JERUSALEM — In the past few weeks, the terrorist organization Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at civilian targets and cities in Israel from Gaza. In response to this escalation of violence, the Israeli and U.S. governments had to step up defense programs. The continuation of this conflict, however, leaves many civilians in the Palestinian Territories without access to food and other vital resources.
Among the defense programs the U.S. supports is Iron Dome, a missile launcher that intercepts rockets and detonates them safely in mid-air. Developed in 2006 in response to Hamas attacks, Iron Dome is claimed to have a success rate of at least 85 percent and can hit projectiles at a range of 45 miles.
The Israel Defense Forces claim that Iron Dome intercepted 20 missiles last Tuesday alone, some of which were aimed at the major city of Tel Aviv.
While Iron Dome is effective, its operating costs are staggering: it takes $95,000 to build just one interceptor missile. On more active days, this can add up to millions of dollars. The U.S. has given $429 million to properly fund the system. This amount nearly matches the $440 million in U.S. foreign aid money allocated to the Palestinian Territories.
Spending on the Iron Dome alone is greater than the amount the U.S. spends on each project to support Gaza and the West Bank, including water purification ($40 billion), security ($45 million) and general social assistance ($183.5 million), according to ForeignAssistance.gov.
Israel, which also provides millions of tons of supplies to the Palestinian Territories, had its efforts to help hindered by the ongoing conflict.
The Iron Dome is a critically important defensive system that protects thousands of Israeli citizens. Still, Hamas’s rocket attacks force more money to support defense as starvation remains a huge problem in the Palestinian Territories.
The World Food Programme reports that 1.3 million Palestinians, or 27 percent of households, do not know where their next meal will come from, while another 14 percent of households are at risk of becoming food insecure.
The World Food Programme believes that Israeli policies of trade blockades and restrictions on movement in the Palestinian Territories exacerbate many hunger problems. Nevertheless, one cannot expect Israel to reduce restrictions when Hamas continues to attack the nation and denies its right to exist.
Foreign aid providers, like the U.S., face the difficult dilemma of helping suffering civilians while combating terrorist organizations that live alongside them.
What can nations trying to help Palestinians do to properly resolve the problem? Emergency food aid is certainly part of the solution. Last June, the U.S. donated 10,000 metric tons of wheat worth $7.4 million to the U.N.’s World Food Programme, which in turn went to feed 85,000 people in Gaza and 73,000 in the West Bank for three months and five months respectively.
Israel also gives millions of tons of aid yearly.
At the same time, longer-term infrastructural and educational reform projects will be necessary to help people work their way out of poverty and reject extremists like Hamas. The U.S. spent only $9.5 million on education in Gaza and the West Bank; stronger school systems, especially for women, will reduce Hamas’s influence in the Palestinian Territories.
“There are adversaries in the [Middle East] who understand and respect American hard power, but they genuinely fear American soft power frequently wielded in the form of USAID projects,” said Gen. John Allen, former deputy commander of U.S. operations in the Middle East.
Along with immediate food aid, work to reform education and establish just governance in the Palestinian Territories may be a method to weaken Hamas’s capacity to attack Israel.
Military funding for systems like the Iron Dome to defend Israel from terrorists is extremely important and will need to continue. Weapons systems alone, however, will not stop Hamas’s attacks. The people of Gaza and the West Bank must also reject Hamas and this will require international development.
More long-term improvements to the Palestinian Territories, especially in education, must come from foreign aid spending to help end the conflict. Otherwise, both Israeli and Palestinian civilians will remain in danger.