Gaza Could Have Been Another Singapore

Hamas, not Israel, is responsible for the tragedy that has unfolded in Gaza.
March 20, 2024
Gaza City Beach, aerial photography by Abdallah ElHajj/Getty Images

In a recent letter to the editor of the Bulletin of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, Israel was accused of deliberately bombing and destroying Palestinian universities in Gaza, as well as killing faculty, students and administrator. The letter makes no mention of the killing, raping and kidnapping of Israeli men, women and children on October 7. It does not mention the thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately toward Israeli civilian centers by Hamas. Nor does it mention that Hamas weaponized hospitals, schools and civilian residences throughout Gaza, or that hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been killed and thousands injured in a war that includes lethal ambushes and booby-traps set by an enemy that intentionally embeds itself in a civilian population.

The writer, a professor at a Canadian university, asks Canadian institutions of higher learning to cut ties with Israeli institutions. He also mentions a call by 15 Palestinian universities for the international community to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

How many Palestinian universities are there in Gaza? According to Le Monde, there are 12 universities in Gaza. The Islamic University of Gaza, for example, has 15,000 to 20,000 students and the pictures on the internet portray a handsome cluster of buildings that would be a source of pride to the residents of any country in the world. (I do not know what it looks today after five months of war.) A pharmacy student at the University of Palestine in Gaza (20,000 students) is quoted as saying “Before October 7, Gaza was a pretty pleasant place,” and “My university, not far from the sea, was very nice.”

An Israeli journalist, Roi Yanovsky, who spent three months fighting in Gaza, reported that living conditions in Gaza City are far more luxurious than he was led to believe from reading and hearing years of press reports describing crowded and backward conditions—all blamed on the siege conditions imposed by Israel. He notes, “Gaza is a modern, beautiful and developed city—with large and well-equipped houses, wide boulevards, public spaces, a promenade by the sea, and parks. It looks much better than any Arab city from the Jordan River to the sea; it resembles Tel Aviv far more than Kafr Qassem or Umm Al Fahm.” Hardly “an open air prison.”

Gaza also has 36 hospitals, yes 36, for a population of a little over two million. Al Shifta, the largest and the focus of accusations that Hamas used hospitals for military purposes, can accommodate 800 beds.

Judging from some of the hospital names, for example, the Indonesian Hospital, some were built with the help of generous donations from various parts of the world. In fact, financial support for Gaza, including significant funding from the EU, the United States and other western countries to support UNWRA, as well as generous donations from Arab states, particularly Gulf States such as Qatar, has amounted to billions of dollars over the years. While the residents of Gaza must fend for themselves during the war, the leaders of Hamas are riding it out in the lap of luxury in Qatar.

However, the most impressive example of innovation, engineering prowess and technological ability in Gaza must surely be in the construction of an extensive and sophisticated system of tunnels. This interconnected system, hundreds of kilometers long, designed to protect Hamas militants from Israeli attack, also provided a safe environment for the production of an array of weapons, particularly rockets. (Of course, since October 7 the tunnels have been used to hide Israeli hostages.)

The best description of the tunnels that I found is a detailed Reuters article from December 31, 2023 that includes pictures, maps and drawings showing how the entrances were hidden in the high rise buildings of Gaza, as well as in the sand dunes outside the urban centers. Many of the concealed entrances are in private homes, also under hospitals such as Al Shifta.

Bassem Eid is a Palestinian human rights activist who has written extensively about human rights abuses, including torture, by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. On October 9, 2023, two days after the Hamas attack, Newsweekpublished an opinion piece by Eid, titled “Gaza Could have Been Singapore. Hamas turned it into ISIS.” How right he was.

Israel is conducting a war against Hamas, a war initiated by Hamas, a war in which Hamas is intentionally hiding among civilians. Hamas, not Israel, is responsible for the tragedy that has unfolded in Gaza.

Jacob Sivak, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is a retired professor, who taught at the University of Waterloo.

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