Solving Gaza is simple. If Israel only wanted to, it could make Hamas disappear, its military wing evaporate, and its followers give up their claim to Jerusalem.
That, at least, is what seems to pass for “smart” at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES). In a London Review of Books article entitled “If Israel were smart,” CMES research associate Sara Roy weaves a tale of a Gaza Strip waiting patiently through misfortune for little more than a hug from Israel. But in her telling, Gaza is rebuffed by Israel, which for no decipherable reason continues to cruelly impose sanctions on the Hamas-run territory. (Roy has previously dubbed this “oppression imposed by Jews.”)
How easy it could all be, Roy and her carefully selected interviewees tell readers:
“If the Israelis were smart,” one religious Muslim told me, “they would open two or three industrial zones, do a security check and find the most wanted among us and employ them. Al-Qassem would evaporate very quickly and everyone would be more secure … The mosques would be empty.”
Al Qassem refers to the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s so-called military wing.
The basis for this utopian vision? “All we want are open borders for export,” another interlocutor explains. (Emphasis added throughout.) The idea that all it takes to resolve the conflict between Hamas and Israel is some industrial zones, or any other small measures, might not be the most sophisticated of thoughts. But such formations nonetheless fill Roy’s article. For example:
If the Israelis were thinking clearly, one person said, “everyone could benefit. All they must do is give us a window to live a normal life and all these extremist groups would disappear. Hamas would disappear. … Our generation wants to make peace and it is foolish for Israel to refuse.”
Another anonymous Gaza resident — all of Roy’s sources in the piece are curiously anonymous — insists that the pious Muslims of Gaza are on the verge of forgetting about Jerusalem. Roy credulously relays his assessment: “One well-placed person claimed that ‘50 to 60 per cent of Hamas’ would give up any claim to Jerusalem in return for the Rafah border crossing being opened up again.”
This type of all-it-takes thinking is also directed at Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader in the West Bank. “I was consistently told that if Abbas wanted to win the support of Gaza’s people all he would have to do is pay the [Hamas] civil servants their salaries,” the author writes.
Roy endorses each of these grandiose assurances without question or skepticism, steering her readers to do the same. In other words, with her Harvard affiliation as a certificate of authenticity, she is selling snake oil to the urbane readers of the London Review of Books.
Does the Gaza businessman who insisted his countrymen only want “open borders for export” truly represent his fellow citizens, as Roy suggests? Surely, she is familiar with polls showing that a majority of Gazans want much, much more. In one recent survey, for example, over 60 percent of Gaza Palestinians indicated that even a Palestinian state in all of the Gaza Strip and West Bank wouldn’t be a conflict-ending solution in their eyes. An even higher percentage expressed their opposition to a binational state. (What, then, is their preferred solution?)
Other polls have consistently shown Palestinians are unwilling to compromise on their demand that Palestinian refugees from their 1948 war against Israel, and millions of their descendants, be permitted to flood Israel. This would amount, in the words of dovish Israeli author Amos Oz, to “abolishing the Jewish people’s right to self determination” and “eradicating Israel.” In short, the claim that Gazans want nothing more than an increase in exports is not a serious contribution to the conversation.
Equally outlandish is the assertion that Hamas members would give up their claim to Jerusalem if Israel would open the Rafah border crossing — not only because Israel hasn’t controlled the crossing separating Egypt from the Hamas territory for the past decade, but also because, alas, Rafah was regularly open in years past, and yet Hamas members continued to demand Palestinian control over Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.
And what about industrial zones? Would mosques empty if there were such spaces? (Roy never does explain why she casts empty mosques as a desirable objective.) Ninety percent of Gaza Strip residents described themselves in a recent poll as religious (57 percent) or somewhat religious (33 percent), suggesting mosque attendance is hardly on the verge of disappearing, no matter the circumstances.
Okay, so would the Al-Qassam Brigades evaporate? Surely Roy knows (but doesn’t want her readers to know) that industrial zones operated for years along Gaza’s Erez and Karni crossings. Those did nothing to prevent Hamas’s onslaught of anti-Jewish violence.
Industrial parks didn’t end terrorism. Rather, terrorism ended industrial parks. Frequent, deadly Palestinian attacks targeting the Erez industrial park ultimately led to the withdrawal of Israeli businesses from the park and the end of the venture. But even as Roy refers to the lack of Israeli factories in Gaza as “morally obscene” and “outrageously stupid,” she ignores the history of Palestinian assaults on the industrial parks.
In fact, nowhere in her entire article does she acknowledge any sort of anti-Israel violence from Gaza, which has long been a launching pad for deadly terrorism — in particular thousands of mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities. It is an inexcusable omission in a piece ostensibly about Israeli border controls and sanctions affecting the Gaza Strip.
Instead, Roy goes out of her way to cast Israeli security measures as an inscrutable mystery:
“What do the Israelis want?” I was asked the question again and again, with each questioner looking at me searchingly, sometimes imploringly, for an answer, for some insight they clearly felt that they didn’t have. Why is Gaza being punished in so heartless a manner, and what does Israel truly hope to gain by it?
For those familiar with Roy’s history of sympathy for Hamas and antipathy for the Jewish state, it’s not hard to imagine her response to these (purported) questions. Her fellow Jews “are not preoccupied by our cruelty nor are we haunted by it,” she might have said. Perhaps she replied that “Hatred is familiar to us if nothing else — we [Jews] understand it and it is safe.” Or maybe she told her questioners that so many Jews, being part of “an unconscious people,” are eager to “incorporate the need to kill women and children” into their ethics code. She has said all this before.
It is clear that neither Roy’s dehumanizing, hateful anti-Jewish rhetoric nor her shallow commentary is disqualifying in the eyes of the London Review of Books. After all, the publication’s editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, once told The Sunday Times, “I’m unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state.” And who better than someone who preaches to the world the immorality of the Jewish people to also lecture the world about the evils of the Jewish state?
What is somewhat less clear, though, is why Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies is unmoved by their employee’s vacuous analysis and hateful language.