In the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” the star finds himself in a time loop in which he wakes up again and again to find it’s the same day. Israel seems convinced that it, too, is in a time loop, in which it is destined to wake up again and again to find itself in a military operation in Gaza. In the film the hero releases himself from the loop by learning and improving his behavior based on the lessons of the previous day. Israel, however, is unable to free itself and learn from its past mistakes and is now — as occurs every few years — on a direct path to another escalation.
The State Comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014 exposes the failures that led to the fighting. Particularly serious is the fact that then–Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned a number of times that “it is possible that the war could have been prevented if Israel had provided an answer to the hardship in the Gaza Strip in time,” but the government avoided considering diplomatic alternatives that could possibly have prevented this bloody round. In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told State Comptroller Joseph Shapira that “there was no realistic diplomatic alternative concerning the Gaza Strip, so such an alternative was not discussed in the security cabinet.”
Now we are once again in a similar situation to what prevailed on the eve of the outbreak of fighting in July 2014 and, just as then, the government is refusing to accept, or even consider, decisions that would prevent the next round. Today too, as then, repeated warnings are being sounded about the harsh humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, which has only worsened since the end of the fighting. Nonetheless, today too the security cabinet is not conducting discussions aimed at reevaluating the Israeli policy of the last decade — namely, blockading Gaza. This policy, which many in the defense establishment — and it seems a majority of the Israeli public too — admit has failed in reaching its goals.
It is worth repeating this: The security cabinet has not held a single meeting on Israeli policy concerning Gaza for at least the last four years. Not before Protective Edge and not in the two and a half years that have passed since that operation.
The Israeli government does not feel it should devote attention to a region in which two million people are living in severe hardship, a majority of whom are children and youths — and who are separated from Israeli communities by only a few kilometers. And even though the area is still under de facto Israeli control, meaning Israel is responsible for it. The rounds of fighting that erupt every few years, the Israeli public’s feeling of insecurity, the continued suffering of the residents of Gaza who are being strangled by the blockade — none of these prompt Netanyahu and his ministers to view the current policy as a failure.
It is hard, if not impossible, to find any logic in Israeli policy toward Gaza, except for the principle that Ehud Barak once called “inertia.” What was will be: Another tightening of the blockade, continued erosion of the Gaza economy, another round of fighting. This lack of decisiveness and action are in practice the equivalent of a decision to be dragged into another confrontation, which threatens to be even more deadly and destructive than past ones.
The solution to the crisis in Gaza is not a military one. Most of the public, whose feeling of personal security has not improved over the past decade, knows that by now. The Israeli government must immediately implement steps which will stabilize and improve the situation in Gaza. There is no shortage of ideas.
The Gisha organization would be happy to help in presenting alternatives that can be implemented immediately and which would be able to significantly improve the quality of life in Gaza, its economy and infrastructure. Mostly it would return to the residents of Gaza control over their lives and allow them to begin to fulfill their enormous unfulfilled potential — all in order to prevent the next war and to finally wake up to a new day.
(Noam Rabinovich is the director of international relations for Gisha. The piece was originally published in Ha’aaretz newspaper.)