The Associated Press recently published an article exposing the various ways residents attempt to escape from the Gaza Strip. Desperate Gazans fake fatal diseases in order to get permission to enter Israel and receive medical care, or pay hundreds of dollars to smugglers and counterfeiters in order to cross the border to Israel or Egypt.
These actions reflect a deepening feeling amongst Gazans. Official polls show that half of the residents of the Gaza Strip would like to leave the Strip. Hassam Riashi, a 27-year-old Gazan who paid to sneak over the Egyptian border said that, in his opinion, “everyone needs to leave Gaza. Even the air is cleaner outside of the Gaza Strip!”
Absurdly, the Western and Arab worlds send huge sums of aid money to the Gazans and support their battles against Israel, but this does nothing to allow the Gazans to leave their homes, which aren’t even their ancestral homeland. (More than 3/4 of Gazans are descendants of refugees of the 1948 War of Independence, in which Gaza became part of Egypt.) Although Israel is threatened by the unstable border with Gaza, it does nothing to help the Gazans build a new life elsewhere.
The irony is beyond all belief. The Palestinians in Gaza are begging to leave and put an end to the problems that cause instability in the region. At the same time, the whole world, including Israel, hasn’t allowed this.
At The Israeli Initiative, we believe that a humanitarian and permanent solution to the refugee problem is clearly in Israel’s interest. It is the first step in any peace process.
The Arab world has ignored the option of rehabilitating refugees and allowing them to leave Gaza in order to strengthen the Palestinian National narrative and to continue to claim “the right of return,” even if Gazans suffer in the process. These goals are shared by UNRWA, the organization that is meant to help, but actually perpetuates the problem. This has made the Israeli-Arab conflict impossible to solve.
How can the problem be solved? When Israel, the West and the moderate Arab countries will take a new, simple direction: Stop waiting for a political solution and start rehabilitating the refugees through an international mechanism, as The Israeli Initiative recommends.
Yoav Sorek is manager of The Israeli Initiative. Find out more: www.israelinitiative.com