By GUNNAR HEINSOHN | From today's Wall Street Journal Europe
As the world decries Israel's attempt to defend itself from the rocket attacks coming from Gaza, consider this: When Hamas routed Fatah in Gaza in 2007, it cost nearly 350 lives and 1,000 wounded. Fatah's surrender brought only a temporary stop to the type of violence and bloodshed that are commonly seen in lands where at least 30% of the male population is in the 15-to-29 age bracket.
In such "youth bulge" countries, young men tend to eliminate each other or get killed in aggressive wars until a balance is reached between their ambitions and the number of acceptable positions available in their society. In Arab nations such as Lebanon (150,000 dead in the civil war between 1975 and 1990) or Algeria (200,000 dead in the Islamists' war against their own people between 1999 and 2006), the slaughter abated only when the fertility rates in these countries fell from seven children per woman to fewer than two. The warring stopped because no more warriors were being born.
In Gaza, however, there has been no demographic disarmament. The average woman still bears six babies. For every 1,000 men aged 40-44, there are 4,300 boys aged 0-4 years. In the U.S. the latter figure is 1,000, and in the U.K. it's only 670.
And so the killing continues. In 2005, when Israel was still an occupying force, Gaza lost more young men to gang fights and crime than in its war against the "Zionist enemy." Despite the media's obsession with the Mideast conflict, it has cost many fewer lives than the youth bulges in West Africa, Lebanon or Algeria. In the six decades since Israel's founding, "only" some 62,000 people (40,000 Arabs, 22,000 Jews) have been killed in all the Israeli-Arab wars and Palestinian terror attacks. During that same time, some 11 million Muslims have been killed in wars and terror attacks -- mostly at the hands of other Muslims.
What accounts for the Mideast conflict's relatively low body count? Hamas and their ilk certainly aim to kill as many Israelis as possible. To their indignation, the Israelis are quite good at protecting themselves. On the other hand, Israel, despite all the talk about its "disproportionate" use of force, is doing its utmost to spare civilian deaths. Even Hamas acknowledges that most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli air raids are from their own ranks. But about 10%-15% of Gaza's casualties are women and minors -- a tragedy impossible to prevent in a densely settled area in which nearly half the people are under 15 and the terrorists hide among them.
The reason for Gaza's endless youth bulge is that a large majority of its population does not have to provide for its offspring. Most babies are fed, clothed, vaccinated and educated by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Unlike the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, which deals with the rest of the world's refugees and aims to settle them in their respective host countries, UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian problem by classifying as refugees not only those who originally fled their homes, but all of their descendents as well.
UNRWA is benevolently funded by the U.S. (31%) and the European Union (nearly 50%) -- only 7% of the funds come from Muslim sources. Thanks to the West's largesse, nearly the entire population of Gaza lives in a kind of lowly but regularly paid dependence. One result of this unlimited welfare is an endless population boom. Between 1950 and 2008, Gaza's population has grown from 240,000 to 1.5 million. The West basically created a new Near Eastern people in Gaza that at current trends will reach three million in 2040. Within that period, Gazans may alter the justifications and directions of their aggression but are unlikely to stop the aggression itself.
The Hamas-Fatah truce of June 2007 allowed the Islamists again to direct all their energy on attacking Israel. The West pays for food, schools, medicine and housing, while Muslim nations help out with the military hardware. Unrestrained by such necessities as having to earn a living, the young have plenty of time on their hands for digging tunnels, smuggling, assembling missiles and firing 4,500 of them at Israel since 2006. While this gruesome activity has slowed the Palestinian internecine slaughter, it forced some 250,000 Israelis into bomb shelters.
The current situation can only get worse. Israel is being pushed into a corner. Gazan teenagers have no future other than war. One rocket master killed is immediately replaced by three young men for whom a martyr's death is no less honorable than victory. Some 230,000 Gazan males, aged 15 to 29, who are available for the battlefield now, will be succeeded by 360,000 boys under 15 (45% of all Gazan males) who could be taking up arms within the coming 15 years.
As long as we continue to subsidize Gaza's extreme demographic armament, young Palestinians will likely continue killing their brothers or neighbors. And yet, despite claiming that it wants to bring peace to the region, the West continues to make the population explosion in Gaza worse every year. By generously supporting UNRWA's budget, the West assists a rate of population increase that is 10 times higher than in their own countries. Much is being said about Iran waging a proxy war against Israel by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. One may argue that by fueling Gaza's untenable population explosion, the West unintentionally finances a war by proxy against the Jews of Israel.
If we seriously want to avoid another generation of war in Gaza, we must have the courage to tell the Gazans that they will have to start looking after their children themselves, without UNRWA's help. This would force Palestinians to focus on building an economy instead of freeing them up to wage war. Of course, every baby lured into the world by our money up to now would still have our assistance.
If we make this urgently needed reform, then by at least 2025 many boys in Gaza -- like in Algeria -- would enter puberty as only sons. They would be able to look forward to a more secure future in a less violent society.
If the West prefers calm around Gaza even before 2025, it may consider offering immigration to those young Palestinians only born because of the West's well-meant but cruelly misguided aid. In the decades to come, North America and Europe will have to take in tens of millions of immigrants anyway to slow the aging of their populations. If, say, 200,000 of them are taken from the 360,000 boys coming of age in Gaza in the next 15 years, that would be a negligible move for the big democracies but a quantum leap for peace in the Near East.
Many of Gaza's young -- like in much of the Muslim world -- dream of leaving anyway. Who would not want to get out of that strip of land but the international NGOs and social workers whose careers depend on perpetuating Gaza's misery?
Mr. Heinsohn heads the Raphael Lemkin Institute at the University of Bremen, Europe's first institute devoted to comparative genocide research.