The January election of a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories immediately led to stern resolve on the part of the international community not to have dealings with or assist this regime–and rightly so. Hamas has been and continues to be opposed to Israel’s fundamental right to exist; when it talks about “ending the occupation,” it’s talking about Tel Aviv, not Gaza. And so it’s only proper that Israel and nearly all other nations have refused to lend support to this organization that embraces terrorism and attacks on innocent civilians as part of its standard operating procedure.
Halting the inflow of international aid, however, has also had the effect of causing great suffering among the Palestinian people, more than 40 percent of whom currently live on less than $2 a day. It might be tempting to say that the Palestinians elected this government and are merely reaping what they sowed. But first, it should be noted that only about 45 percent of voters voted for Hamas; their victory was magnified by the electoral system in place in the Palestinian territories. Second, the fact that some 77 percent of Palestinians are reported to support the “Prisoners Document,” a declaration by Palestinian leaders in Israeli prisons in which they called for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the “lands of 1967,” a reference to Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, indicates a clear rejection of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist (although the document has other grave flaws). Given these numbers, it’s clear that withholding humanitarian aid punishes Palestinian society as a whole for the sins of a minority.
This sort of collective punishment is not only morally questionable; it’s also bad policy. Deteriorating conditions in the Palestinian territories only lead to a further radicalization of the population and the spread of anti-Israel extremism. This is why Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev spoke of the importance of providing humanitarian aid, and why former IDF General Shlomo Gazit weighed in against U.S. legislation designed to cut off all contact between the U.S. government and Hamas. In order to ensure Israeli security and prevent the situation in the territories from sliding even further into chaos, humanitarian aid needs to be provided to ensure a baseline standard.
Does it feel good to give this kind of support to a people whose government is a sworn enemy of Israel? Perhaps it would feel more satisfying to cut it off and let ’em stew in their own juices. But creating this sort of widespread suffering does as much damage to us in the long term as it does to the prospects for a peaceful solution to this crisis. Humanitarian aid is the right thing to do for the Palestinians, and it’s the right thing to do for Israel.