In the midst of the growing death toll on both sides of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas (and while the US continues drone strikes in Pakistan, and while Christians communities in Iraq are being decimated), the call for a secondary boycott of Israel continues to circulate and even to intensify. This particular iteration of the general BDS movement purports to be a solution to the current war, a way to help the Palestinians of Gaza escape from the violence. It rests on the thoroughly illogical assertion that putting more pressure on Israel to end the “occupation” of the West Bank will somehow alter the situation in Gaza.
As we see more and more images coming from Gaza, some of which are real and many of which are not, it is natural for compassionate people to ask what they can do to help. Even US Secretary of State John Kerry, whose complete incompetence as a negotiator was confirmed by this account in The New Republic of the recently failed negotiations, said on Sunday that he has “got to get over there,” and then proceeded to do so. The urge to take some form of action is a normal and humane response. Continuing or increasing calls for a secondary — or even primary — boycott of Israel, however, will not change anything at all for the people of Gaza.
As has been pointed out repeatedly by Israel’s supporters, and as has been ignored repeatedly by Israel’s detractors, Israel left Gaza in 2005, retreating to Gaza’s 1967 borders. Israel uprooted families and entire communities, and left behind a commercial enterprise with seed money put up by private donors. The people of Gaza had an opportunity to build a state, but chose instead to elect Hamas, and to allow Hamas to build a terrorist wonderland.
It’s true, of course, that although Hamas was initially elected, it maintains control of Gaza by force, and not by virtue of democratic government. But the population within Gaza allows Hamas to be entrenched and embedded among them. For every rocket in a school or mosque, for every ambulance that is used as a Hamas taxi, there is a person who is not willing to stand up and say no. The fear of reprisal is very real. But if the people of Gaza will not stand up for themselves, there is no hope for them to get out from under Hamas’s repressive and murderous regime.
As long as Hamas rule prevails, the people of both Gaza and Israel pay a heavy price. The flare-ups of violence are likely to continue to recur, and rocket fire occurs even during periods of relative calm. Gaza’s residents, moreover, lack the basic freedoms that we in the US and Israel are used to.
There is no action, however, that Israel can take that can rid Gaza of Hamas. No amount of pressure on Israel by even the most well-meaning of BDS-ers (if there are any well-meaning BDS-ers) will change the situation in Gaza. This is because the situation in Gaza was created by Gaza, and it must be ended by Gaza. The Israeli government, meanwhile, is under no moral, ethical or legal obligation to allow continued rocketfire on its own citizens, because of the fact that Gaza is a terrorist state.
Until the people of Gaza are ready to say “No” to Hamas putting rockets in schools, “No” to Hamas using a hospital as a command center, “No” to firing rockets from civilian areas, nothing will change for them. People of Gaza must purge Hamas members, must put them in jail, must stop allowing them to control Gaza’s destiny, just as Egyptians did with Hamas’s former ally and sponsor, the Muslim Brotherhood. When the people of Gaza decide that they are ready to stand up to Hamas, to eliminate Hamas from within their midst, I think it’s fair to say that they will find willing partners and allies in Israel, Egypt, the US, and elsewhere. Until they do so, however, no amount of sanctions or pressure on Israel can make their situation better for them.