Many Palestinians in Gaza, no matter their religious affiliation or political bent, are living in squalor and growing ignorance. Thousands are trying to flee.
Gaza has never been a prosperous enclave; the 140-square-mile territory has always been a poor, dependent state. But for Hamas, the radical Islamic terrorist group that seized control of Gaza in 2007, the long-term pursuit of a political impossibility trumps even the slightest concern for the the group's 1.5 million "constituents."
Residents of this territory have been subjects of other states - Turkey, Great Britain, Egypt, Israel - for half a millennium. But all the while, during both prosperous and desperate times, they struggled to ensure their children’s education. As a result, Palestinians have been among the best educated people in the world. Literacy rates, even for girls, have hovered around 99 percent. By comparison, in Iran, perhaps the Palestinians' biggest defenders now, and Israel's greatest enemy, UNICEF reports that only 77 percent of the population can read and write. Even Israel's literacy rate is lower: 97.1 percent.
But now, for the first time in the modern era, Gazans as young as 9, 10, 11 are being put to work in ever larger numbers, forgoing school. "Learning achievement has declined along with primary school enrollment," UNICEF reports.
Much of the world blames Israel. During its invasion of Gaza last January, Israeli troops were said to have damaged or destroyed nearly half of the territory's schools along with much of the remaining infrastructure.
The condemnation of Israel continues to this day in the United Nations and elsewhere.
Still, most of the people behind the continuing reproval take little note of Hamas' own campaign of terror in the previous months, lobbing hundreds of missiles toward Israeli population centers. No matter. That's a debate for another day. The point is, a year has passed.
What political concessions has Hamas offered that might have enabled it to make repairs, improve the lot of its people? None. The United Nations reported this fall that one in five Gazans now live in what it called "abject poverty." That is why, it is claimed, many parents are no longer sending their children to school. They need the pennies their children can earn at menial jobs to buy food.
Their chieftains don't seem to care. I have interviewed the leaders of Hamas many times over the years, and all of them offered one consistent refrain, time and time again: We are patient. Our resistance will continue as long as it takes - even centuries - until we reach our goal, full control of Palestine.
Of course, that includes the state of Israel. One of them, Ismail Abu Shenab, now deceased, once told me: "There are plenty of open areas in the United States that could absorb the Jews."
Even Shenaeb, zealot that he was, must have known that nothing like that was going to happen even in his grandchildren's lifetimes - if ever. But he and all his colleagues, then and now, pursued that ludicrous goal in exclusion of all else, and now it is leading to the social destruction of their own people.
Israel and Egypt have locked the gates to Gaza. Israel's closure is more understandable than Egypt's, given that Cairo pretends to be the Palestinian's greatest friend and protector. In any case, it's impossible to know just how many Gazans endorse Hamas' chimerical, single-minded, objective.
The majority of Gazans I have met want to live peaceful lives and provide for their children. Sure, all of them would love to turn the clock back to 1967, before Israel won control of Gaza. That's why most of them still choose to live in decades-old refugee camps, to show that they refuse to accept the current state of affairs.
But now a growing number - half the population, according to recent polls - is trying to get out of Gaza, escape from Hamas control and the deprivation that comes from its rule. In one famous case early this month, a healthy man joined the thousands who are fleeing to Egypt and Israel with bribes and fake medical reports, by pretending to be dying of cancer. He didn't get away with it.
Now, a year after the Israeli invasion of Gaza, it's time to stop blaming Israel for the desperate plight of Gaza's people. Without question, it's Hamas' fault.
(from The Sacramento BEE)
Joel Brinkley, visiting Hearst Professional in Residence
Joel Brinkley is the Visiting Hearst Professional in Residence. Brinkley joined the Department of Communication in the fall of 2006 after a 23-year career with The New York Times. There, he served as a reporter, editor and Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent.
At Stanford, Brinkley writes a nationally syndicated op-ed column on foreign policy that appears in about 50 newspapers and Websites in the United States and around the world each week. His areas of research include American foreign policy and the future of the nation’s newspaper industry. He is also under contract to write a book about modern-day Cambodia.
Brinkley is a native of Washington D.C., and a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his journalism career at the Associated Press and over the following years worked for the Richmond (Va.) News Leader and the Louisville Courier Journal before joining the Times in 1983.
At The New York Times, Brinkley served as Washington correspondent, White House correspondent and chief of the Times Bureau in Jerusalem, Israel. He spent more than 10 years in editing positions including Projects Editor in Washington, Political Editor in New York and Investigations Editor in Washington following the September 11 attacks. He served as political writer in Baghdad during the fall of 2003. He also covered technology issues including the Microsoft anti-trust trial and was serving as foreign-policy correspondent when he left the Times in June 2006.
Over the last 26 years Brinkley has reported from 46 states and more than 50 foreign countries. He has won more than a dozen national reporting and writing awards. He won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1980 and was twice a finalist for an investigative reporting Pulitzer in the following years. He was a director of the Fund for Investigative Journalism from 2001 to 2006.
Mr. Brinkley is the author of three books and is at work on a fourth: The Circus Master's Mission, a novel published by Random House in 1989; Defining Vision: The Battle for the Future of Television, published by Harcourt Brace in 1998; and U.S. vs. Microsoft: The Inside Story of the Landmark Case (with Steve Lohr) published by McGraw Hill in 2001. He has contributed to several other books, including the chapter on George W. Bush in The American Presidency, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2004. He is writing the Cambodia book for Public Affairs Books.