Rachel Patron: Hamas digs tunnels while Gazans above endure poverty

On New Year’s Eve 1949, a rickety Greek fishing boat deposited my mother and me on the shore of Haifa, Israel.  With us were 400 other refugees, the floating debris of the Jewish people.

I was 12, my mother 48 and Israel 7 months old. (In this story, numbers have an astounding symmetry.)

Israel’s population was 600,000, after the country had just lost 6,400 in the winding-down War of Independence.

Soon Israel’s countryside became blanketed with corrugated huts of refugee camps, where my mother and I found refuge. Between 1949 and 1950, European refugees doubled Israel’s population. The country went into austerity mode and rationing. This lasted until 1953 when most refugees had been settled in free government housing.

But then another 700,000 Jewish refugees poured in from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Yemen, all penniless since their wealth had been confiscated by their Arab governments. Their number was exactly the same as the number of Palestinians who had left or been expelled from Israel. (Half a million remained and became Israeli citizens.) By 1960, Israel’s population had tripled.

It’s important to remember that Palestinian refugees had not been displaced into another country or continent. Instead, they found themselves behind the Green Line — the Armistice borders established at the end of the war. In many cases, they were only 10 or 100 miles removed from where they had lived, and amidst their West Bank Arab brethren and often relatives. The area was ruled by Jordan.

Now let’s imagine a reverse scenario: The Jews inhabit the West Bank and are suddenly faced with 600,000 bedraggled brother-Jews on their doorsteps.  Would Jews allow their flesh and blood to rot in refugee camps for 66 years? The world knows the answer.

No one has ever wanted possession of Gaza. In 1948 Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion instructed his generals to bypass Gaza. In 1979 Prime Minister Menachem Begin pleaded with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to take it back. And in 2005 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon became so fed up with governing the Gaza Strip that he uprooted 9,000 Jewish settlers from the area.

So picture this:  One morning Gazans wake up — and the Jews are gone! Thirty-eight years of not-so-benign occupation ended overnight. If I were a Gazan, I would savor victory and count the spoils, such as 27 settlements with beautiful homes, green lawns and swimming pools.

American Jewish philanthropists collected $14 million for the upkeep of greenhouses that the settlers had developed to export fruits and vegetables to Europe.

Instead, Palestinian leaders pocketed the cash and destroyed every Jewish house, letting the greenery yellow and the farmland decay. They tore apart the greenhouses and looted them for pipes and hoses. Two years later, in 2007, they elected Hamas — a designated terrorist organization — to lead them into the future. In a reverse scenario, if the Jews were Gazans, they would turn the enclave into the Borscht Belt of the Mediterranean, with hotels, amusement parks and shopping malls.  The Gaza Philharmonic Orchestra would play in Paris and Amsterdam.

But Hamas feverishly dug tunnels so they could smuggle in rockets and send militiamen out to attack Israel. They left the people above ground in poverty.

When I was in high school, my friends and I resented the Arabs, but we didn’t hate-hate them. Today’s tragedy is that the Israelis and Palestinians hate each other equally. It is a hatred that cannot be surpassed.

Solutions? The only one I can see is for Israelis and Palestinians to separate from each other completely for at least a generation.

Rachel Patron is a former opinion columnist for the Sun-Sentinel. She resides in Boca Raton and is at work on a contemporary American novel. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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One comment

  • Etta Schaeffer

    August 20, 2014 at 7:34 am

    I am so grateful for the information in this article by Rachel Patron. She is knowledgeable in a way that is only possible because of her personal history. Bravo to Context Florida and bravo to Rachel Patron. You’ve made a willing student of me.

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