Mike Merryman-Lotze is the Middle East Program Director at the American Friends Service Committee. When the Washington Post published an opinion piece (7/19/2018) about Gaza which begged for some facts and objectivity, Mike responded. His response is reprinted below with permission.
The Washington Post has given Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner, and David Friedman room to write about Gaza. What they have written has to be one of the most dishonest and transparently propagandistic pieces I’ve read on Gaza.
I’ve therefore taken a few minutes to add my own quick comments into the text of the article:
WP Article: At the end of a productive six-day trip to the region recently, one reality was painfully clear: The nightmare of Hamas’s leadership is continuing and needlessly prolonging the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
WP Article: Despite the billions of dollars invested for the benefit of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 70 years, 53 percent of the people there live below the poverty level , and the unemployment rate is a crippling 49 percent. The Palestinians of Gaza are stuck in a vicious cycle where corrupt and hateful leadership has provoked conflicts leading to reduced opportunities and the poverty and hopelessness that follow.
Mike’s Comment: Most of the investment in Gaza is reconstruction money given to rebuild infrastructure and homes destroyed by Israeli bombings. The economy has been devastated by the blockade. If you want to deal with employment the issue is the blockage of imports, exports, and goods needs to produce economic output. There has been a conscious decades long policy of dedevelopment implemented by Israel in Gaza. The unemployment and poverty rates in Gaza are not linked to the Palestinian leadership but to Israeli policies. If you are concerned about this push for an end to the blockade.
WP Article: International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer? In the past, investments in badly needed infrastructure have been diverted for weapons and other malign uses, and even the projects that are built are often destroyed as a consequence of Hamas’s aggression.
Mike’s Comment: The vetting procedures for foreign aid going into Gaza are more restrictive than in any other place in the world. There is no money going from foreign governments to Hamas. Foreign aid goes to help people. If you consider rebuilding electrical infrastructure and water systems assistance to Hamas and not repair of basic infrastructure that people need then there is something wrong. No money for basic infrastructure is diverted for weapons. While Hamas does spend a portion of its money on weapons, even Israeli government sources report that it spends 80% or more of its funds in Gaza on governance. Even if it moved the $100 million it spends on weapons towards infrastructure it could not meet needs, and it also could not get the supplies needed to repair infrastructure with that money because of the blockade and international sanctions. The issue again is not Hamas but the blockade and Israeli and international policies that deny Gaza access to the world.
WP Article: Until governance changes or Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, abides by previous diplomatic agreements and renounces violence, there is no good option.
Mike’s Comment: Hamas has repeatedly indicated that it is willing to consider a state in the areas occupied in 1967 and that it will talk with Israel. This has been the case for years. At the same time, the Likud Party platform formally rejects two states and nearly every other party in the ruling Israeli coalition formally rejects two states. Israeli actions also move to materially change the situation so that two states are not possible. The Nation State Law passed this week furthers the settlement enterprise and violates previous diplomatic agreements. Israeli has not rejected violence.
Further, if we really want to get technical it should be pointed out that according to the Israeli Defense Ministry, in 2015 a total of 21 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2016 a total of 15 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2017 a total of 35 rockets were fired from Gaza. Between January 1 and May 29 of 2018 only 10 rockets were fired from Gaza, with none fired during March, April, and the first weeks of May. At the same time, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in 2015, 2016, and 2017, Israel killed 64 Palestinians in Gaza, injured over 2,700, and carried out attacks on Gaza nearly every day. Also, between January 1, 2018 and March 26, 2018 the Israeli military entered the Gaza buffer zone nine times to destroy property and clear land. During the same period, the Israeli military opened fire in the Gaza buffer zone 181 times, killing 2 people and injuring 13. These actions occurred before the start of the Great Return March. So where should we look if we are concerned about violence?
WP Article: Seventy years after the founding of Israel, it would be wise for Hamas to acknowledge that the existence of Israel is a permanent reality. Almost all in the Middle East have come to accept this fact, and many even embrace it. At the expense of the Palestinian people, Hamas is fighting a morally bankrupt, decades-old war that has long been lost.
Mike’s Comment: Equally, it might be important for the Israeli government to recognize the rights of Palestinians to a state. As noted above, no party in the ruling Israeli coalition supports two states. The Israeli government is taking action to make two states impossible, and the Israeli government just passed a law declaring that Palestinians have no right to self-determination.
WP Article: Peace will provide opportunity to break this stalemate, and peace will be achieved only by embracing reality and dismissing a flawed ideology. Life could significantly improve in short order for the Palestinian people if Hamas allowed it. There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible. If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.
Mike’s Comment: If you want change from Hamas engage with Hamas. Don’t write a mendacious article in the Post full of lies that the editors seem unable to fact check. Stop the blockade, end sanctions, allow Hamas to engage with the PA without that triggering new sanctions that would collapse the PA. All of this is meaningless if what is really demanded is one-sided capitulation and surrender.
WP Article: There is no reason the Palestinians (in both the West Bank and Gaza) can’t enjoy economic success and integrate into a thriving regional economy — if they let us help. As President Trump has said so many times, economic security is national security. By encouraging economic recovery in the region, we can enhance our efforts to increase stability as well.
Mike’s Comment: Economic prosperity under occupation is not possible, economic growth without rights and self-determination is meaningless. The issue isn’t economics, it is freedom.
WP Article: Hamas must immediately cease provoking or coordinating attacks on Israelis and Egyptians, and on infrastructure projects sponsored by donor nations and organizations. Rather than looking for opportunities to weaponize everything from kites to mirrors in order to attack Israel, Hamas should focus its ingenuity on improving the Gazan economy.
Mike’s Comment: What attacks on Egyptians and donor projects? These types of attacks simply haven’t occurred. Where are our fact checkers? What is the context of actions against Israel? Are those actions proactive or reactive? What is Israel’s role in all of this? Where do Israeli attacks on Gaza fit in and should they also stop? What about the blockade and the systematic denial of Palestinian rights? What about the continued loss of Palestinian life in Gaza? Is any of that a concern?
WP Article: Rather than cynically attempting to exploit its barbaric holding of Israeli soldiers and citizens, Hamas must return them to their families.
Mike’s Comment: Hamas holds a couple of Israeli soldiers captured while in Gaza and a few bodies of soldiers killed while fighting in Gaza. I agree with the idea that they should be returned home. However, also note that Israel holds literally thousands of Palestinian prisoners and hundreds (if not more) bodies of Palestinians it has killed. Israel has set up whole graveyards to hold the bodies of Palestinians that it refuses to return to families. The holding of bodies is a policy that Israel developed. All bodies should be returned.
WP Article: Instead of exploiting crossings such as Rafah and Salah al-Din to smuggle weapons and siphon off tax revenue for illicit purposes and personal enrichment, Hamas must hand those functions over in their entirety to the Palestinian Authority so that badly needed materials can get through to the people of Gaza. The international community stands ready to work with the Palestinian Authority on this vital effort.
Mike’s Comment: This is simply misinformation. Weapons have never been smuggled through formal crossings. While Hamas may have limited control of one side of the crossing, Egypt and Israel control the other sides of the crossings. This means that weapons must be smuggled through Israel and Egypt and it is those states that control what goes into Gaza. The PA does control crossings in Gaza and the US knows this. The PA is the force in Gaza that coordinates with Israel at crossings and Hamas has allowed that control. The issue is not changing who controls borders, it is the Israeli enforced blockade.
WP Article: The cycle is clear: Rockets, mortars, terror tunnels, kite bombs and other weapons of aggression lead only to stricter constraints on the people of Gaza. Hamas’s acts of aggression have only produced misery for the people of Gaza. The true victims of this terrible situation are the many Palestinians who are not rioting but whose futures are dimmed by Hamas’s radical approach.
Mike’s Comments: Again, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry, in 2015 a total of 21 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2016 a total of 15 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2017 a total of 35 rockets were fired from Gaza. Between January 1 and May 29 of 2018 only 10 rockets were fired from Gaza, with none fired during March, April, and the first weeks of May. Tunnels may exist but simply haven’t been used to attack Israel. Burning kites didn’t start flying until long into the Gaza Return March and after more than 50 Palestinians had been killed and thousands injured.
If, over a period of three and a half years you have, on average, two to three rockets fired towards Israel each month and they don’t cause significant damage and at the same time you have daily attacks by Israel on Gaza and the maintenance of a brutal blockade, it seems clear that the cycle is not starting with rocket fire.
WP Article: It is evident that the leaders in this region are tired of being on this hopeless treadmill and are hungry for real change. There is a clear divide between the bad actors looking to cause destruction, violence and human misery, and the responsible leaders trying to create a better and sustainable future for their citizens. The world is moving forward, but bad choices are causing Palestinians to fall further and further behind.
Mike’s Comment: So the link included here in the original article notes that the world is moving beyond two states. I’m perfectly OK with that, but let’s be clear that closure of the two state possibility is only due to Israel actions. Palestinians can be intransigent and can say no, but they can’t change the situation on the ground in any material way that changes what a possible solution will look like.
What has changed the situation? Settlements, and the authors should know this since Greenblatt served as a guard on a settlement and both Friedman and Kushner were major donors to settlements. Hey wait a minute, isn’t that relevant information that the editors should consider?
WP Article: The international community also bears some blame. More countries want to simply talk and condemn than are willing to confront reality, propose realistic solutions and write meaningful checks. The United States has invested more money in helping the Palestinian people than has any other country in the world.
Mike’s Comments: Damn right the international community bears much of the blame. Countries want to simply talk, condemn, not confront reality, and not propose realistic solutions? Really? Here is a mirror.
WP Article: For far too long, Gaza has lurched from crisis to crisis, sustained by emergency appeals and one-time caravans of aid, without dealing with the root cause: Hamas leadership is holding the Palestinians of Gaza captive. This problem must be recognized and resolved or we will witness yet another disastrous cycle.
Mike’s Comment: We can agree, Gaza has existed in crisis for far too long. And the authors are a major reason why that crisis continues. To give them a platform to put forward such garbage is indefensible. To simply let them write without any editorial oversight is wrong. The Post should be ashamed for publishing such transparent propaganda, although the post editorial page itself is pretty atrocious on this issue.