I was disappointed to see the op-ed by Becca Wertman of the NGO Monitor in your pages (“A bitter pill: Gaza’s Humanitarian Trap,” May 10, 2017).
In its ostensive quest to monitor non-governmental organizations, NGO Monitor regularly slanders them. I take offence to the accusations made against the organization I run, Gisha, in Wertman’s op-ed.
Wertman suggests we exist to make accusations against Israel and that we don’t take into account its security needs and that we suggest these needs are “arbitrary,” or that we call for reduced security restrictions. Statements like these seek to discredit us and have no foundation in reality. We are based in Israel. For Wertman to suggest that we seek to undermine the security of our fellow citizens is a grave and dangerous allegation.
The way we see it, residents of the Gaza Strip are deserving of human rights, just as residents of Israel are deserving of human rights, including the right to life and security. We also point to the glaring self-interest Israel has, and has even acknowledged, in allowing Palestinian residents of Gaza to lead their lives with dignity.
To her credit, Wertman recognizes that innocent residents of Gaza are suffering, yet she refuses to see Israel’s role in this suffering, thus engaging in the same offence that she accuses Gisha of: losing sight of the relevant context.
The security context exists, and we haven’t shunned away from recognizing it. Unfortunately, not all decisions regarding access to and from Gaza are grounded in concrete security goals, as we have called for. In fact, over the past 10 years, since Hamas took control of the Strip, some important decisions on access policy have been reversed by Israel, in part because of Gisha’s work, whether it was the decision to allow goods from Gaza to be marketed in their once-traditional markets or allowing students to travel from Gaza to universities abroad.
It’s clear that decision-makers in Israel realized that closing Gaza so tightly was punishing the exact people Israel should seek to strengthen, and that it wasn’t contributing to its security needs.
The context also includes recognizing that Gaza isn’t a far-flung place towards which Israel has no duties. Quite the opposite, Israel’s control over various aspects of life in Gaza, namely movement and access, give rise to responsibilities towards Gaza’s residents. These include respecting residents’ human rights and the right to freedom of movement.
We believe there’s still a long way to go in terms of protecting Israel’s security while also respecting Gaza residents’ right to freedom of movement. We don’t see it as zero-sum game, and frankly, neither do Israeli security officials.
I’m sure that readers of your paper see themselves as committed to Israel’s security and to the task of defending Israel in your community against the real threats of anti-Semitism and demagoguery regarding Israel’s actions.
Israel is a flawed place, just like Canada or any other nation. It needs champions that defend it and champions to nudge it to do better. In this sense, the role of watchdogs is an important one. We invite your readers to judge our work for themselves by visiting our website.
Tania Hary is the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli not-for-profit organization whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents.