By Ben Levitas
Former Chairman of the SAZF (Cape Council)
I watched on a Television screen monitoring the Israel/Gaza border as 3 Gazans cut a hole in the border fence, went through the no-man’s land area, clamoured up an anti-Tank ditch and entered Israeli territory, where they lit fires on the Israeli side and damaged some property. While the operation lasted for several minutes, although the Gazan’s were unobscured and well within sniper range, no shots or even warning shots were fired from the Israel side. Contrary to popular misconception Israel practices staggering restraint to ensure that no Gazans are harmed, unless they threaten Israeli lives. I also watched as Hamas cynically use paraplegics with artificial limbs to run towards the border fence, by paying them to do so. But again Israel refrains over and over to fire on them.
In South Africa more people are murdered in one week, than have been killed in the misnamed “genocide” that has been occurring since the beginning of the weekly protests by tens of thousands of Gazans along the Gaza border.
Recently, Gazans fired over 700 rockets into Israel during a 2 day period. No nation state can sanction or condone such aggression. Even one rocket is too much. Moreover, just this past week Gazans launched waves of incendiary arson attacks on Israel, starting more than 30 fires of farmlands, during the extremely dry summer months, when temperatures soar to 40 degrees Celsius. While on the border, I witnessed Israeli fire trucks roaming the area, ever ready to immediately quelch these fires before they spread. No nation stand would stand for this type of aggression which is aimed to burn civilian activities and animal life.!
But Israel seems to be ready to deploy a new strategy, which is aimed at making the lives of Gazans more hopeful, than the constant dose of repression meted out by their rulers, Hamas. The average Gazan finds himself between a rock and a hard place, as state sanctioned brutality and even murder is the order of the day. Hamas also exerts almost complete economic control over the daily lives of its citizens and dishes out food and benefits only to those that toe its line. Even the fate of the Qatari money, which is handed out in cash to the Gazan authorities, finds its way first to those loyal to Hamas. Israel permits the Qatari’s to do so, in order to improve the daily lives of the Gazans.
There is a strong perception in Israel, that they need to find another way to improve the quality of life of the ordinary citizens of Gaza, by taking unilateral steps, which cannot be impeded by Hamas. I was present at a briefing by the Head of the Regional council of Sderot, Mr Ophir Liebstein, close to the Gazan border when he spoke passionately about his desire to proceed with this new vision. He visualizes establishing hospitals, schools and even High-tech industries along the Gazan border, which will be aimed at offering Gazans an alternative to break free from the futility of life currently on the menu in Gaza. By seeing that cooperation offers hope and a way out of the cycle of violence, more and more Gazans will not support Hamas and choose to support those willing to work together with Israel.
Many Israelis have also realized that they can’t leave Gaza to try to sort out its own problems as failure to do so is detrimentally affecting Israel. Raw sewage, which is spewing into the sea and finding its way onto Israeli beaches, because Gaza has squandered the money granted to it by the European Union to build sewage plants, is an example. Israel, at its own expense has set aside an amount of 15 Billion Shekels (63 Billion Rands) to build sewage plants in Israeli territory which will funnel waste water and sewage from Gaza, and once purified allow the return of treated water back to Gaza to assist them to grow crops. Israel is also laying a new water pipeline into Gaza that will more than double the supply of drinking water to the people of Gaza.
This new strategy has also manifested in a policy of rewarding Hamas for acting responsibly. Just today, instead of targeting the arsonists which they could easily do, Israel has offered to increase the supply of diesel to Gaza and has offered a reprieve to Gazan fishermen by extending their fishing zone, on the condition that Hamas restrain and stop these arson attacks.
Israelis are realizing that just because the people of Gaza have been burdened by a government that does not have their best interests at heart, that there is nevertheless something they can do to ameliorate the daily living conditions of the Gazan’s daily lives. Israel is stepping up to show clearly that there is another way than conflict, and that way of cooperation offers the only path to a better life and a long term solution to coexistence.
Ben Levitas – Former Chairman of the SAZF Cape Council. Has a BA from the Hebrew University: MSc from London School of Economics and an MBA from University of Pretoria. Founded Boston House College and is an entrepreneur.