Opening Gaza borders will bring greater hell

By Benjamin Pogrund, July 31, 2014
Spoof “Tube” map of Hamas tunnels, by an Israeli blogger

Spoof “Tube” map of Hamas tunnels, by an Israeli blogger

Hamas is rightly demanding that Israel and Egypt lift their blockade of the Gaza Strip as a condition for a ceasefire. But ending the siege is not straightforward: it is easy to sit back and say that it must be done, but implementing it is a minefield.

The problems start with Hamas itself, whose Charter 88 manifesto commits it to destroying Israel and the Jews. Hamas has done its best to fulfil those aims. Suicide bombings were for some years its stock in trade. It has been labelled a terrorist organisation not only by Israel but by the EU, the US, Canada and Japan.

Hamas wants border crossings to be reopened, an international airport and seaport, the rehabilitation of industrial areas, and the expansion of its fishing zone by six nautical miles - but acceding to such a list would almost certainly result in carnage for Israel.

Let's start with border crossings. Recently, a Gazan woman who came through the Erez crossing said she had a metal plate in her leg and asked not to have to go through the security electronic check. She was taken into a room to be searched, and blew herself up, with her guard. This is one of the reasons for the border blockade.

What about the possibility of international supervision of the crossings? In Lebanon, UN peacekeepers have totally failed to prevent Hizbollah from building up an arsenal of tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel.

Nor will Israel feel any more assured by the behaviour of UNWRA, the relief organisation for Palestinians, which found missiles in three of its schools. UNWRA explained that, not knowing what to do, it handed them to Hamas.

Of course the sea blockade must be lifted to enable Gaza's fishermen to get further out to sea. But what assurance will Israel and Egypt have that missiles will not flow in for the next attacks? In March this year, Israel intercepted a ship carrying dozens of long-range rockets being smuggled from Iran.

The Israeli bombardment has devastated areas of Gaza. Large numbers of apartment blocks, schools and mosques must be rebuilt. Concrete, metal pipes and other building materials must pour in, as Hamas demands. But what assurance does Israel have that the cement will not be used to build missile launchers and underground tunnels with exits in Israel? The IDF estimates that 600,000 tonnes of concrete were used for tunnels, sufficient to build a set of skyscrapers.

It hardly needs to be noted that this vast amount of concrete could have been used to repair previous damage and improve life in Gaza.

Having said all that, the blockade was intended to put the squeeze on popular support for Hamas - and has, clearly, been a failure.

Egypt's blockade has, if anything, been even more severe. The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has shut the border. It has destroyed 1,300 tunnels and has at times prevented Gazans from returning home, leaving hundreds stranded on the Egyptian side.

The ultimate answer, of course, is an overall peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas is one of the significant obstacles. If the blockade is to end, Hamas will have to persuade Israel and Egypt that it can be trusted. Meanwhile, the ordinary people suffer.

'Drawing Fire: Investigating the accusations of apartheid in Israel' by Benjamin Pogrund is published this month by Rowman & Littlefield

Last updated: 11:07am, August 1 2014