They Beat Their Swords Into An Industrial Zone

In the Bible, Isaiah, in one of his more memorable prophesies, says that there will come a time when, “…They beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation does not lift a sword against nation, and they no longer learn war.” Quite a profound sentiment, if you ask me, but how realistic is it, given the recent violence in Gaza?

In recent days, in the midst of the ghastly fighting in Gaza, I’ve heard about a proposal to build an industrial zone on Gaza’s border with Israel, which will employ as many as 200,000 Palestinians. At first blush I thought, “That’s crazy.” But upon further reflection I thought, “That’s brilliant.” And actually, come to think of it, the line between “crazy and brilliant,” is often a thin line.

As we speak, Hamas and Israel seem very close to concluding a truce. Israel is probably facing insurmountable international pressure to the point where further military gains will be outweighed by extremely bad PR. And Hamas has probably reached the point where it can still claim some sort of victory, having survived the onslaught, without tipping the balance toward utter military defeat. So both sides may have reached the point where a truce makes sense.

My guess is that the truce will call for an end to the rocket fire by Hamas, in exchange for an easing of borders on the part of Israel. To that end, international monitors would probably be put in place to verify compliance on both sides. But what if we could use this opportunity to create new realities on the ground, realities which will help to insure the continuity of the ceasefire, without having to rely solely on the agreements reached?

And so, in recent days, an unusual idea has surfaced; Why not build an industrial zone on the border between Gaza and Israel. The more I think about it, the more I think it could work, not only to help the people in Gaza, but actually, as a symbol of hope which will point in a new direction for the Middle East, a new direction that points to the possibility of peace.

As part of the ceasefire, and of the truce, a demilitarized zone will have to be created between Israel and Gaza. Why not use this zone to build an industrial zone? Such an outcome will afford ordinary Palestinians the opportunity to find employment, and to support their families. Gaza, by implication, will no longer face the prospects of an economic blockade. Economic prosperity would breathe new life into that troubled region. People on the street will begin to embrace the possibility of hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.

But will Hamas buy in? Believe it or not, I think there’s at least a good chance they will. Hamas may spew forth a lot of ideological rhetoric, but in the final analysis, what they are most interested in is power, raw political power. An industrial zone, with its resulting economic prosperity, may be the easiest way for Hamas to consolidate its hold on political power.

Every political party needs some basis for its political legitimacy. If Hamas continue to rely on its hatred of Israel, and on its campaign of terror, they will continue to face Israel’s retaliation, and they run the risk that ordinary Palestinians will become fed up. But if Hamas can show that its efforts have brought about economic prosperity, then now they have a source of legitimacy which actually satisfies the man on the street. Hamas may then find it comfortable to rule on the basis of political and economic gains, as opposed to empty rhetoric and terror.

Will Israel buy in? I think they will. To many around the world, Israel’s military attack may seem irrational, and certainly not related to any reasonable notion of self-defense. But Israel may look at self-defense from a different point of view than most. For example, in light of its 2006 defeat in Lebanon, Israel may sense that she is losing her credibility with regard to military deterrence. She may conclude that if her enemies see her as weak, then she is done for. In addition, Israel may have launched the attack in Gaza for internal consumption. If her own citizens see her as weak, in response to Hamas’ barrage of missiles, how could she hope to maintain her legitimacy to rule her own people?

However, having launched and concluded the military onslaught, Israel may quickly come to the realization that in the final analysis, only peace will bring her security. And therefore, peace may ultimately be the best form of self-defense. If an industrial zone on Gaza’s border could help secure the peace, by creating jobs and by giving Palestinians a place at the table, a stake in their future, then Israel will not only buy in, but will help to make it happen as well. The most dangerous man is a man with nothing to lose. Give Palestinians a sense of hope that their lives could indeed get better, and they will give you back their hearts in return.

What about Abbas? An industrial zone in Gaza, along with its resulting economic prosperity, could well threaten the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in its existential struggle with Hamas. Hamas sees the West Bank as the ultimate prize. Therefore, as has been suggested, it will be important as well, to grow the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, so that both territories will come to enjoy the hope that comes from job creation and economic growth.

Business creates its own ideological imperative. When people are making money, they have little time or inclination for ideological nonsense. And people will think twice about allowing violence to rock the boat. If both leaderships, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, come to embrace economic growth and political freedom as their legitimate sources of power, then it will be up to the people to decide who should rule the new nation, and under what terms. And no matter who wins, the decision will be left to the people, who will have to live with the decision they made. Such an outcome is at least preferable to the irrationality and unpredictability of war.

Isaiah’s vision may still be a long way off. But an industrial zone in Gaza may well be a step in the right direction. What do you think?

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