It took Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the full weight of the Israeli Occupation army (IOF) less than one week to remove 8,500 illegal settlers from that slither of Palestinian land known as the Gaza Strip. For the past years they have commandeered the best real estate by the sea, represented some 0.5% of the resident population and who truly believe that they were granted this land by God himself, but this time He stayed in heaven. Where there is a political will there is a way. But what is that will, and what is the way? It took the IOF armed to the teeth a little more time to devastate Gaza and the West Bank.
For the past few weeks both the regional and foreign media have been obsessed even infatuated with the proposed withdrawal or so called ‘unilateral disengagement’ from Gaza. Vicariously described as a major move for peace, a window of opportunity, a historic and brave decision or the beginning of the end in terms of the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State. The issue is much to do about nothing.
Images of the weeping and wailing-the great sacrifices to be made by the illegal settlers spread across the television screens of the gang forced to leave their luxury red-roofed villas and swimming pools overlooking the dereliction of Gaza. Such protests from these settlers who were not in any way the owners of the land. Can you imagine the feelings of the real owners when they were expelled from Palestine in 1948? Now, Messianic Jews barricaded themselves into an old British fortress, or retreated into Synagogues; one settler died as a result of self-igniting herself; some threw acid at the Israeli soldiers. The media sought to show how much these now dispossessed settlers are suffering-maybe in the aftermath some will claim that their human rights were violated-whereas they have lived impervious to the distress of their displaced neighbours and alongside blatant poverty thoroughly thrived on their financial perks and privileges. Again, one can only wonder how some 5,000 Israeli pro-settlements activists could enter Gaza when not one Palestinian can move either way. Where were the paraylsing Israeli checkpoints-but of course many Israeli soldiers are settlers themselves! Somehow there is an element of farce here. A bus load of settlers being returned to Israel escaped from the bus and ran into Palestinian territory-simply took a wrong turn!
Sharon has proved that he can turn Israel around on its axis but has he struck a chord and proved that anything is possible. He has inadvertently opened a Pandora’s Box that he may not be able to escape from.
By and large the Israeli public remained passive. For many the settlers are aliens; many ask why should they wish to live in the Palestinian Territories in the first place? The Israel public has equally remained passive over the years to the oppression and suffering of the Palestinian people under a barbaric Occupation. The settlers were manipulated to move to Gaza and now manipulated to move out. It’s a case of Israel’s self-imposed misery and Sharon’s imposed strategy. Again hypocritically described as a unilateral move for peace whereas it was no more than a thinly disguised camouflage to cement Israel’s hold on the West Bank and in particular East Jerusalem, the greatest booty. The Palestinians are celebrating quite understandably the return of Gaza but they will quickly realize that this was indeed a move by Israel to its advantage only. Yet it is the Palestinians who will be required to pass an involuntary litmus test, and to be held responsible for the ‘disengagement’s success, which is nothing less than perverse.
But let us look more closely at the issue; what has been left behind and what is there to look forward to? Gaza has been theoretically under the governance of the Palestinian national Authority since July 1994 but in reality totally under the military control of Israel and the IOF. It is one of the most deprived areas in the world with a population of almost 1.4million, (including 996,000 refugees), with a poverty rate of 55% [United Nations Report, 2004] and every movement, human or economic subject to severe Israeli restrictions. Since 1993 USAID has spent more than $1.7 billion in the West Bank and Gaza to combat poverty, create jobs, improve education and build roads, but given the years of physical abuse and destruction by Israel such an amount is but a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Early joys when Arafat returned quickly turned literally to sand. The Gaza airport and the sea port were destroyed by Israeli invasions. Over the past four years and particularly during 2004, the IOF ransacked and vandalized homes and properties and summarily killed murdered and assassinated Palestinian leaders at will and with impunity. Helicopter gunships fired at random into crowds, bombs dropped on residential quarters, and brutal incursions into refugee camps. A 100 tank 8 day invasion into Jabalyia refugee camp (home to 100,000) beginning October 2nd 2004 killing 85 people. Following the US Veto of an Arab proposed UN Security Council Resolution in October 2004 calling for the condemnation of Israel’s running onslaught in Gaza, in January 2005, Israeli tanks shelled 8 children near Beit Lahya Camp; the children were picking strawberries. During 2004 some such incursions were given names; KhanYunis-“Orange Iron”. Following Israeli loudspeakers announcements of the impending incursions residents were warned to leave to or risk death; 600 men, women and children had to flee their homes. Jabalya incursion in northern Gaza- named “Autumn Winds.” Should such massacres ever have occurred in any other part of the world it would have given rise to a global outcry, but over Palestine-silence!
From the end of September 2,000 until now, 1,719 killed the majority of them civilians, 379 children under the age of 18; and 96 women, [Palestinian Bureau of Statistics]. Children playing football, children feeding pigeons on the roof of their home, a child in the street going to buy bread-such security threats! The Philadelphi route [border with Egypt] was pulverized, 2,704 homes demolished 23,000 left homeless with a future under canvas. The settlers on the other hand who drove or were dragged away are facing handsome compensation of between $140,000 and $400,000 for the cost of their home, for which they only paid a nominal price in the first place.
So what future lies ahead for Gaza and its residents? One thing is clear they will remain imprisoned with no control over their land or air space-no control of borders and no free flow of goods. No. No. No. In 2004 the World Bank reported that “poverty and unemployment will rise following the disengagement.” Currently, of the 125,000 Palestinian workers, 100,000 workers are no longer permitted to work in Israel and with closed borders, restrictions on the free flow of Gazan produce there will be little chance for economic recovery. Any repair of the bombed Gaza airport could take years and it is doubtful if Israel would permit free air traffic between Gaza and the rest of the world However-the fishing may improve!
According to Mark Regev spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry “We want to transfer all Gaza to the Palestinians….but the “transfer of depend upon the “security situation.” O’h no, yet more Israel security considerations when it stands as one the tightest, tiniest little states in the globe.
So this is what Israel has escaped from, poverty and physical devastation. There will be speculation as to why Sharon concluded to ‘withdraw’ from Gaza. but there is no clearer indicator than given by Dov Weissglas-senior advisor to Sharon (Ha’arezt October 2004). Just so there would be no illusions he described the proposed disengagement as actually formaldehyde-“it provided the necessary amount so that there will be no political process with the Palestinians.” Formaldehyde is the chemical used to preserve dead bodies. George W. Bush and both Houses of Congress gave their approval of the plan. Forever, the Israeli occupation of Gaza had been problematic and perhaps the time had come for Sharon to cut his losses. Perhaps he welcomed the furore from the settlers so that he could appear so ‘brave’. Certainly he was relieved to leave Gaza but with a glint in his eye. The word to stay on the lips is ‘unilateral’. In no way does Sharon ever intend to enter any negotiations regarding a future Palestinian State or to cede any part of the West Bank and in particular and especially Jerusalem. To have secured US approval for the withdrawal from Gaza but continue to seal it, allows him to concentrate on more vital aspects. Sharon can focus on his ultimate passion, namely full demographic control of illegally annexed East Jerusalem, and expansion of the larger settlements in the West Bank.
There is nothing new here; in 1967 Yigal Allon Israeli’s then Deputy Prime Minister called for Israel to colonise strategic areas of the West Bank, maintain control over natural resources, especially water, and to grant marginal freedom to densely populated Palestinian areas where colonization proved problematic. Nothing has changed. The Oslo Agreement of the 1990’s, Camp David in 2000 reflected the Allon Plan which offered sovereignty over disjointed territories, dominated by a reinforced network of settlements and exclusive roads, and the inevitable Israeli checkpoints. In 2004 the US President validated Israel’s Zionist territorial ambitions, no return to 1967 borders, Israel’s right to permanently maintain settlement blocs and no right of return for Palestinian refugees. The driving force is to maintain the exclusiveness of a Zionist exclusive Jewish State? Somewhat problematic given that one fifth of the population inside Israel are Palestinians. Herewith the concept of separation was born, and the ‘Separation Wall’ its bedmate.
The Wall, built almost entirely on Palestinian land, curls like a snake throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem gorging on everything in its wake. It stands like an overpowering concrete monstrosity, and is 26ft high. Israel has succeeded in completely ignoring the judgment of the International Court in The Hague on its illegality [July 9th, 2004]. In its entirety it is expected to see the confiscation of some 160,000-180,000 dunums (45,000 acres), 2% of the entire West Bank. The uprooting of 80,000 olive trees, the destruction of 35 kilometres of water pipes and the demolition of dozens of greenhouses. Any structure or home within 35 metres of the barrier will be demolished. Entire villages are cut off from their lands and sources of livelihood; 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will be effectively isolated from their city, and forced to access essential services through Israeli military gates. Does anyone recognize that Israel has locked itself in and locked the Palestinians out?
East Jerusalem is a dying city, strangled by surrounding illegal settlements and the cement necklace of the Wall. Many villages and some individual homes are surrounded on three sides, and blue skies are not easily visible. Upon completion plans for the Jerusalem section of the Wall, will carve Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in wire and cement. But Separation has been achieved.
There is the additional hope that life will become so uncomfortable that many Palestinians will leave. Over many years, Israeli policies of denial for Jerusalemites, denial of Identity Cards, denial of residency (or withdrawal) denial of family reunification and demolition of homes. Fifty Palestinian homes in Jerusalem were destroyed this year alone. 64 around the Old City are awaiting demolition and some 10,000 properties in East Jerusalem slated according to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions.
When all eyes were on Gaza, Sharon announced his government’s plans to confiscate more Palestinian lands, an area even larger than the Gaza Strip to add some 3,500 homes to the colony of Ma’aleh Adumim, a huge sprawling concrete colony that overlooks Jerusalem. Its radius is planned to double that of Tel Aviv, Israel largest city. It would involve the confiscation of some 1,600 dunums [1,600,000 square metres] of fertile land from four old traditional villages in the suburbs of East Jerusalem. This is indeed a horrific development and in fragrant violation of the 1993 Bush ‘roadmap’ which demands that Israel freeze all settlement construction. Again it will completely severe East Jerusalem, and the north from the south West Bank. Again it will make Palestinians claim to East Jerusalem as its capital absolutely impossible.
So while Israel is ‘disengaging from Gaza, and four small settlements in the West Bank it is’ re-engaging’ in vast new settlement construction. The West Bank settlements grew by 12,800 this year alone; quoting Gild Heiman Israeli spokesperson from the Ministry of Interior. Finally set in concrete a total of 246,000 illegal settlers amidst 2.4 million Palestinians. Regrettably there is no room for optimism from the Palestinian leadership such as expressed by President Abbas “Israel must stop settlements and the judaising of Jerusalem. Those who continue with these measures show that they do not want peace.” Sharon quoting from The Jerusalem Post, “There will be building in the settlement blocs. Each (Israeli government since 1967-right, left and national unity, has seen strategic importance in specific areas (beyond the Green Line). I will build”. Whatever happened to settlements as the major obstacle to peace? While the American administration may be concerned, it helps not at all when George Bush states “any final peace settlement must recognize new realities on the ground”.
Despite all these developments the onus is still placed on the Palestinian leadership to curb ‘terrorism’, to institute reforms and good governance. All rather difficult concerning that during 2002 the IOF rampaged throughout the West Bank, destroyed the entire infrastructure of Palestinian civil society. That aside, the problem is not with alleged Palestinian terrorism; in the words of South African writer Alan Paton in 1946 “it is not native crime that is the problem but white crime”; from Cry The Beloved Country. In a parallel analogy it is not Palestinian resistance that is the problem but Israeli State terrorism, driven by greed, a dominance obsession all reflected by the Occupation.
Despite 38 years of a repressive and cruel Occupation the Palestinian people have not been conquered or subdued and are determined to take back their freedoms on their land, and to secure an independent sovereign State of Palestine whatever the difficulties and however long it takes. At the same time as for the State of Israel founded on some 2,000 year old ashes and existing now Rambo style on the original Palestinian homeland, and empowered only by the Israeli rifle-it must eventually disintegrate as a result of its moral and humanitarian corruption and the Palestinian people must be set free.
Looking to the future. As for one solution in the words of the much respected Israeli activist Uri Avnery- “we must start serious negotiations declaring that in advance that within a specific time-span-the occupation will end with the establishment of the State of Palestine. All the main elements of the settlement are already known; a solution from Jerusalem in line with the Clinton proposal (What is Arab will belong to Palestine, what is Jewish will belong to Israel)”. Somewhat tricky one would have thought given that the entire State of Israel was founded on Palestinian land conquered by war in 1948, and created 700,000 displaced refugees.
So what about the future as Sharon continues to flatten all hope? Clearly alone the Palestinian leadership can achieve nothing. And there is little to look forward to. The American administration is still dancing with the fat man. It continues to send envoys, and continues to support Israel in its violation of the IVth Geneva Articles, UN Resolutions and international law. The international community must still be considering their options. In the meantime where is the European Quartet? The Palestinian leadership is to a large extent dependent upon the United States to find the courage to pressure Israel to end the Occupation, and enter a full and negotiated withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem with the Palestine National Authority. Unless this happens, we will all fall into the abyss and perpetual darkness.
* This article was first presented on behalf of the Palestine Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.