Theatre surrounding the Gaza retreat

It is astonishing just how much sympathy the media has generated for the Jewish settlers evacuating the Gaza Strip after 38 years of illegal occupation. Every single Israeli tear and howl of anguish seared the television viewer eclipsing the decades of Palestinian suffering at the hands of these oppressors and usurpers of Palestinian lands.

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon spoke of his deep pain as the 8,500 Jewish settlers leave the Gaza Strip from what they call their ‘biblical lands’. Yet it was Sharon who, for most of his political career, led Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza. As recently as two years ago, he said Israel would not give up even small, isolated Gaza settlements.

Armed by the Israeli Occupation Army, Jewish settlers have committed thousands of atrocities against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For decades they rampaged through Palestinian villages and towns, often protected by complicit Israeli troops, shooting and throwing rocks at Palestinian homes and people. They smashed shops, destroyed cars, and damaged property and crops. The attacks also often turned deadly. In numerous instances Palestinian civilians have been shot dead.

The settlers’ violence reveals one trait in the character of Zionist colonialism: a commitment to dogmas of denial of the "Other" and to a "culture of aggression." Settler violence even finds religious justification in calls for vigilante actions and unrestrained vengeance by rabbis and spiritual masters. The tomb of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in February 1994, has become a pilgrimage site. A rabbi has also published a pamphlet honouring his inhuman act.

The settlers leaving Gaza have been handsomely compensated receiving the equivalent of $400,000 or more, depending on the house size, the number of children and length of residence in the occupied territories. On top of that, there are removal expenses, two years free rent and redundancy compensation.

So, the melodrama we witness is a giant theater piece designed to convince the world that Israel is taking steps towards peace and enormous sacrifices. In fact, whilst demolishing 2,000 settler homes in the Gaza Strip, it has been building more than 6,400 settler homes in the occupied West Bank. Many of these settlers will be relocated on annexed Palestinian lands in violation of international law.

Skeptics view Sharon’s unilateral retreat from Gaza and parts of the West Bank as part of a grand plan to permanently annex six major settlement blocks in the West Bank, which would ensure Israeli control over areas east of Jerusalem. This plan has been described as a major departure from the ‘roadmap’ plan published in 2002. The roadmap had called for an Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank, a freeze on settlements and for the so-called "final status" issues –” refugees, settlements, permanent borders and the status of Jerusalem –” to be decided subject to negotiation.

Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s adviser and confidant, confirms this in an interview with Ha’aretz last year in which he stated: "The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process… And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda… The disengagement is actually formaldehyde… It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

The only reason Israel has contemplated even this limited disengagement from Gaza is because of the unrelenting resistance to the occupation. The only way to defeat the Zionist expansionist and colonialist project was learnt in Lebanon in May 2000. Israel never leaves occupied territory, never even contemplates it, unless the cost of holding onto it is made too high.

Israel, as an occupying power, is bound by international law to withdraw from these territories and to respect the rights of their inhabitants. These rights were highlighted in UN Security Council Resolution 1322 (October 7) which "calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 1949."

Israel’s retreat from Gaza will not markedly alleviate the miserable plight of the Palestinians, nor bring them closer to peace. Unless there is a full international confrontation with the Israeli government to force it to end the occupation completely, this step simply marks the beginning of another phase in this long and terrible conflict.