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The Gaza Prison Camp


"Gaza conditions at '40-year low'" the BBC headlined last week. Rarely a week goes by without a politician or organization deploring the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. But I do not hear anyone describe its root cause: 60 years of Arab policy aimed at maintaining Palestinians as stateless refugees in order to pressure Israel.

I lived in Gaza as a child in the 1950s when Egypt conducted guerrilla-style operations against Israel from Gaza, then under Egyptian control. My father commanded these operations, carried out by "fedayeen," (which means, "self sacrifice"). This became the frontline of Arab Jihad against Israel. My father was killed by Israel in a targeted assassination in 1956.

Today the Gaza Strip, now under the control of Hamas, has become the Gaza prison camp for 1.5 million Palestinians and continues to serve as the launching pad for attacks against Israeli citizens.

This is the legacy of the Arab world's Palestinian refugee policy, started 60 years ago, when the Arab League implemented special laws regarding Palestinians that all Arab countries had to abide by. Arab countries could not absorb Palestinians. Even if a Palestinian married a citizen of an Arab country, that Palestinian could not become a citizen of his or her spouse's country. A Palestinian can be born, live and die in an Arab country, but never gain its citizenship. Even now I receive e-mails from Palestinians telling me they cannot have a Syrian passport, for example, and must remain Palestinian even though they have never set foot in the West Bank or Gaza. Forcing the Palestinian identity on them is designed to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee status. Palestinians have been used and abused by Arab nations, and by Palestinian terrorists, for the purpose of destroying Israel.

The 22 Arab states certainly do not have a shortage of land. Many surrounding Arab areas, such as the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, are very sparsely populated. But absorbing Palestinians would end their refugee status and their desire to harm Israel.

Arab wealth, which is increasing dramatically because of skyrocketing oil prices, is not used to improve the lives, infrastructure and economy of the people of the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, it supports terror groups who reject Israel's existence and oppose peace with Israel. The average Gaza man has a better employment opportunity if he joins Hamas.

Gazans' breach of their checkpoint with Egypt in January, orchestrated by Hamas, is a result of the Palestinian refugee policy. The checkpoints on the Arab side of Gaza could not keep the inmates inside. The Arab plan to overpopulate Gaza exploded in the wrong direction. After this explosion, Suleiman Awwad, an Egyptian administration spokesman, said, "Egypt is a respected state, its border cannot be breached and its soldiers should not be lobbed with stones." In other words, Egypt is not like Israel, which is a disrespected state. Gazans should not direct the violence at Egypt, only at Israel. This is Arab conventional wisdom.

Last month Hamas threatened to bring 40,000 Palestinians, primarily children and women, to the Gaza border with Israel to protest Israel's restrictions on Gaza. Some Hamas leaders hinted they would send these protestors to breach the border, once again demonstrating that the Palestinian terrorists have no qualms about endangering the lives of innocent people -- Israelis or Palestinians. Fortunately, only 5,000 showed up.

But Hamas did succeed two days later in killing an Israeli: a 47 year-old father of four during a rocket attack from Gaza while he was sitting in his car next to Sapir College near Sderot. Two weeks earlier, two Israeli brothers, Osher and Rami Twito, ages 8 and 19, were seriously injured by a rocket from Gaza while buying their father a birthday present. Osher's left leg had to be amputated.

Israel completely left Gaza in August 2005. In May and June 2007, Hamas waged war against its Palestinian brothers in Fatah to gain control of Gaza. Hamas intensified its rockets attacks on Israeli towns, compelling Israel to take economic and military measures against Gaza. Hamas has become a danger not only to Israel, but to Palestinians and to neighboring Arab countries, as well. Nevertheless, the Arab world still refuses to see its role in creating this monster. It is difficult to find a similar situation in human history: the intentional creation of a refugee status for a million and a half people, sustained for 60 years. The Arab world has cut its nose to spite its face.

The world needs to understand that this dangerous mess started when 22 Arab countries agreed to create a human prison called the Gaza Strip. Arabs claim they love the Palestinian people, but they seem more interested in sacrificing them. It is time for the Arab world to open their side of the borders and absorb the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza who wish to be absorbed. It is time for the Arab world to truly help the Palestinians, not use them.

Nonie Darwish, who grew up in Cairo and Gaza City, is the author of, "Now They Call me Infidel."