We are all funding Hamas’s war

If UNWRA stops facilitating the youth explosion in Gaza, the fighting will stop, too


By Gunnar Heinsohn, February 26, 2009
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Consider this: when Hamas routed Fatah in Gaza in 2007, it cost nearly 350 lives and 1,000 wounded. Fatah’s surrender brought only a temporary stop to the type of bloodshed that is commonly seen where at least 30 per cent of the male population is aged 15 to 29. In such “youth bulge” countries, young men tend to eliminate each other or get killed in aggressive wars until a balance is reached between their ambitions and the number of acceptable positions available in their society.

In Arab nations such as Lebanon (150,000 dead in the 1975-90 civil war) or Algeria (200,000 dead in the Islamists’ war, 1999 to 2006), the slaughter abated only when the fertility rates in these countries fell from seven children per woman to fewer than two. The warring stopped because warriors stopped being born.

In Gaza, there has been no demographic disarmament. The average woman still has six babies. For every 1,000 men aged 40-44, there are 4,300 boys aged 0-4. In the United States, the latter figure is 1,000; in the United Kingdom, it is only 670.

And so the killing continues. In 2005, when Israel was still an occupying force, Gaza lost more young men to gang fights and crime than in its war against the “Zionist enemy”. Despite the media’s obsession with the Middle East conflict, it has cost many fewer lives than the youth bulges in West Africa, Lebanon or Algeria.

In the six decades since Israel’s founding, “only” some 62,000 people (40,000 Arabs, 22,000 Jews) have been killed in all the Israeli-Arab wars and Palestinian terror attacks. In the same period, 11 million Muslims have been killed in all wars and terror attacks — mostly at the hands of other Muslims.

What accounts for the Middle East conflict’s relatively low body count? Hamas and their ilk certainly aim to kill as many Israelis as possible. But Israelis are quite good at protecting themselves.

On the other hand, Israel, despite all the talk about its “disproportionate” use of force, does its utmost to reduce civilian deaths. Even Hamas acknowledges that most Palestinians killed by Israeli air raids are from their own ranks. But about 10 to 15 per cent of Gaza’s casualties are women and minors — a tragedy impossible to prevent in a densely settled area where terrorists hide among civilians.

The reason for Gaza’s endless youth bulge is that a majority of its population does not have to provide for its offspring: most babies are fed, clothed, vaccinated and educated by UNWRA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Unlike the UN High Commission for Refugees, which deals with other refugees and aims to settle them in their host countries, UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian problem by classifying as refugees not only those who originally fled their homes, but all their descendants as well.

UNRWA is funded by the US (31 per cent) and the European Union (nearly 50 per cent) with seven per cent of funds from Muslim sources. Thanks to the West’s largesse, most of Gaza’s population lives in a lowly but regular dependence. One result of this limitless welfare is an endless population boom. From 1950 to 2008, Gaza’s population grew from 240,000 to 1.5 million. At current trends, it will reach three million in 2040. Gazans may alter the justifications and directions of their aggression but are unlikely to stop the aggression itself.

The West pays for food, schools, medicine and housing, while Muslim nations help out with the military hardware. Unrestrained by such necessities as having to earn a living, the young have plenty of time for digging tunnels, smuggling, assembling missiles and firing 4,500 of them at Israel since 2006. While this activity has slowed Palestinian internecine slaughter, it forced some 250,000 Israelis into bomb shelters.

This situation can only get worse. Gazan teenagers have no future other than war. One rocket master killed is immediately replaced by three young men for whom a martyr’s death is as honourable as victory. Some 230,000 Gazan males, aged 15 to 29, who are available for the battlefield now, will be succeeded by 360,000 boys under 15 who could be taking up arms by 2024.

As long as we continue to subsidise Gaza in this way, young Palestinians will continue killing brothers or neighbours. By funding UNRWA, the West exacerbates Gaza’s population explosion. Much is said about Iran waging a proxy war against Israel by supporting Hizbollah and Hamas. One may argue that by fuelling Gaza’s population explosion, the West unintentionally finances a war by proxy against the Jews of Israel.

If we seriously want to avoid another generation of war in Gaza, we must tell the Gazans that they will have to start looking after their children without UNRWA’s help. This would force Palestinians to focus on building an economy instead of freeing them up to wage war. Of course, every baby lured into the world by our money up to now would still have our assistance.

If we make this urgently needed reform, then by at least 2025 many boys in Gaza — as in Algeria — would enter puberty as only sons. They would be able to look forward to a more secure future in a less violent society.

If the West prefers calm around Gaza even before 2025, it may consider offering immigration to those young Palestinians born only because of the West’s well-meant but cruelly misguided aid. In the decades to come, North America and Europe will have to take in tens of millions of immigrants to slow the ageing of their populations. If, say, 200,000 of them are taken from Gaza, that would be a negligible move for the big democracies but a quantum leap for peace in the region.

And who would not want to get out of that strip of land but the international NGOs and social workers whose careers depend on perpetuating Gaza’s misery?

Gunnar Heinsohn is head of the Raphael Lemkin Institute, the University of Bremen. Reprinted with permission of The Wall Street Journal © 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved

    Last updated: 12:15pm, February 26 2009