The Ongoing Occupation
The lavish praise Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received for his Gaza “disengagement” plan was enough for one Israeli journalist to call him “the most warmly courted, popular new star” that “the world’s red carpets are waiting for.”
The compliments may have cleansed the name of a man associated with some of the worst war crimes committed against the Arab and Palestinian people. But disengagement itself, completed September 15 with the evacuation of the last of 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, is likely only to open up the potential for yet more Arab blood to be shed in the future.
This is because “disengagement” had little to do with ending the occupation of Gaza -- or “reinvigorating the peace process,” as was widely claimed by Israel, its allies and much of the corporate media. Rather, it was precisely intended to preclude both of these possibilities.
Is that an exaggerated or unnecessarily pessimistic judgment? Just look at what Sharon’s right-hand man, Dov Weisglass, had to say about the motivations for disengagement, to the Israeli paper Ha’aretz in October 2004. “The significance [of disengagement] is the freezing of the political process,” Weisglass said. “And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all with a [U.S.] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. What more could have been anticipated? What more could have been given to the settlers?”
I recently returned from the Gaza strip, where I witnessed the Israeli disengagement from start to finish. The experience provided me a wide range of feelings and insights. Perhaps the strongest impression I was left with is how Gaza today represents a colonial laboratory for developing and implementing cutting-edge methods of human control and oppression.
It used to be that if an occupying power were unable to control an area due to local resistance, the occupiers would be forced to retreat from these areas. But that isn’t the case with respect to Gaza.
It’s true that the Palestinian resistance that developed in the Gaza Strip during the past five years of the Intifada (or uprising) destabilized Israel’s strategic control. Particularly with the Palestinians’ development of medium-range firepower, such as homemade mortars and primitive rockets, Israel’s strategic control over the Gaza Strip was slipping.
Israel’s answer was to devise new means to control Gaza more effectively from afar, using disengagement to consolidate its grip.
To begin with, the entire Gaza Strip remains entirely surrounded by an electronic fence and watchtowers, ensuring that its 1.4 million Palestinians don’t leave the congestion and squalor of their towns and refugee camps.
Then there’s the ever-present buzz of unmanned drones that criss-cross the skies of Gaza. In recent years, these drones have been increasingly fitted with U.S. made “Predator” missiles -- which at the touch of a button pressed by someone in a room miles away, ensure instant death to whomever they target.
There is the enormous blimp that hovers above Gaza’s borders, not to mention the well-armed Israeli naval vessels prowling off Gaza’s coast.
But these are only the more tangible representations of Israeli control. There are also less visible means, including a kilometer-long wall that Israel is preparing to build into the sea, below sea-level along Gaza’s coast. Or the 650-meter buffer zone Israel wants north of the strip.
Gaza’s population registry still remains in Israel’s hands. The Palestinian Authority is still not authorized to issue personal identity cards -- meaning, essentially, that Israel still controls who legally exists there. Today, there are an estimated 60,000 Palestinians in Gaza with no form of identification -- who, hence, are unable to leave and re-enter their homeland, whether for educational, medical or family reasons.
There’s the question of border crossings in general, which Israel still demands direct control over. This one feature of Israeli rule essentially gives it control over all goods and people that enter or exit the strip, leaving the economic future of Gaza in the hands of Israeli generals. Israel can cut off a whole range of essential goods, from gasoline to medicine, from car parts to generators, and Gaza will continue to be a place where Israeli producers dump their goods on a captive market.
If these structural constraints weren’t enough, there are a host of other political and social concerns.
To begin with, Gaza lacks sources of clean water. Not only has Israel tapped the flow of underground water east of Gaza, resulting in the seepage of sea water into Gaza’s coastal aquifer, but Israeli settlements also over-pumped the existing aquifer, essentially leaving Gaza’s water a briny mixture that causes high rates of kidney failure.
Israel has also left Gaza economically destitute. Palestinian laborers have been prevented from getting to work inside Israel -- resulting in 35 percent unemployment--and many workplaces inside Gaza, such as garages and metal workshops, were targeted during the incursions of the past year, with the excuse that they were involved in weapons production.
In this respect, it’s clear that Israel left an enormous physical mess behind in Gaza. Not only did it demolish huge swaths of the territory’s arable lands, and the homes of 25,000 people (particularly in southern Gaza), but it destroyed the settlements themselves when the army withdrew. This has left upwards of 25 percent of the Gaza Strip looking like an earthquake hit it -- with the Palestinians forced to clean up the mess.
Last but not least, Israel hasn’t ended its military assaults within Gaza itself, carrying out no less than five assassinations against Palestinian resistance activists since disengagement. At least 42 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire throughout the Occupied Territories, and scores of others were left wounded.
And none of this even addresses Israeli policies in the West Bank -- the continued construction of Israeli settlements, or the final sealing off of various Palestinian towns through the construction of Israel’s apartheid wall.
These Machiavellian forms of control, together with a disfigured wasteland of physical destruction, extreme poverty and continued colonial oppression, have ensured that nothing substantive has changed in Gaza.
What has changed, however, is the international perception of this reality -- including among many liberals and large sections of the left that believe “a solution” for Gaza has been found. As a result, they accept U.S. and Israeli arguments that Palestinians must now “establish law and order” and “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.”
Now is the time to raise awareness that the 38-year occupation of Gaza has not ended, but has merely entered a new stage -- a stage that is potentially far more dangerous precisely because of the misperceptions surrounding disengagement and Gaza’s status. Israel understands this all too well, recently setting up artillery posts on the periphery of Gaza and openly threatening -- in leaflets dropped by airplane on Gazan communities -- to shell civilian areas.
It is our responsibility to make sure everyone knows the reality of Gaza--before Israel is permitted to make good on these threats.
Toufic Haddad, co-editor of a forthcoming book on the Palestinian Intifada, recently returned from the Occupied Territories. This article first appeared in Socialist Worker (www.socialistworker.org). Thanks to Alan Maass.