Gaza is not exceptional in terms of poverty and despair. The conditions in places such as Darfur and the flood-afflicted areas of Bangladesh are similar, if not poorer, than what is found in Gaza.
But what makes Gaza stand apart is the Arab-Israeli conflict, and how this conflict makes demands on western governments for diplomatic and material assistance for Gazans.
The Gaza narrative of this conflict is rather simple. Israel blockades the territory, which has a population of 1.5 million squeezed into an area half the size of Toronto, and Palestinian resistance spirals into an asymmetrical conflict.
There is another narrative that rarely gets into print in the mainstream media. Nonie Darwish’s rare personal account of Gaza as “an Arab-made misery,” recently published in the Wall Street Journal, offers this other perspective.
Ms. Darwish was raised in Gaza in the early 1950s when the area was occupied by Egypt. Her father, Col. Mustafa Hafez, was the intelligence commander in Gaza sent there by Egypt’s dictator, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Hafez’s responsibility was recruiting volunteers from among Gaza residents and Palestinian refugees for the “fedayeen” (those willing to self-sacrifice) operations against Israel. He was killed in an Israeli retaliation in July 1956.
Following the UN partitioning of Palestine in 1947 and the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Gaza was turned into the staging ground of terrorist operations against the Jewish state by Egypt, and it has returned to being the same since Israeli withdrawal in August 2005.
Ms. Darwish experienced the cynicism of Arab policy towards Palestinians as the daughter of the man who was killed in the process of executing it. Subsequently she immigrated to the U.S. bringing an insider’s knowledge of Arab politics and culture to the West.
Ms. Darwish indicates the source of Gaza’s problem is with the Arab states. She recalls “60 years of Arab policy aimed at cementing the Palestinian people’s status as stateless refugees in order to use their suffering as a weapon against Israel.”
Arab states have refused to absorb and settle refugees from Palestine partitioned on the basis of the UN-approved plan, arguing such measures would give relief to Israel.
Instead a policy of forcing Palestinian identity, as Ms. Darwish explains, “was designed to perpetuate and exacerbate the Palestinian refugee crisis.” Through this period the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees, funded partly by Arab countries, has participated in administering this policy that condemns Palestinians to the unending misery of remaining refugees.
The Gaza misery is not the outcome of some natural disaster. It is the result of deliberate choice – something the liberal-minded westerners can barely grasp – of Arab and Palestinian leadership to perpetuate the condition of Palestinians resulting from the events of 1947-48, and turning their despair into violence against Israel.
Two months after the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza ended, international donors – headed by the United States and the European Union joined by Arab League members – gathered in Egypt and pledged nearly $4.5 billion for the Palestinian economy and rebuilding of Gaza.
The international donors would have done better by linking their aid to requiring Arab states, including Iran, cease using Gaza as the stick to beat Israel, and in insisting the parties settle their conflict.