Gaza is broke. As Monday’s front-page New York Times feature explained at length, the conflict between the Gaza Strip’s Hamas overlords and the Fatah party that runs the West Bank has resulted in a cash crunch that has left many of the compact area’s 2 million people without money. Along with Gaza’s inadequate infrastructure, the resulting poverty from this crisis contributes to a general picture of despair for many Palestinians.
Of course, the notion that everyone in Gaza is starving is an exaggeration. As journalist Tom Gross points out, Gaza’s thriving malls continue to operate, as does its water park, restaurants and hotels, inconvenient facts that are missing from the Times story and most of the coverage of the current crisis.
But even if we concede that the talk of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is probably exaggerated if for no other reason than we’ve been hearing variations on this theme for 25 years, there’s no question that most of the people there are poor and have little hope of improving their plight.
This means, as it almost always does, that Israel will be blamed for this awful situation. Since the world considers that Israel is still “occupying” Gaza, and is therefore responsible for the coastal territory’s problems, it is only natural that the worse things get there, the more opprobrium will be directed at the Jewish state in international forums and the press.
This is wrong, but not just because Israel hasn’t occupied Gaza since 2005.
In 2005, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew every Israeli soldier, settler and settlement in an effort to create a de facto separation between Jews and Arabs. The international community cheered when philanthropists purchased the greenhouses built by Jews in order to give them to the Palestinians. The intent was to allow Gaza to become an incubator of development and peace. But within hours of the withdrawal, the greenhouses were demolished by angry Palestinian mobs determined to erase every trace of the Jewish presence.
This goes a long way toward explaining why poverty is endemic in Gaza. It’s true that Israel has blockaded the territory since Hamas seized control of it in a bloody 2007 coup, though it has continued to allow food and medical supplies in and to pay for its electricity. Egypt has also severely restricted entry to Gaza. Both countries were rightly determined to isolate the Islamist terrorist state.
That crunch was exacerbated when the P.A. began to squeeze Hamas by cutting off its financial contributions to Gaza in order to force the Islamists to cede power. There have been two sets of public employees in Gaza—one paid by Hamas and the other paid by the P.A. The current money crunch means tens of thousands of people in both groups are now out of cash.
But Gaza’s problems go deeper than the question of who pays for Hamas and Fatah patronage jobs, or which of its governing factions is paying the bills for its bureaucracy. If Gaza is poor, it’s because the welfare of the Palestinian people or even the building up of a state that would protect them and their interests has never been the primary goal of either Hamas or Fatah.
The United Nations pays for schools and other services via its UNRWA refugee agency, which exists to keep Palestinian refugees in place in order to perpetuate the conflict with Israel. Just as importantly, foreign donors have poured billions into both the West Bank and Gaza in the past two decades. Yet little of that money has been spent on providing a better life for the people of Gaza.
The reason is that almost all of the resources that have poured into Gaza for infrastructure have paid for Hamas’s military efforts. Vast sums have been spent on creating enormous underground bunkers for Hamas leaders and fighters, and to store their missiles and other weapons. Each time Hamas launches terrorist wars against Israel, these structures are rebuilt and enlarged. We were often told during those conflicts that it is unfair that the people of Gaza have no air raid shelters. But in Gaza, the shelters are for the bombs, not the people.
Just as much has been spent on building an equally vast network of tunnels aimed at the Israeli border. The purpose was to facilitate murder and kidnapping raids into the Jewish state, as we saw during the Israel-Hamas war in 2014. Since then, even more terror tunnels have been built and Israel has been forced to build an underground barrier to prevent the tactic from succeeding.
But if the focus of Palestinian nationalism had been on state-building and enabling their economy and vital services to thrive, the people of Gaza wouldn’t be in this fix. Had even part of the money spent on waging a pointless war against Israel been spent on infrastructure, Gaza couldn’t be depicted, albeit often falsely, as the poorest place on Earth.
That’s why the people of Gaza and their rulers need to look in the mirror when they talk about their plight. Blaming Israel or Egypt or the indifference of the world for their situation ignores the fact that the cash crunch and grinding poverty of many Gazans was the inevitable result of their own choices. At every point in the last century, the Palestinians have chosen war instead of peace. They prioritized a war whose goal remains Israel’s destruction over building a state that could live in peace alongside that of the Jews.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some sympathy for them or that efforts to ameliorate their plight shouldn’t be undertaken. But those who wish to help must—as the U.S. is belatedly doing—demand that the Palestinians stop spending on terror. Until they do, philanthropic intentions won’t do a thing to change the situation.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—the Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.