OpinionIsrael at War

Israel’s work permits for Gazans enabled the Hamas attack

Gazans got permits to work inside Israel. They came as killers and rapists.

Workers from the Gaza Strip stand in line to enter Israel through the Erez border crossing, Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Workers from the Gaza Strip stand in line to enter Israel through the Erez border crossing, Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Daniel Greenfield
Daniel Greenfield is an Israeli-born journalist who writes for conservative publications.

Among the litter of guns, Korans and maps discarded by the Hamas terrorists whose bodies lay alongside bullet-riddled vehicles and dusty roads in southern Israel were green Gaza IDs with Israeli work permits. Normally residents of the Hamas territory can’t enter Israel, but work permits allowed over 20,000 Gazans to regularly enter the country. When some returned on Oct. 7, 2023, it was as Hamas rapists and killers.

The Hamas invasion succeeded so well because the terrorists had an intimate knowledge of the communities they were targeting, because they had worked there or had intelligence from those who had worked there. The attackers had detailed maps and building layouts. One woman whose husband and son were murdered said that the Hamas terrorists knew the names of the people, how many children they had and even which of them owned dogs.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed a J Street event, telling the anti-Israel lobby that the Biden administration had pushed Israel to “improve the lives of Palestinians” by, among other things, “issuing thousands of work permits for Palestinians in Gaza.”

The number of exits from Gaza into Israel rose sharply under the Biden administration and the left-wing Israeli Bennett-Lapid government, which handed out an unprecedented number of work permits.

In 2021, there had been a total of only 7,500 exits a month from Gaza, but by July 2022, there had been 35,370.

The massive increase was due to the work permits that the Biden administration had sought and that Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz had willingly provided. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made the decision to increase the number of work permits from 5,000 to 15,000. Defense Minister Benny Gantz assessed the security situation and approved the move. By late 2022, the number had expanded to 17,000.

“We need to make the civilian population in Gaza realize that they can live a different life. To pressure Hamas to stop shooting at Israel. To that end, we have increased the number of permits for working in Israel that are issued to the residents of Gaza,” said Prime Minister Lapid.

The leftist government viewed the work permits as leverage over Hamas, that would persuade it to maintain quiet.

“And we are telling our Palestinian neighbors, ‘When it is quiet you will enjoy the economic flourishing.’ That’s the case in Gaza. They have 12,500 people coming to work in Israel. If it stays quiet, I will increase it,” promised Gantz.

When the conservative Netanyahu government took office, it failed to shut down the program because the establishment believed that it was working. Experts and diplomats claimed that Hamas had avoided joining in Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket attacks to avoid disrupting the status quo.

In July 2023, a record 67,769 exits had occurred on 22,000 work permits. In August, the Netanyahu government finally stopped handing out new work permits (without revoking the existing ones) after Hamas was caught smuggling in explosives.

In September 2023, Hamas touched off riots at the Gaza border. Explosives and incendiary balloons were launched into Israel. Snipers fired on Israeli soldiers and IEDs were planted on the border wall. Israeli soldiers returned fire and shelled Hamas positions.

Hamas began conducting exercises involving kidnapping Israelis and “storming settlements.” The Islamic terrorist group has done this before and it was dismissed as posturing to extract economic concessions. Meanwhile its spokesman told members of the media what they wanted to hear. “Hamas is trying to avoid an escalation. A lot of our sons and daughters would be killed,” Basem Naim, the head of Hamas’s political department, told The Washington Post.

Rather than escalate further, Israel negotiated with Hamas through Egypt, and its allies in Turkey and Qatar, and came to an agreement to end the fighting.

In late September, mere weeks before Hamas launched an invasion of Israel and massacred over a thousand people, Israel opened the main border crossing with Hamas and allowed Arab Muslims from Gaza to once again enter the country. This was part of a deal with Hamas that increased the number of work permits and allowed more imports and exports, in exchange for peace. The violence stopped and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Trading work permits for an end to the rockets and riots seemed like it was working.

In reality, Hamas was approaching the end of its two-year plan for invading Israel. The work permits were not leverage, they were a vulnerability, allowing Hamas to gain detailed intelligence on Israeli positions and targets.

By 2022, in response to Biden administration pressure, there had been more exits from Gaza than at any time since 2005. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, those numbers fell to the low thousands and mostly involved visits to Israeli hospitals. And that’s how it should have stayed.

But in 2019, work permits shot up from under 10,000 to 16,000 as part of a truce negotiated with Hamas that began after two Israeli soldiers were shot. The agreement, negotiated through Egypt, allowed Qatar to deliver millions in cash to Hamas (this has been misrepresented on social media as Netanyahu funding Hamas) and to expand the number of work permits.

The work permits and money were a trade for an end to the rockets and the riots, but allowed Hamas to work on its two-year plan of invading Israel while profiting from the truce.

Israel had a secure border, but it was persuaded to open it up in order to appease Hamas. Experts on Islamic terrorism, like myself, had repeatedly warned that a truce in Islam is only a means of maneuvering for advantage. While American and Israeli politicians and generals came to believe that they had gotten a handle on Hamas, bribing it to stop the violence, the Islamic terrorist group was exploiting a political breach in the border in preparation for a full invasion.

After the war there will be a political reckoning. And that reckoning needs to include not only the immediate failure to maintain border security and sufficient force strength to respond to a massive attack, but everything that led up to it, including the false notion that Hamas could be negotiated with and that a modus vivendi could be achieved with the terrorists.

The work permits that allowed Hamas terrorists to infiltrate and scout targets in Israel with precision and depth was part of a larger strategy toward the Islamic terrorist group. After Hamas took over Gaza, the Bush and Obama administrations tried to maneuver it into a unity government, and when that failed, they relied on backchannel negotiations to reach an understanding without a formal peace deal—all of which led up to one horrifying day.

Israeli communities foolishly allowed workers from Gaza into their homes, grew fond of them and believed all their talk about peace. Then they watched their children be murdered by them.

The myth that Hamas violence was a reflection of conditions in Gaza, and that ameliorating them would reduce the violence, filtered down from the United States and the European Union to some Israelis and led to the worst mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust. There’s a lesson here.

Borders only work if you keep them closed. Walls don’t work if you open doors in them.

The Biden administration wanted Israel to provide work permits to the West Bank and Gaza, where 70% of the population supports terrorism. Even though the Oslo Accords had failed to seduce Arafat and the PLO away from terrorism, the same experts believed that they could seduce Hamas away from terrorism with economic benefits. The same strategy that failed with Iran, with North Korea and with the Taliban was used to lull Israel into a false sense of security.

There’s no win-win scenario with Islamic terrorists. There is only a win-lose scenario. Anyone who thinks that they’re in a win-win scenario with those who want to kill them has already lost.

The work permits that cost over a thousand lives were an attempt at a win-win scenario. After the slaughter, it is clearer than ever that either Israel kills the terrorists or the terrorists kill it.

No matter what the White House and the rest of the international community says, it is not Israel’s responsibility to make life better for those in Gaza, but to protect its own citizens. And these competing obligations are incompatible. Trying to negotiate with Hamas and make life better for Gazans cost Israel over 1,400 lives. May these be the last lives lost to appeasement.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Topics
Comments
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates