But back to the news reportage and commentary. It is not that I don’t get annoyed watching the endless Israeli TV news coverage, with its over-reliance on IDF sources, paucity of independent analysis and shouting down of dissident voices. But as someone who is among that 70+ percent under attack – although I hasten to add, not in the besieged south of the country where life has more or less come to a halt and most people have barely seen the light of day for that period – I expect, if not empathy, but at least some degree of background knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a grasp of what is happening on the ground on the part of commentators who claim to speak authoritatively both within and outside the conflict area.
True, the pictures from Gaza look bad, inclining one to sympathize with the underdog, those apparently suffering the most. Israel has a very low casualty toll compared to Gaza where the scenes are horrific. Israeli citizens are well protected by the highly successful Iron Dome, which has downed some 90 percent of rockets that have threatened towns and cities. Most citizens (but not all) have access to a shelter or safe room, although they are not necessarily close to one if they are on the roads or the street. Gazan citizens, on the other hand, go unprotected. Their leaders – Hamas – are hiding deep underground, using the people overhead as a shield. Much of their weaponry is stored in schools, hospitals and mosques. Only the other day UNWRA apologized to Israel for the discovery of a weapons cache under one of their schools.
This latest scenario has repeated itself every few years. Instead of improving their citizens’ quality of life – better housing, education, health system, developing tourist facilities (hey! They have a long coastline on the Mediterranean; Gaza could be a tourist’s paradise!) – Hamas’ is bent, if not on destroying, then on making life hell for the “Zionist entity” on its doorstep. Ever since Hamas came to govern the Gaza Strip in 2007, the citizens of southern Israel have been targeted by rocket fire, sometimes more, sometimes less, but rarely ceasing for more than a few months. This is an intolerable situation.
Gaza wasn’t always under siege. When Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005 Gaza was still under the Palestinian Authority. But once Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and effectively took control in 2007 after they had chased out or killed the Fatah opposition, their intentions became clear (How many so-called experts have read the Hamas Charter?), and the siege began. And so unlike many of their brethren in the Palestinian territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River, the majority of citizens of Gaza remain poor, oppressed and ignorant.
True, Hamas is relatively isolated; it has few friends and is desperate for a lifeline. But it is also true that Israel needs to look at the greater picture; it should try and overcome its own siege mentality and forge some sort of alliance with its friendlier neighbors, including the Palestinian Authority (I will not go into the problematics of signing a peace agreement with the latter and giving the Palestinians a state of their own which, of course, they deserve). We live in a generally unfriendly – and that’s an understatement – neighborhood. One only has to look to the north to Syria and east to Iraq and Iran to see how unfriendly and unstable it is. We are not the only ones threatened by murderous extremists. While it is important that Israel remove the threat that Hamas poses while easing the pressure on the citizens of Gaza (Egypt, to a greater extent than Israel, holds the key to this step), it should also reach out to those who are willing to live with it in peace.