Gaza is one of the most ancient cities in this region of thousands of years of history. Situated at the entrance to Canaan, the Land of Israel, as you approach from Egypt. With an abundance of water, from its high water table, it is the first settlement reached once you cross the Sinai Desert, and the last fertile area before setting out to cross the desert into Egypt.
Kings and Pharaohs, commanders of vast hosts, spiritual leaders, all coveted Gaza, tried to make it if not there own, at least a base of operations. the ancient Egyptians ruled their eastern empire from Gaza, Alexander the Great conquered it, as did the Hasmoneans, the Romans, the Byzantines and Muslims. Famous rabbis and false messiahs came out of Gaza, Samson carried off its gates when the Gazans tried to imprison him, and Napoleon made it his base for his attempt to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and carve out his own eastern empire.
Since 1948 it has become a hot potato that nobody wants. Refugees flocked into it following Israel’s War of Independence, and have been kept in limbo for six decades, crammed in UN camps that seem to want to perpetuate themselves so that refugee officialdom can continue to exist. The original Gazans don’t want them, neither do the Israelis, the Egyptians or any of the other myriad of Arab and Muslim states around the world.
When Israel left the Hamas came in – freely elected to power by the people of Gaza (the elections were overseen by international observers). Hamas has turned Gaza into a base of hatred against Israel, and actually against all the world that is not Muslim. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans used to work in Israel, making a good living, Hamas made sure that this would not continue. Financial aid has been used to built up an anti-Israel arsenal and a labyrinth of assault tunnels, schools and hospitals have been turned into shields from which Israel can be attacked.
But, after battling Gaza again and again, we have to f ind a way out of this continuing misery. The don’t like us, neither do the Palestinians, nor the Egyptians, even though in Egypt current official attitudes are changing -for political expediency. But this is the neighborhood that we live in. These are the countries around us and with them we have to find a way to get along. After nearly one hundred years of battling it out with our neighbors, this start-up nation will have to find some innovative ideas to create a better environment here.
Maybe after this last round of destruction the people of this area, and especially their leaders, will be able to recalculate a different path to go on. It seems, if you listen very carefully, that there is a small, very small, undercurrent of understanding, a glimmer of hope, a small silent voice that might be open to rethink, to change direction. We have to believe that this can happen. The alternative is just another cycle of destruction.