Ambassador Reda Mansour - January 6, 2009
Some of the Arab and Muslim demonstrators who recently came to our offices were holding signs that said "Free Gaza." Many Israelis would raise that same sign, me included, but for different reasons.
People tend to forget that as of August 2005, Israel has not been in Gaza, and that the Gazans have been under Hamas control since June 2007. Indeed, Gaza needs to be freed from many different extremist forces.
Gaza should be freed from Hamas, a terrorist organization that seized the strip by force. Since the takeover, Hamas has run Gaza's economy into the ground and now nearly half of the work force is unemployed. Hamas has built a Taliban-style state in Gaza and introduced many of the Islamic Shari'a laws, institutionalizing the persecution of women and minorities.
Hamas has transformed Gaza from a free territory to a large bunker, a place where rockets are stored under families, schools and places of prayer.
Unfortunately, Gazans not only live among this militarization but are now a tool in Hamas' aggression. The terrorist organization has developed a strategy of using innocent civilians as human shields. When Israel warns that the houses of Hamas operatives and commanders will be targeted, the terrorists bring in innocent citizens, often by force, in an effort to increase the likelihood of civilian casualties. Hamas' leaders rely on the strict Israeli moral code, hoping to avoid being attacked or that a strike will allow them to score points in the media by sacrificing their own people, creating what looks like acts of Israeli military aggression.
Gaza should be freed from the intervention of Iran, a state that openly admits to financing Hamas. Iran is also helping Palestinian terror organizations with training, intelligence and equipment. Some of this "aid" is channeled through Hezbollah in Lebanon — yet another Iranian proxy organization. Hezbollah and Iran use the Gazans to maintain regional political relevance in their empty agenda against Israel.
Gaza should be freed from some of the Arab satellite channels like Al-Jazeera. These television stations engage in the direct incitement of the Arab and Muslim world. Everything is acceptable in their eyes to raise their ratings, including long shots of bodies and injuries. Some of these channels do not dismiss any editing trick and consider propaganda as a normal part of their news reporting.
As far as Israel is concerned, Gaza is free and it is the decision of its inhabitants as to what the area's destiny will be. They can continue to buy into the self-defeatingpromises of terrorist organizations and extremist ideologies.
Even worse, they can continue to let these organizations use them as human shields and demolish their hopes and futures.
Gazans can truly be free only by declaring Gaza a terror-free zone. The people of Gaza have many resources in their hands to achieve success. Gaza could use its beautiful Mediterranean coast to attract Israeli and Egyptian tourists.
It can renew the flower and fruit exports to Europe that Israel left behind. The airport that was built there can be reopened. The seaport that is planned and even the natural gas fields in its waters could be built.
The people of this region need to make the decision that Gaza will become a model of peace and stability and, hopefully, the beginning of the two-state solution: Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace.
Ambassador Reda Mansour is an Israeli Druze and the current consul general of Israel to the southeastern United States. Mansour is also an accomplished author, having published a number of award-winning poems and short stories. The ambassador is a longtime activist for dialogue between Israelis and Arabs.
This article appeared in The Tennesean on 6 January 2008 at http://www.tennessean.com/article/20090106/OPINION03/901060315/1008/OPINION01