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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

While Hamas Attacks Israel and America Still Strive to Help Gazans

Trucks unload aid for Gaza on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

On Aug. 16, the Israeli press reported that Israel had accepted a ceasefire arrangement with Hamas, reflecting Jerusalem’s keen understanding of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and its desire to benefit Gazans. The recent arrangement—which reportedly involved Egyptian, U.N. and U.S. mediation—comes on the heels of Hamas’ dramatic escalation of violence along Israel’s southern border.

Last week, on Aug. 8-9, the terrorist group launched more than 200 rockets into Israel—resulting in at least 23 Israeli casualties and significant damage. Striking deep into Israel—north to Ashkelon and east to Be’ersheba—terrifying explosions and rocket alarms brought daily life to a sudden halt as more than 100,000 Israelis were forced into bomb shelters.

This was merely the latest in a series of escalations. Even prior to this barrage, Hamas had increased the numbers of serious attacks from Gaza over the past five months. On Aug. 7, its terrorists employed sniper rifles to target Israeli soldiers—repeating the type of assault that killed an Israeli officer on July 20.

Since May, Hamas’ relentless launch of flaming kites and balloons into Israel has already destroyed thousands of acres of Israeli farms, parks and nature reserves while threatening Israeli civilians living in communities near the border. More than 40 fires were started on Aug. 3-4 alone. Even since the ceasefire officially began on Aug. 15 with Israel’s reopening of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, an incendiary balloon sparked a fire near an Israeli community.

Further, Hamas continues to regularly instigate violent riots that directly threaten Israel’s sovereignty and citizens—as many as 9,000 Hamas supporters rioted along the border on Aug. 10.

Israel must respond to these attacks to protect its citizens and prevent dangerous infiltration.

As with previous ceasefires, Hamas will likely use this goodwill gesture as an opportunity to rearm and prepare for its next round of terrorism against the Jewish state.

Israeli, American and international efforts to assist Gaza’s residents continue to be hindered by Hamas’ persistent escalation of terrorism, and Palestinians in Gaza will not see lasting improvement unless Hamas changes fundamentally. The Strip’s leadership must no longer be driven by hatred of Israel, and instead begin focusing on the welfare of its own people, who along with Israelis, suffer as a result of its violence and corruption.

Under Hamas rule, Gaza’s situation is worsening.

The damage that Hamas has done to the people of Gaza affects virtually all aspects of life. By fostering violence against Israel while prioritizing tunnels and missile production over the basic needs of the Palestinian people, Hamas has brought about a near-catastrophe. Unemployment in Gaza is 44 percent (more than twice as high as in the West Bank), including 60 percent of Gazans between the ages of 15 and 29.

According to some estimates, 98 percent of Gazan aquifers and other potable water sources have been contaminated by sewage and seawater, leaving only 10 percent of Gaza's population with access to safe drinking water. As of last year, sewage being deposited in the Mediterranean Sea every day equated to 43 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Due to the utter mismanagement of Gaza, some experts have estimated that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020, while others believe it may happen sooner.

Israel is working to help the people of Gaza.

Reflecting its acute awareness of the situation, the Israeli government has outlined a number of programs to improve life in Gaza.

In January, Israel's then Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai presented a $1 billion aid plan to the 15-member international Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee—the “principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people”—detailing plans for the renovation of the gas and electric infrastructure in Gaza, in addition to the construction of desalination plants and the rebuilding of the Erez border crossing.

In addition to the COGAT plans, Israeli leaders have proposed other ideas to radically improve the quality of life in Gaza. Among them are a commercial Gazan port in Cyprus as well as a field of solar panels in Israel’s Negev desert to generate additional electricity for the Strip.

Between January and May, Israel allowed the transfer of more than 10,000 truckloads of food and medical supplies into Gaza. Israel temporarily increased entry permits for Gazan civilians and imports of Gazan produce, while simultaneously relaxing restrictions on the fishing zone near Gaza that had been put in place to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the Strip.

On Aug. 2, the European Union (EU) declared as operational a new solar field in Gaza—which the Israeli government facilitated. According to reports, Israel’s Defense Ministry has also agreed to facilitate the building of a large desalination plant in Gaza, to help the enclave meet its water needs. This project would be executed by U.S. companies operating in the Strip.

The United States is promoting efforts to aid Gaza.

Through continued financial and diplomatic efforts, the United States has undertaken repeated efforts to improve Gazan infrastructure.

The United States was deeply involved in facilitating construction of the North Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment (NGEST) plant, which was commissioned last March. When fully operational, the plant will provide additional water resources for agriculture in Gaza. Later that month, the White House convened a meeting between Israeli security representatives and their counterparts from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the European Union and the United Nations to examine additional proposals to help Gaza.

During their recent tour of the Middle East, U.S. presidential envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt sought the support of King Abdullah of Jordan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for efforts to improve life in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is the cause of Gaza’s misery.

Since it seized power in 2007, Hamas has provoked three major military confrontations with Israel—in 2008, 2012 and 2014—in addition to the recent rocket, mortar, sniper and fire attacks. This violence, along with Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields, has contributed to the extensive damage of infrastructure within Gaza, mass homelessness and the loss of life for both Palestinians and Israelis. Both Egypt and Israel have regulated the imports to the Gaza Strip for the past 11 years, to prevent terrorist groups from smuggling in weapons.

Hamas has diverted much of the consistent flow of aid to Gaza for terrorist purposes rather than assisting Gazan civilians. From August 2014 to May 2017, Hamas stole more than $120 million worth of construction materials from aid shipments to Gaza to build terror tunnels into Israel—designed to kidnap Israelis and attack Israeli communities.

Despite the rampant shortage of electricity in Gaza, Hamas has continued to steal much of the fuel that would have enabled electricity production for schools and hospitals. For example, Hamas has diverted nearly half of the 30 million liters of diesel fuel brought into the Strip since the beginning of the year for Gaza’s power station.

Moreover, on three occasions during Hamas-led riots in early May, Hamas terrorists intentionally burned part of the infrastructure of the Kerem Shalom crossing, temporarily preventing the transfer of needed humanitarian supplies. After Israel re-opened the crossing shortly thereafter on May 16, Hamas purposefully turned away eight truckloads of Israeli aid, including 53 tons of medical supplies.

Finally, Hamas regularly embeds its terrorists among innocent civilians. Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields is intended to pose a stark choice to Israel. Israel must either risk harming some number of Palestinian civilians by defending its borders and Israeli citizens, or avoid any harm to Palestinian civilians and so risk the death of larger numbers of Israeli citizens. By necessity, the government of Israel has done what any Western democracy would expect its leaders to do: It has ensured its security and sovereignty while minimizing as much as possible the inevitable casualties that result from Hamas’ use of human shields. No country should be forced to make this choice, yet it is one that Israel must confront every time Hamas initiates a new conflict.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) under Abbas is increasing Gaza’s suffering.

Following the failure of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation efforts, President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah-controlled PA has taken punitive actions against the Strip.

Since 2017, the PA has reduced Gaza’s electricity by cutting off gas to the Strip's only power plant and withholding payments to Israeli power companies supplying electricity to the territory. As a result, Gaza’s residents have access to just a few hours of electricity per day.

Additionally, the PA has cut salary payments to its nearly 60,000 employees in Gaza, leaving many destitute. Rather than helping the Gazan population, PA President Abbas has prevented necessary aid from reaching Gaza.

Israel’s response to Hamas’ terrorism.

For months, Israel continued to supply the people of Gaza with vital assistance on an uninterrupted basis despite this violence. The United States and Israel also encouraged international efforts to build and repair infrastructure in the enclave while stepping up aid to Gaza’s population.

But on July 9, Israel was forced to respond to increased fire-kite terrorism by temporarily limiting items allowed through the Kerem Shalom border crossing to purely humanitarian supplies. Three days after Hamas’ launch of 200 projectiles on July 14—and following Hamas’ ongoing diversion of fuel for military purposes—Israel blocked fuel shipments to the Gaza Strip. Since then, fuel had been allowed in on a case-by-case basis, depending on the levels of violence emanating from the Strip.

On Aug. 15, in a gesture of goodwill, Israel fully reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing and indicated that it will remain open as long as the situation in Gaza remains calm.

Gaza stands at the brink of a major humanitarian crisis because Hamas has prioritized terrorism over the well-being of Gaza’s residents. Gazans are further endangered by the internecine conflict between Abbas’ PA and Hamas. The Palestinian leadership must finally begin to serve the urgent needs of the Palestinian people.

The United States must press Palestinian leadership to help the people of Gaza.

Hamas has recently carried out a campaign of escalating violence and terrorism against Israel at levels unseen since the 2014 war. As with previous ceasefires, Hamas will likely return to attacking Israel once the terrorist group has rearmed and recovered from Israel’s counterattacks against Hamas military targets. The United States must continue to stand with Israel as it confronts these threats, including rockets, incendiary kites and balloons, and sniper attacks.

In addition, Congress must deter Hamas from continuing to use Gazan civilians as human shields. In the Senate, the Sanction Terrorist Operations Using Human Shields Act of 2018 (S. 3257)—or the STOP Using Human Shields Act—would help achieve this goal. This bipartisan bill mandates sanctions against members of foreign terrorist organizations responsible for the use of human shields. The House unanimously passed (415-0) similar bipartisan legislation—the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act (H.R. 3542)—on Feb. 14. The Senate must now act on this important measure.

The United States and Israel have made extensive efforts to address Gaza’s humanitarian problems and help Gaza’s population. But U.S. and Israeli efforts cannot succeed while the PA and Hamas obstruct the legitimate efforts to help the people of Gaza, and while Hamas continues to escalate its terrorism against Israelis. The United States must press the PA to support assistance for the people of Gaza and return to peace negotiations with Israel. The United States must also insist that Hamas commit to peace (meeting the so-called Quartet conditions), stop violence and terrorism, and ensure that all assistance is used to provide relief to the people of Gaza and not diverted for terrorist purposes.

Type: Near-East-Report Near East Report