar Associations. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Law Forum at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a lecturer at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Global Law Forum is supported by the Legacy Heritage Fund Ltd.
Avi Sutton is currently a research assistant working with Justus Reid Weiner at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Sutton is a member of the Yale University class of 2010 majoring in Ethics, Politics, & Economics.