After the violence and trauma at the Gaza-Israel border last week, humanitarian groups are back at trying to find ways to ease the suffering of the two million residents of the area, 65 percent of whom live in poverty and 44 percent unemployed. The problem isn’t creative ideas or even funding; it’s politics. Namely, how do you improve the lives of the residents when it’s in the political interests of Hamas, the Palestinian terror group in control, to keep them down?
In recent days, as staff writer Stewart Ain reports on page 1, when Israel sought to respond to claims that more than 1,300 Palestinians were wounded in the fighting last week at the border with IDF forces, Israel sent two truckloads of medical supplies. But they were refused entry. And Mideast experts believe that if Israel offered more electricity to Gaza, it would be rejected because, as Dan Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt and to Israel, notes, “Hamas does not want to give Israel any credit for anything positive.”
Suffering and victimhood are Hamas’ political tools, and the residents of Gaza pay the consequences.
The Trump administration has responded by seeking to coerce Hamas into changing its policies. In January, the U.S. decided to withhold more than half of the $125 million in annual aid it has been providing to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, which has long been biased politically against Israel and even now considers half of Gaza residents to be refugees. But Israel does not stand to benefit from seeing its neighbors become increasingly deprived. Hopelessness can radicalize them into suicidal acts of violence directed at Israel.
A task force of Mideast experts from the U.S. has been meeting to come up with strategies that would alleviate the hardships and dangers of Gaza’s widespread poverty, like raw sewage in the streets and inadequate medical supplies and services that could lead to the spread of disease. The administration convened a conference in March to address these and other Gaza humanitarian problems. It was attended by a number of countries from Europe and Asia as well as the Mideast, but the Palestinian Authority was not represented. “Misery in Gaza is not President Abbas’ real concern,” observed Elliot Abrams, a longtime Mideast expert in Washington.
Some Israeli officials say well-intentioned plans to help Gazans are doomed because Hamas won’t cooperate. But the efforts will continue because the alternative is even more bleak.