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September 20, 2018 10:33 am

Humanitarian Concessions Will Not Reduce Hamas Violence: Here’s the Evidence

avatar by Hillel Frisch

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A Hamas military drill in the Gaza Strip in March 2018. Photo: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman appears to be accepting the argument that humanitarian gestures towards Hamas will buy quiet from the terror group. But the evidence provided by UN agencies in an effort to advocate for humanitarian gestures ironically proves that there is in fact no correlation between such gestures and a reduction in Hamas violence.

Politicians, commentators, diplomats, citizens, international fora, and — above all — Israel’s major media sites endlessly debate Gaza’s alleged humanitarian plight, as well as the virtue of humanitarian gestures as a means to mitigate it.

Even the hardline Lieberman appears to be buying into this argument. He advocated for re-opening the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which had been closed in reaction to Hamas’ launching of nearly 200 missiles over the space of two days. The fishing rights of Gaza fishermen will be widened to 12 kilometers in the hope that Hamas will stop the launches. Hamas will also be free to continue sending off incendiary balloon bombs and to violently challenge Israeli troops at the security fence every Friday.

But the hopes of buying off Hamas with humanitarian gestures is in vain.

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There is overwhelming evidence that humanitarian gestures do not reduce Hamas-orchestrated violence. The best evidence of the futility of the humanitarian argument is to be found in figures and graphs compiled by UN agencies and other pro-Palestinian fora that strenuously champion the humanitarian argument.

The exercise is simple. Over the past 11 years, if humanitarian gestures had led to a reduction of violence, there should be a visible correlation between 1) a high number of trucks full of produce moving into Gaza, 2) a high number of trucks full of Gazan exports moving out, and 3) a high number of Gazans allowed to travel for business and health care to Israel and beyond, with low levels of missile launches. (Missile launches are by far the most important index of Hamas violence. The lethality and destructive capacity of missiles dwarfs the effect of Hamas’ relatively infrequent attempts to penetrate Israel through tunnels and the small number of shootings at Israeli troops.)

Let us begin with a long-term analysis of the relationship between humanitarian gestures and violence.

Take a good look at the following two graphs. The first shows the monthly rate of trucks into Gaza; the second shows missile launchings. There is no correlation between the two. In fact, the number of trucks dramatically increased in 2010 as Israel announced that it would considerably loosen restrictions on incoming produce (it lived up to its word). The number of trucks remained steady up to November 2012.

Table 1: Number of Trucks into Gaza Mid-2009 to end of July 2018

Source: Gisha, http://gisha.org/reports-and-data/graphs

Table 2: Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits

Source: Israel Security Agency.

Had the argument held that humanitarian gestures buy quiet, rocket launches should have decreased in 2010 and stayed low through 2012. The correlation seemed to hold in 2010, but quickly turned negative as the same number of trucks was met by vastly increased missile launches. This led to the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense.

The findings in the years between the Pillar of Defense campaign and Operation Protective Edge are even more telling: the number of trucks increased. Once again, according to the humanitarian argument, the number of launches should then have decreased — but as one can clearly see, launches in the first half of 2014 vastly increased, leading to the most lethal and long-term round of conflict to date. Hamas does not appear to be swayed in the least by humanitarian gestures.

And events of the last four years give no credence to the argument either. It is true that for much of the period, as the number of trucks increased, launches remained very low. But how can one explain that in 2015, at the beginning of the period, launches were so few when the number of trucks decreased from the previous year?

Even less does the argument explain why, when the trucks coming in reached their highest level in the first months of 2018, Hamas decided to escalate the violence by launching 1) the “March of Return” at the end of March; 2) an uptick in shootings; and 3) massive waves of missile launches in April. How can this be? As Table 3 shows, more trucks crossed in these months than in the relatively quiet years of 2015 and 2016.

Table 3: Truckloads Entering Gaza January, 2011- January, 2018

Source: Gisha.

Plotting the exit of Gazans through the Erez checkpoint similarly shows no relationship between humanitarian gestures and the preservation of quiet. The number of Gazans allowed through Erez reached a peak just before Hamas decided to heat up the area with its “March of Return.” Hamas continued to escalate with missile launches as Israel increased the number of exits through Erez (See Table 4).

Table 4: Exits of Palestinians to Israel and the West Bank via Erez Crossing

Source: Gisha.

Nor does the argument apply to the export of goods. Though there was a slight drop in the number of trucks exiting Gaza in March 2018, their number was vastly higher than in the “peaceful” four last months of 2017.

Table 5: Number of Truckloads Entering Gaza from September 2017 to July 2018

Source: Gisha.

The moral of the story is that violence is generated by political actors for political and geo-strategic reasons, not for humanitarian or economic welfare reasons.

Hamas calculated first that Israel had moved many of its Iron Dome batteries north to the Golan, rendering Israel’s south more vulnerable; and second that Israel would be restrained from reacting in a massive way to preserve the focus on Iran, especially the oil sanctions that the US will impose on that country in November.

It was a good gamble. Hamas achieved both the restoration of the status quo that had prevailed before the March of Return, as well as Israeli acquiescence to Hamas violence during the March — violence that is primarily designed to secure a prisoner deal that will free hundreds in return for the release of two Israeli citizens and the remains of two others.

If no progress is made towards a prisoner release on Hamas’ terms, violence will likely continue — no matter how much the economic welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza is improved.

Professor Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. BESA Center Perspectives Papers, such as this one, are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

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