Amongst the battle raging between Israel’s security forces and Palestinian militants, one destroyed target may have profoundly negative implications for the economic future of Palestine and the future of peace in the region.
The Islamic University of Gaza has been bombed in six separate air strikes, ostensibly because the institution was seen as a Hamas stronghold and a hub of weapons manufacturing. Yet while the university, established in 1978, may be seen to be a source of Islamist propaganda — it after all has potentially seditious things like departments of Shariah law and Quaranic interpretation — it also teaches surgery, business, languages, archaeology, journalism, engineering and software development. Not only that however, it has been the Palestinian economy’s brightest hope and prior to its bombing, it was one of the few institutions in Gaza, or indeed Palestine, that actually worked.
Aside from destroying an educational and cultural institution of value, Israel has impeded one of the most fundamental path to peace, and that’s not religious tolerance or Western-style democracy, but employment growth. The University of Gaza’s business incubator is just one project of many that will now have an even harder time at ever succeeding. The incubator’s aims to turn the Gaza Strip into a Palestinian Silicon Valley may seem a little far-fetched (then again, Israel is one the world’s top technology innovation hubs), but it was providing a tangible way to channel urban youth from restless unemployment into entrepreneurship and jobs.
Few similar channels now exist.
The language of Islamist terrorism in the region may be religious, but the causes are economic. The disenfranchisement of losing one’s homeland is no doubt a key reason why many in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are attracted to organizations like Hamas, but majority unemployment is a bigger cause.
Sitting on the doorstep of the Middle East’s most dynamic economy is the Middle East’s most dysfunctional — excluding parts of Iraq. With no jobs, no income and no hope, the decision to join a terrorist organisation, or blow oneself up, seems a little less crazy. The actions and ideology of Hamas — and organisations sympathetic to it — are reprehensible, but the underlying economic situation provides a fertile breeding ground for its aims. It also provides, to the average unemployed Palestinian youth, more than its justification.
Israel may be within its rights to defend its people and territory, but by destroying one of the very few beacons of modernity and economic hope in the Gaza Strip, it has not only done Palestine a great disservice, but its own country and the region as a whole. Of all the targets in Gaza, the university was the worst place to attack.