A Hand of Help for Gaza

When Philip came to Nathanael and invited him to come with him to Nazareth to see Jesus, Nathanael was  skeptical:

And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see” (Jn. 1:46).

Although the context is far removed from the essence of that ancient encounter, if you have ever ventured into the Gaza Strip you have likely thought something similar. On my last visit, accompanied by Israeli security, I had the impression I was entering the habitation of a depressed, deprived population forced to live in an environment roughly equivalent to a landfill.

All along the way I kept asking myself why anyone would want this place, much less choose to live there. In addition to the squalor, which the late Yasser Arafat ensured by stashing in his personal accounts the funds sent from the West to relieve this misery, palestinian kids played alongside the gangs of terrorists that often provoke Israel Defense Forces (IDF) retaliation, putting these children in harm’s way.

No, there was nothing in Gaza that said, “Nice to see you. Come again soon.” Just the opposite. And you felt, “Let’s get out of here.”

But I am happy to report that the scene is beginning to shift for the Palestinians in Gaza. Even before disengagement, life began to get somewhat better. In the area of humanitarian assistance, there has been a 100 percent increase in the number of permits issued to palestinian residents seeking to enter Israel. The District Coordinating Office in Gaza said that so far this year, 10,500 permits have been granted to palestinians seeking hospitalization in Israel and others wishing to visit relatives in Israeli prisons.

Security officials also noted that the newly refurbished and reopened Erez Crossing in northern Gaza has had a 40 percent increase in registered entrance for humanitarian needs, with 4,500 Palestinians passing through the terminal on their way to Israel.

Authorities state that the current security situation has significantly increased activity, encouraging more international relief organizations to enter the Gaza Strip. These organizations work to improve Gaza’s infrastructure and offer assistance to families living there.

A 1998 report from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated that, all told, more than 100,000 palestinians were employed in Israel daily. By the year 2000 that figure had swelled to 130,000, about 3,500 of whom worked at the Erez Industrial Zone in northern Gaza. palestinians there were employed in 115 industrial plants, of which about one-third were palestinian-owned.

Yasser Arafat’s war against Israel, the second intifada that began in September 2000, brought terror and death to nearly 1,500 Israelis and wounded many thousands more. However, it also crippled the palestinian economy. Repeated terrorist attacks inside Israel caused prolonged closure of work areas to palestinians. Among those who suffered most were the million and a half inhabitants of the Gaza Strip.

Now with Arafat off the scene and some semblance of hope for better things, change is in the wind.

And the changing situation is clarifying two important truths. One is that the absence of terror and disruption of daily life would dramatically improve the lives of these distressed people. If the threat of terrorism were eliminated once and for all, their lives would take great strides forward. That, of course, means nullifying and expelling the terrorists. If the Palestinians of Gaza have longed for the departure of the IDF, they should be even more concerned about the malignancy in their midst, represented by the hooded militants and other organizations that revel in hatred and death. The simple fact is that when the killers and their weapons are gone, there need be no fear of Israeli military action. But the onus is on the palestinians themselves who want a decent life of tranquility, rather than mayhem.

The second truth, though it will be heatedly denied in radical Palestinian circles, is that the Palestinians in Gaza, and in the entire region for that matter, desperately need Israel as a neighbor. Ask yourself where suffer-ing palestinians are finding state-of-the-art medical treatment or where they are going for jobs or where they are trading the majority of their goods. It is in Israel.

And for all of their palaver and manic determination to see Israel swept off the face of the Middle East, the palestinian people would be big losers. In fact, the palestinians can’t afford to lose Israel as a neighbor because, when all is said and done, she is a very good one.

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