What future? A medic helps a man in the wreckage of Shejaia, Gaza. Photo: Reuters
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Uri Dromi: Despair is not an option in Gaza

The Israeli economist Yaacov Sheinin proposes a bold economic answer to the rockets – but with the repressive Hamas in charge, would it have any chance of materialising?

Once again, Israelis and Palestinians have been plunged into another round of violence, which only brings bloodshed and destruction, breeds more hatred and plants the seeds of the next round.

Israel sent its army to Gaza only after exhausting all other options. By accepting the Egyptian and the UN proposals for a ceasefire, Israel demonstrated its restraint. At the same time, Hamas rejected the Egyptian offer and violated the UN one, thus exposing its true vicious face.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukri, blamed Hamas for the Israeli incursion. “Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians,” he said.

However, playing the blame game successfully and winning points in the world public-opinion arena are not enough. There is growing awareness in Israel that pounding Gaza and even combing its tunnels network will not by themselves guarantee long-term calm; a new, out-of-the-box way of thinking is desperately needed. This, unsurprisingly, has come not from Israel’s political or military circles but from its economic ones.

The Israeli economist Yaacov Sheinin, writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, made an interesting comparison between Gaza and – hold your laughter – Singapore. Gaza is considered to be one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 5,000 people per square kilometre, but Singapore is denser, with 8,000 people per square kilometre. Yet while the people of Singapore produce an average GDP per capita of around $60,000 per year, the Gazans make just $1,000.

Sheinin is proposing a bold economic answer to the rockets. Once again, he reasons, it is clear that the Gazans are not gaining anything by their actions. If we are neither complacent nor vengeful but after every round we offer them economic prosperity, eventually they will get it. “We should present to the people of Gaza an offer they can’t reject, with no time limit,” he wrote. “For a non-belligerence agreement, Israel should initiate economic aid for building apartments for the refugees, for transportation infrastructure, for natural gas, and so on.”

According to this plan, the financial burden – $1bn a year – will be shouldered equally by Israel, the western countries and the Gulf states but Israel should be the most active partner. The reason, according to Sheinin, is simple: “It is cheaper to assist the Gazans economically than to fight them militarily.”

This win-win deal, which gives each party what it wants most – calm for the Israelis and a future for the children of Gaza – seems reasonable and logical. So why, then, do I have the feeling that its chances of materialising are slim?

It is because, unlike the Israelis, the people of Gaza are not able to express their opinions on this matter freely. Under the repressive Hamas regime, being used as human shields, they have no say in decisions about their future.

Despair, however, is not an option. Israel should fight Hamas vigorously until it thinks twice before harassing our cities again (see the Hezbollah precedent following the second Lebanon war in 2006). Alongside this military stick, we should always offer an economic carrot.

Arab forces should also be engaged in curbing the ability of Hamas to deny the Gazans a future. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Mahmoud Abbas – they all fear radical Islam no less than we do. For, in the final analysis, the success of Hamas extremism and others like it would result in their own downfall.

Israel, then, is not alone in this region. And Europe is a potential partner, too. According to Reuters, “Nine European Union countries [have] agreed to share intelligence and seek to fight radical Islam on the internet to counter the risk of European citizens going to fight in Syria or Iraq bringing violence back home.”

Israel now fights a just war to defend its citizens from indiscriminate terror attacks. The aim of war is to gain a better peace. The best way to achieve that is to offer the people of Gaza an economic hope beyond the present gloom. 

Uri Dromi, an occasional contributor to the NS, was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments, 1992-96

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double 2014

Photo: Getty
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia