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What happened to the ‘open air prison?’

It is not surprising that Israel’s massive response to the war launched against it by Hamas has garnered opponents. Face it. Not everyone is deeply connected to Israel and to the facts and history of this conflict — just like most Jews are not knowledgeable about the ins and outs of, say, the conflict in Eritrea. On this level of ignorance, yes, the devastation in Gaza makes Israel look horrible. What I do find surprising is that among those who do follow the Israel-Palestinian conflict, their reversal of perspective on conditions in Gaza is stunning.

Remember Gaza? It was the “open air prison” created by Israel’s blockade. Israel did not want dual use materials flooding into Hamas’ hands. Gaza was the place where, due to Israel, basic materials like concrete was not supposed to get in. Gaza was the place where, due to Israel, people were miserable. Gaza was the place where, due to Israel, people could not live normal lives, could not succeed — and could not even leave. Since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, Israel transformed Gaza into an “open air prison.”

Now, after Oct. 7, Gaza has been veritably transformed into a pre-Oct. 7 paradise. I read a column in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. He writes, if I may summarize, that due to Israel’s war against Hamas, Gaza has lost all of its charm and hope. It turns out, writes Kristof, that students in Gaza could become exchange students abroad. They could leave — and would have left if not for the post-Oct. 7 invasion by Israel. It turns out that Gaza was filled with smiling faces. It turns out that Gaza had surgeons in many specialties. Gaza had hospitals and broadband internet.

Remember Gaza? Shortly after Israel invaded it, it warned the residents of northern Gaza to head south for their own safety, I read long reports that said residents refused to leave because it reminded them of their prior displacement in 1948. The reports credited the claim that residents of Gaza today felt like refugees, displaced once but not to be displaced again, no matter how unsafe the war might make them.This is the first I’m hearing that a primary destination of displaced Palestinians of 1948 was Gaza.

Now, four months later, well into Israel’s war against Hamas, I read reports that before Israel’s devastation of Gaza it was actually a pleasant place to live — but not any longer, due to Israel. Gaza is different now. Gaza is forever ruined. The “open air prison” of the pre-October epoch has been forgotten.

The lens fits the bias. Before Oct. 7, Israel was responsible for an “open air prison.” Hamas was responsible for nothing. That was the anti-Israel lens then. Now, after Oct. 7, Israel is responsible for the devastation of Gaza. Hamas is responsible for nothing, not for its massacre of Oct. 7 and not for causing Israel’s effort to defend itself against its own destruction. This is the anti-Israel lens now.

The common denominator between the pre- and the post-Oct. 7 lenses is the triumph of bias over fact. The fact is that before Oct. 7, Gaza was neither an open air prison nor a lovely place to live. The fact is that after Oct. 7 Gaza is devastated — and that is heartbreaking — due to Hamas’ breaking the ceasefire in place on Oct. 6, 2023.



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