By P. David Hornik
Gaza has now reached its nadir as a poverty-stricken, Islamist terror state. Michael Medved quotes Gazan poet Bassem al-Nabris as writing that, if there were now to be a referendum in Gaza on whether the Israeli “occupation” should return, “half the population would vote yes. But in practice, I believe the number of those in favor is at least 70%.”
How did things get this way? Is it time for soul-searching among the Western countries—including an important part of the Israeli body politic—that long regarded “Israeli occupation” as the ultimate evil, to be ended at all costs without checking too closely how it was done or the consequences?
Although statistics specifically for Gaza are hard to come by, an important 2002 Commentary article by Efraim Karsh noted that under the Israeli “occupation”—more fairly termed administration—that began in 1967, Gaza and the West Bank in fact made “astounding social and economic progress”:
In the economic sphere, most of this . . . was the result of access to the . . . Israeli economy: the number of Palestinians working in Israel rose from zero in 1967 to 66,000 in 1975 and 109,000 by 1986, accounting for 35 percent of the employed population of the West Bank and 45 percent in Gaza. Close to 2,000 industrial plants, employing almost half of the work force, were established in the territories under Israeli rule.
During the 1970's, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world—ahead of such "wonders"as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself. . . . GNP per capita grew somewhat more slowly, [but] expand[ed] tenfold between 1968 and 1991 from $165 to $1,715. . . . By 1999, Palestinian per-capita income was nearly double Syria's, more than four times Yemen's, and 10 percent higher than Jordan's. . . . Only the oil-rich Gulf states and Lebanon were more affluent.
If the Left-dominated Western media largely “missed” this story, it was because it was too sold on the idea of the Palestinians as victims of Israel to even inquire if that was really the case. Within Israel, more legitimately, the Zionist ethos of Jewish self-sufficiency seemed challenged by an influx of Third World menial workers who lived under Israeli rule but lacked citizenship rights.
The Israeli Left, however, instead of seeing a complex situation entailing benefits and costs for both sides and requiring a patient approach, cast it in Manichean terms of the corruption of the Zionist dream and joined the international community’s pressure on Israel for a rapid “solution.”
Yet, as Karsh pointed out, the great gains for the Palestinians under Israeli rule went well beyond employment and economic growth. Life expectancy rose sharply while mortality and infant mortality rates plummeted, and
perhaps most strikingly, during the two decades preceding the intifada of the late 1980’s, the number of schoolchildren in the territories grew by 102 percent, and the number of classes by 99 percent, though the population itself had grown by only 28 percent. Even more dramatic was the progress in higher education. At the time of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, not a single university existed in these territories. By the early 1990’s, there were seven such institutions, boasting some 16,500 students. Illiteracy rates dropped to 14 percent of adults over age 15, compared with 69 percent in Morocco, 61 percent in Egypt, 45 percent in Tunisia, and 44 percent in Syria.
But it all started to unravel—fast—as Israel, under the euphoric glow of the Oslo “peace process,” withdrew from Gaza and the Jericho area of the West Bank in May 1994, turning them over to Yasser Arafat’s rule. Gaza was especially hard hit.
As a dramatic spike in terrorism led Israel to impose repeated closures, unemployment in Gaza rose as high as 50 percent and by 1996 economic output declined about one-third. From that year to 1999 the situation improved under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as terror reverted to pre-Oslo levels and the Israeli closures decreased.
But Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak in the 1999 election, and the rest is well-known recent history: Barak’s rejected offer of statehood to Arafat in summer 2000, the outbreak that fall of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and Gaza’s (and the West Bank’s) conversion into a launching pad for an all-out terror war necessitating Israeli closures and other measures, Gaza’s severance from Israel under the 2005 disengagement plan, Hamas’s win in the 2006 election and takeover of Gaza in June 2007—leaving Gaza in a state of violent squalor comparable only to Mogadishu and with its residents apparently longing for the “occupation” once seen as the epitome of evil.
With that “occupation”—bête noire of just about everyone from scruffy radicals to State Department squares, from oil sheikhs to British profs—partially gone from the West Bank and gone from Gaza, Gaza-2007 is one of the many dire results. In reality, the Israeli administration of the territories brought great socioeconomic benefits to the Palestinians there and great security benefits to Israel, along with a problematic psychological situation of dhimmi-Jewish rule over Muslim Arabs that was not really the greatest of evils, far from it, and would have required a solution involving genuinely moderate Palestinians and genuine security guarantees for Israel.
But the world didn’t have the patience for that, and now the indigent jihadist statelet on the Mediterranean is the world’s problem.