Map of IDF airstrikes
Map of IDF airstrikesIDF spokesperson

Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.

 

Over the last 500 years, at least, the Gaza Strip has been a backwater. No one has ever truly invested in Gaza or the Gazans. For the last 100 years, Gaza and the Gazans have increasingly been used as pawns, by both the Arabs and the international community, in their efforts to vilify Israel and the Jews.

When push came to shove, the international community, led by the United Nations, preferred dead Gazans over losing leverage against Israel. Paradoxically and entirely contrary to common perception, Israel did more for the Gazans and the Gaza Strip than any of its many rulers, and had the international community not hated the Gazans so much, their situation today could have been drastically different.

Gaza under the Ottomans

For 400 years (1517-1917), the area known today as the Gaza Strip was part of the Ottoman Empire. It was not recognized as an independent area or as being at all linked to Judea and Samaria. Under Ottoman rule, the Gaza Strip saw changing fortunes and investments, depending on the circumstances and the identity and connections of its appointed governor.

Gaza under the Mandate

In the aftermath of the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Gaza Strip was included in the area that came under the control of Great Britain. Following the Balfour Declaration (1917), the Paris Peace Conference (1919), the San Remo Conference (1920) and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, Great Britain controlled the area with the sole purpose of it becoming part of the Jewish national homeland. One of the more substantial moves made by Great Britain during the period of the Mandate (1922-1948) was to finalize the official border separating Egypt from the Gaza Strip.

After Great Britain betrayed the Mandate and capitulated to Arab violence instead of giving the Jews the land designated for their national homeland, the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan (which suggested an Arab state and a tiny Jewish state on that same land), included the Gaza Strip in the territory of the “Arab State.” However, having ceremoniously rejected the Partition Plan, the Arab countries chose instead to wage war on the nascent Jewish state. While Israel managed to survive the onslaught of five Arab armies, when the fighting came to its end, it did not conquer the Gaza Strip, which would now be under Egyptian rule. Except for a short break between 1956 and 1957 duing the Sinai War, the Strip remained under Egyptian control from 1948 to 1967.

The Arab countries reject Israel

Positive proof of the disdain of both the Arab countries and the international community toward the Gazans appeared during this period.

According to U.N. records, during Israel’s War of Independence (9 months and 3 weeks, ed.), the population of the Gaza Strip swelled from about 70,000 people to 270,000 people. In the multilateral discussions that followed the war, Israel offered to include the Gaza Strip within the borders of the Jewish state and give all its residents full Israeli citizenship. Had the offer been accepted, the Gaza Strip would today be an integral part of Israel, all its residents would hold full citizenship and both the area and its residents would have shared and enjoyed the prosperity of Israel.

However, both the Arab states and the international community did not care about the fate of Gaza’s residents, old and new. The Arab countries rejected the offer, preferring to continue their fight against Israel’s very right to exist. For its part, the international community allowed the Arab countries to reject the offer without providing any substantial alternative.

Unlike Jordan’s unsuccessful claim of ownership of Judea and Samaria (also supposed to be part of the Jewish national homeland), Egypt never claimed to have any proprietary or sovereign claim to the Gaza Strip. It merely administered the Strip under perpetual military law, never granting its residents Egyptian citizenship.

The colossal UNRWA failure

The disdain of the international community for the Gazan residents was further expressed by its inaction.

While allowing the Egyptians to deny the Gazans any opportunity to settle, deny them citizenship and deny them rights, the international community simultaneously failed to provide the Gazans with any alternative. Between 1948 and 1967, no U.N. resolution ever called on Egypt to end its illegal occupation of the Strip and withdraw or to recognize the new Arab state envisaged by the Partition Plan. It was not called an occupier. The areas that are now so often referred to as the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” do not appear to have been considered “Palestinian territories” until they were liberated by Israel in 1967.

Instead of developing a comprehensive solution for the residents of Gaza, the Arab countries and the international community decided to establish the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the U.N. organization dedicated solely to dealing with the non-Jewish so-called “Palestine refugees.”

UNRWA’s raison d’etre is to perpetuate the falsehood that the perpetual “Palestine refugees” will eventually flood Israel, thereby demographically and democratically destroying Israel as a Jewish state.

True to its mission and sadly for the Gazans, despite having received tens of billions of dollars of international aid in the 74 years since its creation, UNRWA has failed to settle the “Palestine refugees” permanently. The opposite is true. Since the creation of UNRWA, the number of “Palestine refugees” has swelled from 711,00 initially to over 6 million people. According to UNRWA, the original 200,000 “Palestine refugees” who settled in Gaza in 1948 have multiplied at a staggering rate and now number no fewer than 1,577,522 people, an unmatched 4th generation of "refugees"..

Amazingly, according to UNRWA statistics, over 20% of the original “refugees,” now all aged over 80 (41,842 people), are still alive and living in Gaza.

For 74 years, UNRWA has ensured that the Gazans and other “Palestine refugees” remain stateless, living in poverty and constantly dependent on international aid. (That is how it continues to exist and its staff retain their salaries, ed.)

Gaza under Israeli rule

Once Israel liberated Gaza from the Egyptian occupation, things started looking up for the Gazans. Israel not only allowed the Gazans to enter Israel to work, allowing for substantial growth, but also started linking Gaza to Israeli infrastructure, such as electricity and water.

Gaza under the Palestinian Authority

Despite the positive change, the Arab countries and the international community refused to accept the Israeli presence in the Strip, inventing the false claim that Israel was an “occupier.” Over time, the rhetoric against Israel as an “occupier” intensified until Israel agreed to enter into the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and pave the way for the creation of the Palestinian Authority.

Instead of promoting the needs of the Gazans, the P.A., with the help of the international community, again subjugated the Gazan population. While the PLO/P.A. promised peace and democracy, all it delivered was brainwashing to hate Israel, and incitement of violence, murder and terror.

Democracy was a fleeting incident, with elections taking place only twice, once in 1996 and then again in 2006. The first elections ushered in the dictatorial leadership of Yasser Arafat and his Fatah party, and the second ushered in the dictatorial rule of Hamas, an internationally designated terror organization.

Israel’s disengagement from Gaza

Pursuant to its agenda to destroy Israel, in September 2000, the PLO/P.A. launched a terror war. During the war, which raged till 2005, Palestinian Arab terrorists carried out thousands of terror attacks. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to “disengage” from the area. Thus, in Sept. 2005, Israel completed the total expulsion of all the Israelis from the Gaza Strip (over 8000 people were displaced from thriving communities they had built with government encouragement, ed.) and withdrew all its forces, redeploying to the Armistice Line agreed upon in 1949 at the end of Israel’s war of independence.

Gaza in its entirety, including an advanced agricultural industry built by Israeli know-how and hard work, was handed to the P.A. (Gazans promptly set fire to the greenhouses that had previously provided Europe and Israel with a significant percentage of its flowers and vegetables, and had been donated to them to help them make sea-fronted Gaza into "the Singapore of the Middle East", ed.)

Hamas takes control of Gaza

Shortly after the “disengagement” in January 2006, the P.A. held a general election. Again, showing its disdain for the Gazans, the P.A. and the international community persuaded Israel to agree to the participation of Hamas in the elections. While P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas did his utmost to manipulate the elections in favor of his Fatah party, Hamas won, receiving 74 of the 132 seats in the P.A. parliament. After a period of turmoil, a year later, in the summer of 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. (It then murdered Fatah rivals, often by pushing them off the roofs of buildings, ed.)

Again, abandoning the Gazans to their fate, the international community did not protest the rulership of a terrorist organization over the area but instead developed a policy of wilful blindness, rebranding the terrorists as the “de facto” leadership of Gaza.

Under the guise of expressing concern for the Gazans, broad international support poured into Hamas coffers for 16 years. With the international aid, Hamas and its leadership grew rich, while the average Gazan remained poor and impoverished. Instead of using the aid to develop Gaza, the Hamas terrorists diverted their resources to build hundreds of kilometers of terror tunnels.

Despite the Israeli “disengagement” and the fact that the Gaza Strip was controlled by a terror organization, the international community refused to hold the Gazans and their leadership responsible for their actions. Instead of demanding that Hamas and the Gazans abandon their desire to destroy Israel, the international community flouted international law and invented the sui generis claim that Israel remained an “occupier” of Gaza. In no other situation in the world is a country considered an “occupier” of another region without “boots on the ground” and without exercising effective control. (Israel does control the border into its territory as does every sovereign state, and after ships filled with arms tried to deliver them to Gaza, controls the sea border,, while Egypt controls its own border with Gaza, ed.)

From 2006 through Oct. 6, 2023, the terrorists in Gaza fired tens of thousands of rockets into Israel, indiscriminately targeting its civilian population, and made hundreds of attempts, many successful, to infiltrate Israel and carry out terror attacks. These attacks inevitably ended in war-like “cycles of violence” between Israel and the Gazan terrorists.

Instead of condemning the terrorists and their homicidal actions and holding them responsible for their aggression, the international community again chose to abandon the Gazans to their fate and their terrorist leadership, preferring to focus all criticism on Israel’s self-defense.

The Oct. 7 massacre

If the disdain of the international community for the Gazans was unclear until now, their actions following the 10/7 massacre leave no room for doubt.

On Oct. 7, 2023, over 3,000 terrorists infiltrated Israel from Gaza, led by the Nukhba forces of Hamas. The terrorists murdered more than 1,200 Israelis and foreigners. Some were tortured, some, even infants, burned alive, some raped and some beheaded. An additional 240 people—men, women, children, babies, the disabled, the elderly and the sick—were taken hostage. ( A not insubstantial number of Gazan "civilians" also took part in the murder and pillage, ed.)

Israel responded by declaring all-out war on the Gazan terrorists. As part of the operation, the Israeli forces attacked thousands of targets from the air, the sea and the ground. In preparation for the ground operation, Israel recommended that the civilians living in the northern Gaza Strip leave their homes and travel south.

To put the situation into context, it is essential to note that the Gaza Strip is only 41 kilometers (25 miles) long, from 6 to 12 km (3.7 to 7.5 miles) wide, and has a total area of 365 square kilometers (141 square miles). Approximately 2 million people inhabit it. As a result of the fighting in the north, over 800,000 people were displaced.

Egypt and the international community refuse refuge for the Gazans

In normal circumstances, wars almost always results in the creation of refugees. Thus, for example, as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, over 6,332,700 Ukrainians became refugees. As a result of the Syrian civil war, approximately 5.5 million Syrians were forced to flee Syria, becoming refugees. (They will probably settle successfully in their new homes, as other refugees have throughout history, ed.)

Despite the high intensity of the war in Gaza, exacerbated by the confined space and high population density, astonishingly, the war created no refugees.

While Gaza is surrounded from the north and east by Israel and on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, Gaza also shares a border with Egypt. Instead of welcoming their Arab brothers, Egypt refused to allow Gazans to cross into the Sinai Peninsula and seek refuge. Soon after the start of the war, Egypt reportedly lined up tanks and armored vehicles along the Gazan border specifically to prevent the Gazans from fleeing the war. Shamefully, despite clearly putting the Gazans in mortal danger, the international community remained silent in the face of the Egyptian cold-heartedness.

No U.N. resolution called upon Egypt to show humanity towards the Gazans, and no U.N. resolution condemned their decision to refuse the Gazans refuge. While Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, did offer the Gazans refuge in Scotland and called on the United Kingdom and the international community to provide refuge for the Gazans, nothing happened. Canada also made positive overtures and even adopted relaxed criteria to allow Gazans to seek refuge, but as yet, no Gazans have been able to take advantage of the change. (It is not too late - petition your government to rescue the Gazans, ed.)

The world hates the Gazans

Given the repeated approach of the international community and its consistent decisions to abandon the Gazans—even leaving them to face mortal danger—one would not be entirely mistaken to conclude that the world does hate the Gazans.

There is, however, another possible conclusion, which is no less nefarious.

The international community may not actually hate the Gazans. Rather, the international community hates Israel and is willing to do its utmost to vilify and condemn the Jewish state. (It may even intend to sit by placidly while the Gazans re-arm for their next try. After all, the arms came through the tunnels under the border with Egypt, with whom Israel signed a peace treaty, and no one knows how many terrorists were among the Gazans who fled south at Israel's suggestion, ed.) To serve this goal, the international community uses the Gazans as pawns and cannon fodder.

Gazans’ lives don’t matter to the international community unless they can be weaponized against the Jews and the Jewish state.

Originally published by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.