Behind Israel's Gaza Pullout
The Harsh Reality of Occupied Palestine
Revolution #28, December 26, 2005, posted at revcom.us
One year ago. Iman al-Hams, a 13-year-old Palestinian girl was on her way to school. She inadvertently crossed into an Israeli-declared security zone in the Gaza Strip.
Realizing her mistake, she began to run. On tape, the Israeli watchtower can be heard identifying her: "A girl about 10, shes behind the embankment, scared to death." Moments later she was shot by an army sniper. An Israeli officer, identified only as Captain R, declared that he was going out "to confirm the kill." Nearing the girl, he shot her twice in the head, began to walk away, then turned back and emptied the magazine of his automatic rifle into her body. Captain R can be heard on tape "clarifying" his actions for the benefit of his troops: "This is commander. Anything thats mobile, that moves in the zone, even if its a 3-year-old, needs to be killed."
This is what it means to be Palestinian under Israeli occupation.
After the tape surfaced Captain R did face charges--illegal use of his weapon and two other minor offenses. Part of his defense was that killing wounded Palestinians--referred to as "confirming the kill"--was standard practice in the Israeli army. On November 15 he was acquitted of all charges.
This is the meaning of the rule of law in occupied Palestine.
Nowhere have the shocking and harsh realities of Palestinian existence been more apparent than in Gaza, a narrow strip of land, just 140 square miles total (about twice the area of Washington, DC), bordered by Egypt and Israel, and in recent years the site of a seemingly endless series of lockdowns, destruction, and violence by the Israeli army. Well over 1,100 Gazans have been killed over the past five years, at least half of them unarmed civilians. Some 250 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza, including 92 children younger than fourteen.
Shuqri Salman Hussein al-Maqadmeh, in his home one night in one of Gazas refugee camps in March 2003, barely survived a missile fired by one of the drone aircraft the Israeli army uses for targeted assassinations. "Then I felt an enormous explosion, like an earthquake, and found myself under the ruins. The southern wall of the room, which separates our house from that of our neighbor, collapsed on top of us. I heard my wife say, Help me, Shuqri, help the children, and then she was silent." He was able to pull his children from the rubble of his house, but his wife was dead. [Jessica Montell in TIKKUN, May/June 2004]
In recent years Gaza became known as "one big prison," as Israel closed down the borders. And even within this tiny territory, large areas were taken over for Israeli settlements. Even larger areas were declared off limits to Palestinians, who might be shot, like Iman al-Hams, if they were found there or even if they strayed too near. Although Gaza borders the Mediterranean, the shoreline was off limits for Palestinians. Countless children grew up in this seaside territory without ever being able to glimpse the sea.
Given this state of affairs, the past three months have seemed to many to bring good news. After dismantling the settlements in Gaza, Israel withdrew its troops and military installations from the territory in September, and a few weeks ago an agreement was reached on opening some border crossings into and out of Gaza.
TV images showed Palestinians crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, without the presence of Israeli soldiers, for the first time in decades. With the opening of the border crossing at Rafah, the only outlet from Gaza that doesnt lead to Israel, teenagers crossed into Egypt to shop for the first time in their lives, and families separated by the border were able to reunite. 1,500 people crossed during the first day alone. An Egyptian woman who had married a Palestinian wept as she hugged daughters shed not seen in seven years and met her two young grandchildren. A banner over the entrance to the crossing terminal read: "Rafah crossing: the gateway to freedom."
Behind this real joy, though, there is a darker reality. Although Palestinian guards examine passports and luggage, they are not really in charge. Overseeing them are police from the European Union, and every action in the terminal is recorded on video--and beamed to a site where Israeli officials watch. Less than a week after the crossing was opened on November 21, nominally "under Palestinian control," the Israeli Defense Minister threatened to shut it down again.
Secretary of State Condleezza Rice, who helped broker the agreement that led to the opening, termed it a great step forward on the U.S. official policy of "the roadmap toward two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace." The reality is, however, that Israeli disengagement from Gaza is not a step toward peace, let alone freedom, for those who live there. The "Agreement on Movement and Access" brokered by Rice, along with the Israeli Gaza pullout in September, is part of a strategy to solidify and legitimize Israeli control and to fragment the Palestinian people into small enclaves (often called bantustans, after a similar means of fragmenting the people used by the former apartheid government in South Africa).
In Gaza, despite the withdrawal of troops and settlers from the territory, effective Israeli control continues in a different form. Israel controls the airspace and seacoast, and Gaza depends on Israel for water, electricity, sewerage, and imports. Even its currency is Israeli-issued. And finally: the Israeli army may still strike inside Gaza at any time, including to assassinate anyone Israel chooses to designate a "terrorist"-- as it has done several times since its "withdrawal," including two missile attacks last week which killed three Palestinians and wounded sixteen others, including several children.
Israels official Gaza pullout plan states that "the process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israels responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip." Another purpose is to serve as a fig leaf to distract from Israeli annexation of vast areas of the West Bank, where at least 42 existing settlements are being expanded, 6,400 new settlement houses are planned, and colleges, hotels, and commercial areas are being built for use by Israelis. A system of highways and by-passes for settler-only use effectively imprisons and isolates Palestinian areas from each other, and a parallel system of tunnels connect settlements with each other and with Israel. The vast separation or apartheid wall under construction by Israel, now about 35% completed, will leave 46 percent of the West Bank under direct Israeli control, with the rest consisting of Palestinian enclaves (with Gaza too as a separated enclave), each isolated from the other. (For maps of the wall and settler highways and tunnels see www.stopthewall.org/news/maps.shtml.)
The official Gaza Disengagement Plan states that while on the one hand Israeli settlements would be withdrawn from Gaza, "...in the West Bank, there are areas which will be part of the state of Israel, including major Israeli population centers, cities, towns and villages, security areas and other places of special interest to Israel." This may in fact be the first time that plans for the annexation and incorporation into Israel of large parts of the West Bank have been so explicitly put forward in an official document. Yet you will search a long time for any mention of this fact in all the voluminous coverage of the Gaza withdrawal in the mainstream U.S. press.
In more recent comments, Sharon said that Israel intends to keep not only the large settlements in the West Bank, but the string of small settlements in the Jordan Valley on the west side of the West Bank. And Tzipi Livni, another Israeli official close to Sharon, has recently made explicit (for anyone who doubted the fact) that Israels planned future border will follow the route of the apartheid wall.
Sharon, meanwhile, has moved to form a new political party, Kadima, billed as "centrist" between the "left" Labor Party and "right" Likud. This has also generated hope among some. Could Sharon, despite a long history to the contrary, now become an architect of peace and Palestinian nationhood?
No. The spectrum represented by these parties in Israel involves close agreement on strategic aims, with some slight differences on tactics. And it is the brutal shape of those strategic aims (aims which are shared by the rulers of this country), which is vividly revealed by the fact that Sharon can be put forward as a centrist.
Secretary of State Rice recently praised Sharon for making "the crucial contribution to peace." Think about it. This is the man who led Israels brutal invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and presided over the massacre of as many as 3,000 Palestinian and other civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut.
We hear that Israel is a bastion against anti-semitism. But how can the violent dispossession and oppression of another people contribute to anything just? And the state of Israel exists as an enforcer for the world's sole superpower. Why, instead, shouldn't all justice-loving people unite with a struggle for a democratic, secular Palestine?