Down to earth in Gaza

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My professional colleague Ayman Bardawil who was born and raised in the southern Gaza strip town of Rafah has been living in Ramallah ever since he attended Bir Zeit University where he got his civil engineering degree. In the past ten years Ayman, who has worked in television and specifically in animation, has visited his parents, siblings family and friends less than the fingers of his artistic hands. His request from the Israelis to visit Gaza were often rejected ‘because there is no compelling humanitarian reason." When Ayman’s father lay terminally sick he did get a permission to visit.

A day after he returned to Ramallah after his permit expired his father died and he was unable to travel. Ayman has since moved to Jordan but now instead of his wish to visit his family, his mother is looking for ways to escape Gaza.

"Ever time I call her she tells me what am I still doing here," he related his mother as telling him. Now that the Hamas-Fatah military conflict is over (with Hamas victorious) the situation is rather peaceful in Rafah. Nevertheless Ayman’s mother pleas to leave Gaza are getting louder. She doesn’t trust the present quiet that Gaza is enjoying now and is worried about the long term future of living in Gaza.

Mrs. Bardawil’s apprehensions are not unique. Shortly after the declaration of the emergency in the Palestinian areas a public opinion poll by the Near East Consulting showed that 32% of the population of Gaza would immigrate from the strip if they had the opportunity to do so.

Forty years after the 1967 Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (including Jerusalem) Palestinians have failed to find the magic formula for their liberation.

Palestinians have attempted cross border violence (late 60s), Arab and international diplomacy 70s and 80s), non violent resistance (’87 intifada), secret talks (93 Oslo) suicide attacks (90s and second intifada), cross border rockets (’06 & ’07), regional Arab initiatives (2000, repeated 2007), international initiatives peace envoys (since ’67 till present) but nothing has succeeded in cracking this difficult knot called the Israel occupation.

Two years ago when the Israeli army redeployed from the Gaza strip, Israeli officials requested a Palestinian and international recognition that the occupation was over in Gaza. No such a statement was made simply because the occupation was no over. Israel continued to control the borders, collect customs for imports and decide when the only remaining outlet for Gazans (the Rafah crossing point) is opened or closed.

With Gazans unable to go to work in Israel and without any resources for economic viability, the Palestinians of Gaza remained totally dependent on the state of Israel even though Israeli soldiers had left the streets of Gaza and the ally ways of its squalid refugee camps.

Interestingly, while the Israeli army is entrenched in the West Bank the human situation there is less dramatic simply because the population has multiple sources of income. The majority of the West Bank population are not refugees (10% from what is now Israel while in Gaza the refugees are over 60% of the population.)

The false trappings of a state provided to Palestinians as part of the Oslo peace process and the famous White House handshake in 1993 has hurt more than helped Palestinians. Palestinians got an elected president, parliament a government (whose ministers are not guaranteed passage from Gaza to West Bank), passports (whose numbers must be entered into Israeli computers), postage stamps and light armed police, but not real sovereignty over land or contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank. Hundreds of checkpoints in the west Bank with an eight foot wall deep wall deep in Palestinian territories and tight control over the borders make these trimmings of a state nothing more than cosmetic make up to a totally Israeli dependent territory. In return the Israelis were relieved of having to guard populated areas, crowded neighborhoods and economically they were no longer obliged to pay public servants or take care of the occupied population as international law stipulates.

For many Palestinians, including the leadership, the imperfections would eventually be rectified and the sovereignty would be solidified. None of this happened thanks to the hesitation of Israel, the continuation of settlement activities and the disruptions of the Islamists who had little interest in the Oslo process or even the idea of a two state solution.

Without a road map that would lead to genuine independence of Israeli occupation and the ability to truly govern a truly sovereign state that has contiguity, opposing voices among Palestinians have been on the rise. Seeing so many Jewish settlements dotting the West Bank some are asking for the scrapping of the two state solution and focusing the struggle in the direction of a single bi national state. Others who see the Israelis unlikely to accept any time in the future a plan that will weaken the Jewishness of the state, are simply opting for a total withdrawal from the charade called Palestinian Authority.

The latest violence in Gaza has created a de facto Islamic security control over Gaza and a nationalist control along with a new emergency government in the West Bank. The international community will quickly open up the money faucet to the non Hamas government and Gaza will be left to burn and starve under the rule of the Palestinian Islamists.

Ironically, as a result of the state of emergency in the Palestine, Palestinian statehood is very likely a serious possibility today in parts of the West Bank without Jerusalem and without a corridor to Gaza. But is it the physical spread, the contiguous territory and viable independent state that Palestinians have dreamt of. Unlikely?

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