Their tragedy, and ours
[Ha'aretz, 16 Oct]:
The survey that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories presented to the cabinet Sunday makes disturbing and depressing reading for anyone who cares about Israel's welfare - and not just for those who care about the Palestinians' well-being and rights. Major General Amos Gilad paints a chilling portrait of Palestinian society, whose three million people, after two years of intifada, are wallowing in a hopeless midden of poverty, unemployment and economic dependency. Everything there is collapsing and decaying; only hatred for Israel is rising.
Some 60 percent of all Palestinians, and 80 percent of residents of the Gaza Strip, are under the poverty line as determined by the World Bank. Two out of every three people are dependent for survival on humanitarian aid from abroad, but this does not always reach its intended recipients, due to ubiquitous corruption and disorder. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is responsible for refugees living in the refugee camps, has expanded its activities and is supporting many urban residents. There is no starvation, the coordinator says, but signs of malnutrition are evident in some areas.
The coordinator's survey clearly indicates that despite the economic deterioration, most residents of the territories continue to support the armed struggle. The more Israel burdens their existence, the more their hatred for Israelis - and especially settlers and soldiers - increases. Time after time, when the Israel Defense Forces eases closures and takes other steps to make life a little easier for the civilian population, it is answered with a new wave of murderous terror.
The British ambassador, Sherard Cowper-Coles, aroused the government's ire when he shared his impressions from his visits over the Green Line with Gilad. He described the territories as a vast prison camp, and cited the unnecessary harassment and humiliation to which the residents are often subjected. The ambassador says that he was speaking as a friend of Israel, out of sorrow and concern. The coordinator's survey, in contrast, is formulated with matter-of-fact dryness, as if it were a detached research study of some distant land.
Neither Israel nor its friends are entitled to accept the facts and analyses presented in the coordinator's report with blind, unfeeling equanimity. His description, which documents a tragedy in the making, should be taken here as the writing on the wall - because, even though it is the Palestinians' tragedy, it is also ours. Their society is collapsing, but Israel's moral character is crumbling along with it.
Support and friendship from abroad, which are also valuable assets for Israel, are eroding as well. When three ministers - Shimon Peres, Dan Meridor and Matan Vilnai - each report a wave of revulsion for Israel and hostility toward it after visiting different European capitals, this is not a negligible matter.
In the short run, the coordinator's report demands practical conclusions in the form of measures to make life easier for Palestinian civilians as well as to reduce, as much as possible, friction between the Palestinian population and IDF forces. But Israel must also start preparing for far-reaching diplomatic steps - which will perhaps become possible once the Iraqi crisis is resolved - whose goal will be to put an end, once and for all, to the intolerable situation in which millions of human beings languish under Israeli occupation.