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When a Gaza Border Visit Changes Opinions
From 1967 to 1987, there was largely coexistence between Israel and Gaza. Then the first intifada began.
By Laureen Lipsky
My trip to the Erez crossing with Gaza truly moved me yesterday. So many situations are amplified and distorted by the media, by rhetoric, by hate. By “mob” influence.
Sitting in America, reading and watching missile attacks from Hamas for years, visiting Sderot back in 2015 and seeing the children’s bomb shelter playground, the real-life effect Hamas terrorism has on my people living not only down south in Israel, but increasingly across the entire Jewish homeland, made me clump all or almost all Gazans with Hamas.
Hamas, after all, was democratically elected. Many attempt to dispute this fact, but even our security briefing mentioned it. As did the Gazan employee who spoke with us on the tour.
The Jewish director of Erez crossing, who has a highly impressive geo-political background — he was a fighter pilot in the IDF for more than 20 years, served in the Foreign Ministry in Ankara, Turkey, and a few other accomplishments I cannot share publicly — shared that he loved going to Gaza as a boy with his Mom. They would take the number 60 bus to Gaza to buy produce for cheap, see his friends there, and his Mom would sometimes have lunch with her Gazan friends.
He said from 1967 to 1987, there was largely coexistence. Gazans would come to Israel and Israelis to Gaza. Then the first intifada began.
He said he cried when Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005. Not because he was losing access, not that Jews were being uprooted from there (after all, Gaza was a Jewish port city for hundreds of years, where many Jews escaping the Inquisition first witnessed freedom and safety), but because he knew what Hamas would do to Gaza. He said 5,000 Hamas operatives defeated 70,000 Fatah operatives. And how? Many have seen the footage of Hamas throwing Fatah soldiers off of roofs. That happened, but it didn’t happen to 70,000 of them.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, was called in to help his Fatah terrorists against Hamas back then. But Abbas backed down and said he wanted peace between “his people” — AKA his terrorist groups. He forced his henchmen to back down and put down their weapons against Hamas. They did as they were told, and Hamas has been in power ever since.
Anyone who either lives in Israel, or has been to Israel, knows that Arabs are part of society. The healthcare industry is filled with Arabs — doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. (43-percent of Israeli pharmacists are Arab.) The hospitality industry relies on Arabs, in some cities (Jerusalem) more than others. So anyone who hates Arabs should not be traveling to Israel, that’s for sure.
Just the other night, as terrorist supporters were rioting on the Temple Mount, nicely dressed hijab-wearing women were walking with their families and on dates next to me in the Mamilla Mall. Arab workers at the Aroma coffee shop were super busy with customers. (More than half were Muslim.) Maybe some support the rioters. Who knows. But all I could see is they did not join them. At least not on this night.
And so too the Gazans I saw and got to hear from yesterday. The ones who are allowed to work in Israel, the 14,000 of them; are all Shin Bet pre-screened. And what they said was how grateful they are for the opportunity to work and make money. Israel’s labor laws apply to Gazans too, meaning that at very least they make a fair minimum wage. A few Gazans who spoke with us were able to do so freely on the Israeli side, and said in Arabic:
“To hell with Hamas. We would rather have Israel control us. But we would get killed if we said this in Gaza.”
The Erez crossing itself is an upgraded building, after a female suicide bomber detonated herself and killed four Israeli soldiers in 2004, with its security measures in line with airport security. Gazans go through hi-tech screenings, and even utmost respect is shown in how sniffing dogs are used. The dogs are kept in a separate room where the filtered air can give a sense of danger, rather than having dogs walk near the Gazans, since dogs are not considered clean in Islam. The security I had coming to America from Colombia was a harsher experience than what I saw yesterday at the Gaza border.
The Jewish director said it’s the carrot and the stick, that Israel is acting in its best interest to invite vetted Gazans for several reasons: that to let Gazans financially suffer is to push them further to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. To show them that they can benefit from being peaceful to Israel, which has financial benefits, is far more effective.
The stick? When Israel closes its border during terror attacks and wars, it hurts the vetted Gazans and it looks bad on Hamas. The director said his goal is 20,000 by June and ultimately, 100,000. That there are now 2.2 million people in Gaza and a lot more need to see the benefit of peace with Israel.
Recently we honored Yom HaZikaron in Israel, a day of mourning to remember and honor all the soldiers who gave their lives serving the only Jewish homeland. It also marks the memory of those who were killed by terrorists. Each precious life being honored, remembered, cried over were all murdered by Arabs in some form — through war, shootings, car bombs, knife attacks, missile attacks, and suicide bombing.
It is easy to lump all Arabs together. I have even been questioned about my upcoming trip to Dubai, which together with the emirate of Abu Dhabi is a far better friend these days to Israel than currently the U.S.
The root of the issue is very simple, not “complex” as many erroneously say. When Arabs will stop wanting to kill Jews, the “conflict” ends. It truly is as simple as that. Unfortunately that will never happen unless drastic changes are made and the status quo uprooted, especially in Judea and Samaria. Terrorism is too financially advantageous for Abbas, for Hamas. Just as a deal with Israel was financially advantageous for the UAE and the other Abraham Accords signors.
But the everyday life is more nuanced when it comes to Arabs in Israel, including Judea and Samaria, the ancestral heartland of the Jewish nation, and those in Gaza. Being at the Erez crossing changed my opinion of at least some Gazans, and it filtered out both the media and those who paint all Gazans to be terrorist supporters.
Laureen Lipsky is the Founder & CEO of Taking Back the Narrative, a Zionism education initiative.
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