SUNDAY ISUWA (Abuja) who recently visited the state of Israel, writes on the prosperity of a nation amidst missiles and the quest to bring peace that has eluded the Middle East for decades.
Over 1,000 missiles are allegedly said to be pointing at Israel, a country of about 8.7 million people sitting on an area of about 20, 770 km2 (8,019 sq mi), which includes 445 km2 (172 sq mi) of inland water.
The nation is located in the Middle East, located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest.
The nation is a $334.328 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (2018 estimate) and Per capital of $37,673. It is ranked 54th and 35th in the GDP and Per capital ranking in the world according to Wikipedia.
In spite of its economic prosperity, living in Israel comes with a daily challenge of threats of attacks from some of its contingent neighbours. Every day, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) had to content with several missiles flying over its nation.
In Israel, nursery school pupils know about bomb shelter and had to run into it within seconds, if there was an alert. Some of the bomb shelters are built in houses, places of worship and bus stops.
Anyone erecting a house in Israel must first of all build a bomb shelter.
Hamas terrorists on the Gaza Strip fire rockets, kites and balloons over Israel on a daily basis but that has never been an obstacle to the country neither has it disrupted their plans of being world leaders in smart agriculture, tourism and information and communications technology (ICT).
Despite hosting the world’s most visited holy sites for Christians, Muslims and the Jews, Israel seems determined never to compromise their security despite external threats.
According to Israel Centre for Political Research, the country is facing serious threat from militant groups in Gaza, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and other countries in the Middle East.
Many expected a breach in security in Israel during the Arab spring in Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon but the country remains under democratic rule.
“Our major concern is the immediate surroundings,” said the head of bureau, Centre for Political Research, Ms Rachael Finemesser.
“We went into peace accord with Egypt years ago but our concern is the Iranian efforts to have influence in the region,” she said.
It was gathered that the threat from Hezbollah, a militant group based in Lebanon with hundreds of weapons could not affect Israel.
“Iran launched a drone to spy Israel but it was shut down,” Rachael said while referring to previous efforts to attack Israel.
“So, we don’t leave chances because the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda could attack Israel. There are fears over Hamas and Muslim brotherhood that took their land by force from the Palestinian authority,” she added.
The much talked about Israel and the Palestinian conflict in Gaza seems to be rhetorical. Israel’s problem in the Gaza Strip is not the Palestinian government, it was gathered.
The country’s problem seems to be the terrorists group – Hamas that is now more influential than the government.
It was gathered that Hamas military weapons and missiles are no match to that of the Palestinian government.
The government in Gaza signed a peace agreement with Israel were over 70 Palestinian work on a daily basis at the border community.
These civilians, it was observed, work directly with the Israeli civilian that check goods coming and going into Gaza. The taxes are collected by the Israeli government and remits to the Palestinian authority.
Had Israel not taken control of the border area, the terrorists’ organisation will collect tax from the civilian populace in other to buy more arms.
“Since we entered into this agreement with the Palestinian government, Hamas is in economic difficulties,” the senior Israeli official, Rachael said.
While ruling out agreement with the Hamas, Rachael said: “If you look at the situation, you can’t go for full fleshed agreement because they are militia group”.
“On the final status of agreement, we look at the future of the refugees, security arrangement, and Jerusalem and you know that there is revolution here and there,” she added.
Racheal who sees refugees as potential threat to Israel, said there were millions of refugees in their country before the world war, but added that Israel presently does not have refugees.
“How long can they keep having refugees,” Rachael said, referring to Iraq and Syria. “We support America that refugees are to settle somewhere in their country,” she said adding that allowing refugees in Israel without proper screening poses a big security threat.
Some have wondered why Israel, a country with holy sites for Christians, Muslims and the Jews is faced with these Types of security threat.
It was gathered that the terrorists are more interested in destroying Jerusalem and other archaeological sites, insisting that Israel has no connection to the sites.
“So, how can we go into an agreement with these kind of groups? There is no official relationship with the gulf countries because we have looked at the difficulties ISIS brought to the region. Both Jews, Christian and Muslims are concerned about the security of Israel. Every country is battling on how to tame the menace of terrorism,” she said.
“Israel does not intend to influence the politics of any country but good relationship matters,” director of Department of East and Southern Africa, Africa Division, Yahel Vilan said.
“We have been facing frustration for over 70 years now. We want to have bilateral talks in different countries. We should contribute to the African continent,” Vilan said.
On why they are now shifting to Africa, the Israeli official said the continent has been a good partner in the past, adding that politics and crisis slowed down the relationship.
“We should be observers in African Union,” the director Africa Department 2, West and Central Africa, Barnea Hassid said adding that if other non African countries are observers in AU, asked why Israel should not be invited as an observer.
“We want friendship with Africa but politics and perception of the past is still restraining the AU to invite us as observers,” he added.
The country is frustrated that even when they are battling with terrorist groups threatening their existence, nuclear weapons manufacturers are on the increase.
In Israel, everybody speaks the same language when it comes to security. Civil servants, politicians, students, security personnel. Be it Muslims, Christians or Jews, security is the first priority before any other thing.
Faced with over 1,000 missiles pointing at the country from various militia groups, Israel has continued to show its strength in intelligence gathering and its army.
“What is happening in Syria would have happened in Israel or our border community if we are not united in a strong army, a 34 year old female member of the Israeli parliament, Sharren Haskel said.
The Likud Party parliamentarian who is a member of security committee, said they have a good relationship with Egypt but added that they still have security threats from other quarters. The young politicians in the Israeli ruling coalition do not want unfriendly relationship between US and Russia.
According to her, a bad relationship will put Israel in a very tight corner, considering the security threat her country is facing. While people think there should have been a truce in the Gaza crisis, Sharren hinted that the Palestinian leadership killed the peace process and not her Likud Party.
“They refused that chance. Because they want poor Palestinians to vacate their homes in Israel. And those who leave will not return,” she said.
“It’s not a territorial conflict but cultural and religious,” Sharren said about the war in Gaza.
“There is humanitarian crisis because there is a coalition between Hamas and their government. Instead of investing on people they are investing on terrorism,” she said.
“The day they will love their children more than they hate us, will be the day peace will come,” Sharren said of what could be the solution in Gaza.
“The attacks on Israel are mostly about the holy sites, the director general of the Ministry of Jerusalem, Mr Ran Ishay said.
According to Ran, his city existed 3,000 years from the time of King David adding that the city was captured for 19 years, demolished, destroyed but was rebuilt.
He said Jerusalem which is one of the cities people described as ‘desperate’ wants to capture, added that it is the largest city in the middle east.
“The Jews fled Jerusalem for years because of attacks which made Arab and other non Jews to occupy the area. But most people are residents and not citizens,” Ran said adding that they have to apply for citizenship.
“But it’s not compulsory,” the DG said referring to the citizenship in Jerusalem.
The police in Israel is also very effective. Their job is not only about policing the people of Israel but they also respond to threat in the Northern border with the Palestinians and the Jordan area.
“Communication is very effective both in Israel and in the border community,” said the police spokesman, Ricky Rosefeld.
“We have some personnel guarding the borders with Blue uniform. If there is a threat in the Northern border or Jordan, the police respond,” Ricky said, adding that in the last weeks rockets were fired from Gaza Strip to Israel.
“We have counter terrorism, border response and other units. All these units are controlled from Jerusalem as the central centre.
“If you talk about Middle East, you talk about Israel. If you talk about Israel, you will talk about Jerusalem and the old city that has so much interest in the world.
“We are to ensure that the holy sites are protected. With about 30,000 policemen in Israel, 5,000 are in Jerusalem while 600 are positioned inside the old city,” he said citing the importance of the holy city.
He added that even though they have hundreds of migrants seeking to enter Israel, they are being careful because there are hundreds of terrorists that wants to penetrate the country.
“But we use technology to track terrorism,” he said adding that keeping millions of people safe coming into Jerusalem and going out on a daily basis, they have to position enough police personnel in the three different entrances.
“All have security checks,’ Ricky said of the entrances adding that other officers also patrol the city.
“From Sunday to Thursday, we have thousands of people coming into the Holy sites. So, we have 360 CCTV cameras in a one square metre area. So we have security personnel watching everyone from different directions.
“We serve the Christian, Muslim and the Jewish communities and we must get at potential terrorists,” he said.
On how they enforced policing is very effective, the police spokesman said they setup a unit that tracks the social media.
“If there will be attacks they alert us,” the police spokesman said referring to the unit that tracks social media in Arabic, Hebrew, Jewish and English languages.
“We setup road blocks in different areas. There are concrete barriers managed by different units,” he said.
Ricky said the job of the police have been made easy because every Israeli, at 21, must enlist into the Army.
“Not only that, there is tremendous security consciousness in Israel. We work together in intelligence and security gathering with other security agencies,” he said.
“With over 90,000 people praying at the same time daily in Jerusalem, you know that we have a huge task. We treat all equally, but the attacks have been coming from Palestinians. But that does not mean that there are not good people that are Palestinians,” he said.
According to him, “Jerusalem is safe,” because the Israeli police have secured it. We are open to work closely with whoever wants to work with us,” added.
The International Media Branch of the IDF headed by Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said they have limited knowledge about the security challenges in Africa because their focus is to protect their territorial boundary.
Conricus said terrorism, if left unchecked in any nation, can affect world peace.
“We have a peculiar issue facing us,” Conricus who was the first Israeli officer to be part of the UN security forces in Uganda, Kenya, Somalia and some parts of the Western Sahara said.
He said the dynamics of conflicts of extremism are the same, adding that even though his department is to instill confidence in the Israeli population, be them Arab and Jews, they are also looking at people planning to attack them.
He said Israel faces daily threats from Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza, terrorist groups that rule the Palestinian for about four years.
“Hezbollah has military capability than many European countries,” Conricus said adding that the group is advancing in the production of vicious rockets into simple ones that can easily be smuggled into other countries.
“They have a lot of explosives and they are also changing rockets into missiles, targeting over 50 million people,” Conricus said referring to their population.
He said their main concern in Syria is the flow of weapons, following the Arab spring.
On the conflict in Gaza, Conricus said their problem is Hamas, a group he said is desperate to eliminate Israel from the map of the World.
“Nobody is happy,” Conricus lamented, adding that they see civilians suffering and when they make efforts to help, they are faced with Hamas’ rockets.
Hamas is said to be controlling the Palestinian population but do not care about schools, health neither the welfare of the Palestinians.
“They always use the civilian territory to fire rockets at us because they have been militarised with international support. It’s a complex situation for a terrorist group controlling about 2million civilians,” Conricus said of Hamas activities in Gaza.
“It’s a complex situation but we are capable. Every day, 92 per cent of their missiles are intercepted. We choose which rocket, kites or balloon to intercept. We mostly go for the rockets that might drop on a populated area,” Conricus said.
On why there are bomb shelters everywhere in Israel, Conricus said: “It’s mandated by law if you are building a house, you start by building a bomb shelter.
“We have the capability to destroy Hamas,” Conricus said when asked, but added that it was not their priority.
“We will continue to collect intelligence,” he said adding that Hamas learned their activities from Hezbollah and are now using residential areas to launch attacks on Israel.
“We don’t want to hit civilians because we are bound by international laws,” he added.
Even though suicide bombing was so high in Israel in the past years, Conricus said they curbed the menace by taking the fight to Hamas’ territory.
He said they were able to destroy 16 tunnels dug into Israel by Hamas, adding that it was made possible by their technology.
In the Northern part of Israel, Southwest of the Gaza Strip, towards the Egyptian border facing Gaza, through Sinai, you see kites sent by Hamas that caused harm to the environment.
The Israeli forces also positioned balloons with cameras and robots in strategic positions within their territory for intelligence gathering.
These, it was gathered, enables the security forces to intercept incoming missiles from the terrorists.
Anti-rocket walls and iron domes are built within the Israeli border which is helping the country to protect their territorial boundary.
Contrary to reports, there is an exchange of goods and services between Israel and the Palestinian authority in Gaza and the West Bank. Over 70 Palestinians were seen working with the Israeli civilians. Their main job is to check goods coming to Israel and the ones going to Gaza.
“I have been wounded three times,” the general manager of Gaza Strip crossing, Kerem Shalom said, referring to attacks launched on them by Hamas.
“We go about our normal life with the civilians,” Shalom said adding that their problem is the Hamas terrorist group.
“Every day, Hamas sends missiles and other dangerous weapons including cameras to spy on our territory. Hamas wants to occupy Jerusalem in the next 50 years. That is their plan and they don’t care about the civilian population, they don’t care about water, electricity, health care services in Gaza. They only hate Israel and have been working hard to destroy the country,” Shalom said.
He said the people of Gaza are afraid of Hamas and can’t protest the atrocities they are facing. “Once Hamas knows you are against them, they just kill you. They arrest civilians without any reason,” the manager said adding that when Gaza was open to Israel and Egypt in 2005, there was 24 hour electricity supply to the Palestinians but added that they only get four hours electricity now because Hamas destroyed the infrastructures.
“Houses are powered by electric generators. A bottle of water is 4 shekel in Israel but 40 shekel in Gaza,” the border manager said. According to him, Hamas have increased the number of their rockets by 170 per cent. “Life in Gaza is not normal,” Shalom said adding that if the world turned a blind eye to Hamas, the problem will be bigger.
“It will not only be peculiar to Israel,” Shalom said adding that the majority of the population in Gaza rely on salaries either from the Palestinian authority, Hamas and other groups.
“We are tough in security, but good in service delivery,” the manager said of his country.
While denying that Israel always cut essential goods and services to the Palestinians, Shalom said there was no time he ordered for a stop for the supply of goods and services to Gaza.
“We send everything to Gaza. From raw materials for building, food and everything. We don’t decide for them. Most people in Gaza are young people. They help in building Kuwait. They build UAE. But they don’t want to build their country. I’ve never stopped the movement of medical services to Gaza even under fire. The crossing point is open. Food will never seize to cross to Gaza,” Shalom said.
On why they have not destroyed Hamas, the manager said: “It’s not only Israel’s problem. There are terrorists in the Arab countries, Philippines, Kenya and others. The world must find a solution to the problem. We are at peace with Egypt. We want people that have taken weapons against the state to embrace peace.
Khaled Mashal, the Hamas leader said they have all the powers and can’t surrender their weapons.”
He said there is no solution to the dispute in Gaza adding that every effort failed. “They can’t provide water and jobs to their people. Their feelings is that Jerusalem is their land. I thought I will find solution to this problem before my son could go to the Army, but I could not find the solution. I am not religious but this war is religious and I have to fight for my people and the world. Israel is independent and trust is not part of the game. We are always suspicious,” the 58- year- old father of five children, Shalom said.
While they received 100 trucks of goods every hour, the Israeli drivers drop them at the border and will leave within seconds, for fear of Hamas’ rockets.
The specialised civilians working in the border completes the process. After thorough security checks, they close the border gate to allow the Palestinian team to take the delivery to Gaza.
On how the Palestinian authority receives income from the border transactions, the manager said the year 2000 agreement allow the Israeli authority to collect the taxes and remits them to the Palestinian government. “And the treasury do that,” Shalom added.
One of the leaders of a striving farming community in the Gaza border, Suzie Nafifasalah, said the Israeli government evacuated them from Sanai community.
The Moshav native Ha’asara which is South of Egypt, a border with the Northern side of the Gaza Strip, was developed in 1968 by some couple.
“We learned how to farm and we are successful. We now supply our vegetables and other farm products to Europe and the US,” the 69- year – old – woman who arrived Ha’asara community in 1968 said, insisting that despite the rockets and other dangerous weapons fired at them on daily basis, they won’t leave the border community.
It was gathered that the farming community started with just a couple but now have over 70 families.
The total population of the farming community that supplies agricultural products to other countries, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered, is now 850 people with each family responsible for their houses and farms.
“In 2014, I could visit relations in the Gaza Strip. But because of the terrorists, we can’t visit them again,” Suzzie said.
“Even though we have bomb shelters and anti-rockets walls, we only have 15 seconds to run for safety. We stay calm when rockets are fired. We’ve found who we are and we must live here,” Suzzie insisted.
She said they always get psychological help from the government including their children which according to her is helping them.
“We have life insurance. We have not thought of leaving this community because it’s our home. If there is tension, we call ourselves and render the necessary support we can. We do not need to do rehearsals. We live with it, we learn it and we teach our children how to be security conscious. We relate with people in Gaza but not the terrorists,” Suzzie added.