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Gaza residents must learn that charity begins at home

By Rabbi Marvin Hier

Sunday, February 1st 2009, 12:53 AM

With a ceasefire now in place in Gaza, Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas who resides in Damascus, has again appealed for a massive worldwide infusion of capital to rebuild the Gaza Strip and the homes that were destroyed during the recent Israeli offensive.

On Friday, the Obama administration made an emergency contribution of more than $20 million for urgent relief efforts in the Gaza Strip. This follows the United Nations appeal for $613 million to help Palestinians in their recovery efforts.

And just as in December 2007, when 87 countries pledged $7.4 billion of aid to the Palestinians, the European Union and international agencies are again eager to participate. Western diplomats estimate that the damage in Gaza approaches $2 billion.

While the donors won't fund Hamas directly, undeniably the political beneficiary of any rebuilding plan for Gaza could only be Hamas.

Every objective Mideast observer knows that if Hamas had not rocketed southern Israel and deliberately placed its rocket launchers in the proximity of schools, mosques, hospitals and commercial areas, there would neither be a need to repair the Gaza Strip nor would there be any need to restrict free access to the border crossings.

The fundamental question that needs to be asked is, "What responsibility do the 1.5 million citizens of Gaza bear in what is now happening there?" Every day, they could see with their own eyes the rockets on their way to Israel or watch Al Jazeera and other networks comment on them. Yet how did they react? With total jubilation and joy.

Gazans like to boast of their courage in rising up against the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and throwing them out of office in a democratic election free of intimidation. Where was the display of that same courage in standing up to Hamas, whose ideology and culture have brought ruin to their community?

There is little doubt that if Gaza is not rebuilt, many civilians will suffer. There will be a shortage of schools, medical facilities and adequate housing. That is truly a tragedy. But the real tragedy is the failure of the world to get it right, to tell the Palestinians, "Never again." World leaders must vow that they are not going to rebuild Gaza again, there will be no Round 3.

There are tens of millions of people in jails around the world for committing crimes, and nobody asks what will happen to their families. The criminals leave nothing but devastation behind - young children with no direction, with no future, families with no breadwinners. But these are the hard consequences that families of murderers, kidnappers, robbers and thieves must endure. Nobody comes to bail them out. Just as no government steps in to double the checks of its welfare recipients.

Terrorists and those who support them are not entitled to receive VIP booty for their inhumanity, misdeeds and silence.

The people of Gaza would be much better served if the international community eager to help them did the right thing for a change: deliver a stern warning that they can't have it both ways. If they choose Hamas and give the terror group free rein, then they'll have to live with the consequences.

Such a warning might wind up to be the greatest humanitarian gesture the United Nations, the EU and President Obama can show to the people of Gaza. It can deliver a simple message: change course, stop propping up the terrorists, learn to live in peace with Israel or lose our numbers and fend for yourselves.

Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.