A number of years ago, I was asked to meet in Jerusalem with an official from one of the world’s largest charitable organizations, after their Gaza director was arrested for having overseen the diversion (theft) of $50 million in aid to Hamas terrorist projects. The official, who was based in Cyprus, told me that she accompanied other NGO representatives on regular visits with farmers and tours of agricultural sites in Gaza to see that the aid was used as specified. When I raised the issue of how she knew that the farming was not a cover for the underground tunnel network and rocket production facilities, she said something about the honesty on their faces. Later, the NGO claimed that auditors had found no irregularities, however, no report was published, and the government involved has not resumed funding.
This incident is not exceptional. For many years, Gaza has been a major location for an army of international aid providers, with representatives from numerous UN frameworks, NGOs and humanitarian aid agencies, and diplomats. Their reports and campaigns, faithfully echoed by journalists, consistently portray an impoverished Palestinian enclave on the brink of disaster, usually blamed on Israeli policies, including a land and sea blockade. The suffering of innocent children is a frequent theme used to raise donations, which exceed $1 billion annually.
In contrast, almost no one talked about the massive arsenal of rockets and missiles deployed by Hamas and its allies over the years, and the costs involved. This arsenal now has as many as 30,000 offensive weapons, accompanied by rapid-fire reloadable launchers hidden in underground concrete tunnels, and even a collection of explosive cruise missiles powered by Chinese technology, guided by GPS satellites, and carrying 25-pound warheads. To avoid dealing with the reality, many commentators (recently echoed by entertainers John Oliver and Trevor Noah) dismissed the missiles as primitive and harmless firecrackers.
Suddenly, last Monday evening, seven of these not-so-harmless weapons missiles were launched at Jerusalem, as Hamas again saw an opportunity to expand the violence. In the eight days of warfare that have followed so far, 3,350 additional rockets and missiles have been aimed at Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv. The industry behind this arsenal, hidden in tens of miles of concrete-reinforced tunnels in the 141 square-mile Gaza strip (less than half the area of New York City), constitutes Gaza’s main economic investment. As must have been obvious to everyone who bothered to look (or listen), instead of using very limited resources for economic development and to create real jobs, Hamas diverted hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to build a vast war machine.