Israel presents a Singapore future to Gazans

One of the most generous offers ever made to Gaza was ignored by the global community. Hamas slapped it down with breathtaking contempt for the people who elected them. Mainstream media saw the scandal but took a pass. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter: Israel wasn’t talking to any of them.

When global forums and human-rights advocates discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the blame generally falls on Israeli “occupation” of Gaza and its “suffocating blockade” of Gaza’s borders. It doesn’t matter that all Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip ended 12 years ago, and that even during the 2014 war with Hamas Israel kept Gaza border-crossings open for humanitarian aid (unlike the harsh closures imposed by Egypt). It doesn’t matter that the Jewish State has been rebuilding Gaza since the end of that war, via the “Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism” or GRM. It doesn’t even matter that a simultaneous “blockade” and “occupation” is logical nonsense; no one can reside inside a place while sealing all its exits from the outside. The terms are Siamese twins, mindlessly recited with eyes shut.

A similar blindness drives the global silence concerning the neglect, thievery and bullying that Gaza residents endure at the hands of their current leaders. Reports from Gaza of Muslim-on-Muslim sexual harassment and wanton murder fail to garner sympathy even from the Muslim world. The international hypocrisy is not lost on the Palestinians, who find it both offensive and disheartening.

Denying Israel’s part in counter-balancing this abuse is possible only by resorting to gross dishonesty. The success of the GRM, which has so far provided more than 2 million tons of construction materials for some 1200 “large-scale” rebuilding projects, is publicly credited to the UN.  Meanwhile, UNRWA publishes accusations that Israel has destroyed Gaza’s economy through its unrelenting “blockade and occupation” (sic).

The above background explains the acid tones of Arab journalist Bassam Tawil in describing Israel’s Feb. 16 offer to single-handedly transform Gaza into a prosperous commercial hub:

Last week, Hamas received an offer that no sane entity would turn down. It is to be noted that the offer did not come from Hamas’s friends and allies in Iran and the Arab and Islamic world. Rather, the offer, which promises to turn the Gaza Strip, where most residents live in the poverty of “refugee camps,” into “the Singapore of the Middle East,” came from Israel.

Specifically, the offer was made by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who proposed building a seaport and an airport, as well as industrial zones that would help create 40,000 jobs in the Gaza Strip, if Hamas agreed to demilitarization and to dismantling the tunnels and rocket systems it has built up.

Tawil emphasized that this proposal was both unprecedented and workable: “Only Israel has ever made such an offer to Hamas. Such a plan would vastly improve the living conditions of the Gaza Strip population. All Hamas is required to do is abandon its weapons and plans to kill Jews, and return the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers.”

Today, more than two weeks later, the historic offer is still largely unreported. True to UN tradition, the Gaza Recovery and Reconstruction Group (GRRG), the UNRWA-affiliated agency mandated “to coordinate recovery and reconstruction efforts” in Gaza, neglected to mention Israel’s proposed contribution to their stated goals. On the contrary, GRRG Chairman Bo Schack (also Director of UNRWA’s Gaza Operations) personally authored the above-mentioned “blockade and occupation” libel against the Jewish State. But one look at GRRG will explain why. Since its establishment in September 2015, the Group has published no results beyond one newsletter describing its internal organizing efforts. Any admission of Israeli plans to develop Gaza – not just rebuilding, but completely new infrastructure – would only draw attention to UNRWA’s failures.

Israel’s Singapore idea was covered, sort of, in a few European and Arab English sources. But they repeated an unsigned AFP report which hid the proposal behind the headline, “Israel’s Lieberman warns Hamas after flare-up,” and buried it under the usual accusation of Israel “crippling the economy” of Gaza with a 10-year “blockade“. AFP (Agence France-Presse) has been accused of relying on Palestinian reporters who feed the news agency false information.

North American media networks omitted the story altogether. Other than the online source Breitbart which repeated a Times of Israel article; and an alt-media site called the Tower which mentioned it in passing, coverage of Israel’s historic proposition was limited to Israeli news outlets and Zionist blogs. Tawil referred his readers to a report by a British Zionist organization.

However, it appears that Hamas doesn’t rely on UN or media cues. Their spokesmen monitor Israeli government announcements so closely that, according to Tawil, they responded to this one “within hours of its delivery“. It was against Hamas that the author vented his bitterness (emphasis in the original):

Sadly for the residents of Gaza, none of this is going to happen. Their leaders in Hamas, some of whom have accumulated large fortunes and are living comfortable lives in oil-rich Gulf countries, are not interested in alleviating their people’s misery. On the contrary; Hamas wants its people suffering, as bitter Palestinians are perfect candidates for recruitment to the jihad (holy war) against Israel, the Jews and the West….

To clarify further: Hamas does not want a new “Singapore” in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the Middle East and ideally from the face of the earth. The welfare of Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas.

Tawil then quoted one of the most self-incriminating testimonies in Palestinian history: “Strikingly, Hamas leaders openly admit all of this. ‘If we wanted to turn the Gaza Strip into Singapore, we could have achieved that with our own hands,’  declared senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar.” 

Knowing that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies likewise received ample funding and opportunity to make a paradise in PA territory (if they had wanted to), Tawil concluded by assigning the same sadistic goal to both factions: “Hamas and the Palestinian Authority share a deadly determination to sacrifice as many Palestinians as possible in their war to destroy Israel.”

The callous confession by Hamas, that they could have developed Gaza themselves but didn’t care to, was a half-truth. The parts of Gaza frequented by the Hamas billionaires are more luxurious than the average Israeli neighborhood! But regarding the Gaza regions still in ruins, Hamas indulged in a rare moment of candor – but in Arabic only. It remained nothing more than a dark joke among Arabic speakers, until Tawil’s translation released it to the world.

Yet this juicy leak, oozing with scandal and guaranteed to go viral, was likewise bypassed by global media networks, which normally pounce on anything that might boost ratings. Even the outraged response from Israel’s Consul General in New York, Dani Dayan, who repeated the Hamas insult, failed to stimulate any journalistic follow-up. The odd oversight became suspicious when the US News and World Report published an opinion piece on the shocking revelation, without showing the least interest in writing about it themselves.

The lack of global indignation against Hamas justifies the Palestinian sense of abandonment. But even Bassam Tawil overlooked an important fact, as did the Hamas spokesmen themselves: Israel was not speaking to Gaza’s leaders. The message was addressed over their heads, to the people of Gaza.

The offer was published by COGAT, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, a wing of Israel’s Defense Ministry staffed by the IDF. Among other things, COGAT is dedicated to “serving as a major information source for the Palestinian sector. COGAT head Major General Yoav Mordechai speaks fluent Arabic and has won respect among Palestinians with his habit of speaking directly to the people, both in times of crisis and during holidays. It was Mordechai who organized the above-mentioned Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which has rebuilt over 100,000 homes in Gaza to date.  Even more impressive is an independent COGAT initiative that will soon help Gaza solve its water shortage the same way Israel did: with a new desalination plant.

Gen. Mordechai expanded COGAT’s growing rapport with ordinary Palestinians by having Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman present the Singapore vision through the Internet directly to the Gaza residents, under the simple heading, “Let’s talk.” The webpage includes a video of Liberman speaking in Hebrew, with subtitles (originally Arabic) available in English.

The page also provides a text summary of the resulting exchange. The Gazans, already familiar with COGAT’s open channel, apparently took the invitation to dialog quite seriously; they live-streamed questions for Liberman to answer in real-time. Some focused on Israel’s political tensions with Abbas, and other topics in Israeli news. Others tackled economic issues, such as how to become eligible to work in Israel. Someone asked how Liberman, a resident of Nokdim, gets along with his Palestinian neighbors in Tekoa – a sign that Jews living in Judea and Samaria provoke curiosity rather than anger. More than anything, they wanted to hear what Israel envisions for Gaza’s future.

This is the real peace process. In the end, it doesn’t matter that the UN takes credit for COGAT achievements, or that mainstream media turns up its nose at a historic development because it spoils their fact-free narrative. When Hamas leaders quickly grab the microphone to refuse an Israeli offer that was not addressed to them, they only reveal their fears that those to whom it WAS addressed might accept it behind their backs.

Interestingly, the 260-word AFP article contained three separate claims that Israel requires the Gazans to overthrow the Hamas regime in order to actualize the Singapore proposal. No such condition is found in the COGAT summary, but Hamas has good reason to worry.

When Liberman declared that Gaza is suffering because of  “the leadership of Hamas, which does not care for the residents of the Strip,” he merely verbalized to Gazans what Bassam Tawil indicated is already clear to them. Then Hamas was stupid enough to publicly confirm it, even ridiculing Israel as “silly” to care about Gaza’s poor when they certainly don’t. Last but not least, the much-maligned Zionists aren’t just talking; they’re building. It won’t be long before the two million Gazans who aren’t millionaires realize that they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by evicting their robber-barons and partnering with Israel.

The Jews’ return to their ancestral homeland was decreed by the God of Israel, who owns the whole earth. But with that return, He also made an offer (Jer.12:14-17) to the hostile inhabitants:

Thus says the Lord concerning all My wicked neighbors who strike at the inheritance with which I have endowed My people Israel:

“Behold I am about to uproot them from their land and will uproot the house of Judah from among them. And it will come about that after I have uprooted them, I will again have compassion on them; and I will bring them back, each one to his inheritance and each one to his land. 

“Then if they will really learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ even as they taught My people to swear by Baal, they will be built up in the midst of My people. 

“But if they will not listen, then I will uproot that nation, uproot and destroy it,” declares the Lord.

The Jews’ return to their ancestral homeland was an impossible dream. But now that those barren wastelands have become the envy of the Middle East, Gazans understand that the Singapore dream is entirely realistic. We can pray that they will take God’s offer with the same seriousness.

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Hannah Weiss
Hannah Weiss lives in Israel with her husband Hillel, their three children and two grandchildren. Besides writing on issues relevant for followers of Yeshua, she also works as an English writer, editor and translator for Israeli exporters and academics. Hannah is part of a small home fellowship, Restorers of Zion, which serves the Body of Messiah by focusing on neglected or dysfunctional areas of Scriptural teaching and practice.