The best way to rebuild Gaza while answering Israel’s security needs would be to establish a joint UN-Egyptian international zone in the northern Sinai desert close to Gaza. The zone would include a seaport, desalinization plants, solar farms, a hospital and a small airport allowing shuttle flights to Cairo for Gaza residents wishing to connect to international flights. The zone, financed by the international community that seems so committed to rebuilding Gaza, would create thousands of jobs for Egyptians as well as for residents of Gaza.
Creation of this zone would not require advance permission of Israeli or Palestinian leadership. Although negotiations between two parties are usually the best way to resolve conflicts, sometimes the lack of mutual trust and outright hatred makes it necessary to think outside the usual conflict resolution box by looking for workable solutions that depend on international initiatives to create humane, ethical and economic solutions on the ground that would, hopefully, also lead to political solutions in the future.
- The seaport: would allow for imports to Gaza and exports of Gazan agricultural products. The UN, together with Egypt, would examine every incoming container both physically and electronically to assure that no weapons are being imported. Building materials would be limited to pre-fabricated housing (see #2 below) and materials catalogued and certified by the UN for projects that are actually inspected by a special UN observer team to make sure they are not used for tunnels or rocket launchers. The plans for any construction using these materials must be filed with the UN and inspected on a regular basis.
- The UN will recruit leading architects and contractors from around the world to help improve and design pre-fabricated housing that could be imported through the seaport to Gaza, thus minimizing the cost of the housing, the construction time, and, importantly, minimizing the amount of cement and and steel needed for construction and thus recognizing the legitimate Israeli fears about the use of construction materials for building terrorist tunnels into Israel.
- Solar farms: The United States and China would each commit to building an enormous solar farm in the Sinai desert. The power output would be allocated as 65% to Gaza, 25% to Egyptian use in the Sinai, and 10% to Israeli communities bordering Gaza. The competition between the United States and China would be a showcase for marketing solar power plants for the world and would be an incentive to complete the project quickly and efficiently. Since the cost of the construction would be absorbed by the two countries, the ongoing operation and cost of power would be very low for the users.
- Desalinization plants: Using their unique experience in desalination (with or without the help of Israeli technology), Saudi Arabia and the Arab emirates would each build a major desalination plant in the Sinai, whose output, like the solar farms, would be allocated 65% to Gaza, 25% to Egyptian use in Sinai, and 10% to Israeli communities bordering Gaza. Again, by absorbing the initial construction costs, Saudi Arabia and the Arab emirates would be making water very affordable, and the competitive urge for excellence would help each build the plant quickly and efficiently.
- Sinai airport: The small airport would be limited for the first ten years to flights between northern Sinai and Cairo. This would allow for passengers crossing the Egyptian border from Gaza to connect through Cairo to other destinations. After ten years of peace, the airport could be expanded to accommodate international flights directly. The airport would be funded by European countries and donors and operated by the Egyptian airport authority.
- Hospital and regional clinic: A hospital in the international zone in Sinai funded by the WHO would serve both the people of Sinai and the people of Gaza.
These proposals would provide answers to the requests made in the name of the people of Gaza while also giving Israel a stronger sense that materials imported into Gaza will be used for the benefit of the Gazan population and not for building the infrastructure for continued warfare and conflict. But none of these will eradicate the years of distrust, hatred and animosity that has grown on both sides during the hostilities. Reconciliation will take many years, but can begin today with the creation of UN sponsored, but completely independent international Muslim and Jewish authorities who will report to the UN, each for its own people, on incitement and hatred in their own communities. Although these leaders will not be censoring their peoples’ narratives and histories, these non-political, moderate and ethical religious leaders will have moral if not political force and will publicize hate speech and incitement to terrorism and violence on both sides of the border.
The Muslim authority, comprising 12 Muslim leaders from around the world chosen from major Muslim organizations by their reputations for tolerance and co-existence, will have two major reporting functions: first, inspecting mosques on a quarterly basis in Gaza to make sure they are being used for religious and social purposes only and not for storing weapons or hiding entrances to tunnels meant to undermine peaceful coexistence. Their second function will be to monitor political and religious leaders’ public speeches. If by a 2/3’s majority, they decide to condemn one of their own leaders’ statements, they will do so privately twice, and only if the incitement continues will they publicize it in a report to the UN security council and the world press.
The Jewish authority, comprising 12 Jewish leaders from around the world chosen by major Jewish organizations by their reputations for tolerance and co-existence, will also twice privately reprimand Jewish religious and political leaders (Arab as well as Jewish Members of Knesset) who incite hatred and violence. They will also publicize the names of any religious institution where leaders or students are arrested for violent, racist activities.
The two authorities could meet privately to discuss what constitutes free speech and what constitutes incitement. They will have no other powers other than the moral power of public religious leadership condemning hate mongers.
Hatred and animosity won’t end quickly, but this naive proposal for religious and ethical leadership of two great religions would be a start in the long process of healing that will accompany a long process of physical rebuilding and restoring confidence that some solutions can work.
Immediately, the border between Israel and Gaza would be opened, subject to Israeli inspection of all goods entering Gaza through Israel and Gazan inspection of all goods exported through Israel to the Palestinian Authority and/or Jordan or other Arab countries bordering Israel. But the long-term rebuilding of Gaza can only be accomplished by an international effort that removes some of the solution (port, power plants, desalination facilities, airport, hospital) physically from Gaza to the proposed international zone in Sinai.
Although Israel would retain its right to defend itself against any and all attacks coming from Gaza, the above international city in Sinai would certainly limit the ability of additional arms being smuggled into Gaza, and, hopefully, would provide answers to the humanitarian need to open the border with Gaza.
Egypt, together with the UN and the international community, would have a central role to play in this solution and would most likely make its own demands of the leaders of Gaza. In addition to its successful closing of most of the smuggling tunnels from Sinai, Egypt, with the financing and help of the UN, would also create a patrolled, electronic perimeter fence ten kilometers from Gaza in Sinai that would help in preventing smuggling through Sinai to Gaza.
Dr. Joel Magid
Joel (Yoel) Magid, former world secretary of Habonim-Dror, lived for 25 years as a member of Kibbutz Be’eri, close to the Gaza border where one of the tunnels was discovered. His daughter and her family live on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, just north of Gaza, and had to abandon their home during part of the hostilities.