Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Why Israel will never truly let go of Gaza

by Tanya Reinhart :: The Independent Weekly (Adelaide, Australia) :: 9-15 September 2006

**Recommended related article:

Johann Hari, Israel’s real reason for using such extreme violence in the Gaza Strip (9 July) ** 

Whatever the fate of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israeli army’s war in Gaza is not about him.

As senior security analyst Alex Fishman reported, the army was preparing for an attack months earlier and was constantly pushing for it, with the goal of destroying the Hamas infrastructure and its Government. The army initiated an escalation on June 8 when it assassinated Abu Samhadana, a senior appointee of the Hamas Government, and intensified its shelling of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Governmental authorisation for action on a larger scale was already given by June 12, but it was postponed in the wake of the global reverberation caused by the killing of civilians in the air force bombing the next day. The abduction of the soldier released the safety-catch and the operation began on June 28, with the destruction of the infrastructure in Gaza and the mass detention of the Hamas leadership in the West Bank, which was also planned weeks in advance.

In Israeli discourse, Israel ended the occupation in Gaza when it evacuated its settlers from the Strip and the Palestinians’ behaviour therefore constitutes ingratitude. But there is nothing further from reality than this description. In fact, as was already stipulated in the Disengagement Plan, Gaza remained under complete Israeli military control, operating from outside. Israel prevented any possibility of economic independence for the Strip and from the very beginning, Israel did not implement a single one of the clauses of the agreement on border-crossings of November 2005. Israel simply substituted the expensive occupation of Gaza with a cheap occupation, one which in Israel’s view exempts it from the occupier’s responsibility to maintain the Strip, and from concern for the welfare and the lives of its 1.5 million residents, as determined in the fourth Geneva convention. Israel does not need this piece of land, one of the most densely populated in the world, and lacking any natural resources.

The problem is that one cannot let Gaza free if one wants to keep the West Bank. A third of the Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip. If they area given freedom, they would become the centre of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, with free access to the Western and Arab world. To control the West Bank, Israel needs full control of Gaza.

The new form of control Israel has developed is turning the whole of the Strip into a prison camp completely sealed from the world. Besieged, occupied people with nothing to hope for and no alternative means of political struggle will always seek ways to fight their oppressor. The imprisoned Gaza Palestinians found a way to disturb the life of the Israelis in the vicinity of the Strip, by launching homemade Qassam rockets across the Gaza wall against Israeli towns bordering the Strip. These primitive rockets lack the precision to focus on a target, and have rarely caused Israeli casualties; they do, however, cause physical and psychological damage and seriously disturb the targeted Israeli neighbourhoods. In the eyes of many Palestinians, the Qassams are a response to the war Israel has declared on them.

As a student from Gaza said to the New York Times: “Why should we be the only ones who live in fear? With these rockets, the Israelis feel fear too. We will have to live in peace together, or live in fear together.” The mightiest army in the Middle East has no military answer to these homemade rockets. One answer that presents itself is what Hamas has been proposing all along, and Palestinian leader Ismail Haniyeh repeated last month – a comprehensive ceasefire.

Hamas has proven already that it can keep its word. In the 17 months since it announced its decision to abandon armed struggle in favour of political struggle, and declared a unilateral ceasefire (“tahdiya” – calm), it did not participate in the launching of Qassams, except under severe Israeli provocation, as happened in the June escalation. However, Hamas remains committed to political struggle against the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. In Israel’s view, the Palestinian election results are a disaster, because for the first time they have a leadership that insists on representing Palestinian interests rather than just collaborating with Israel’s demands. Since ending the occupation is the one thing that Israel is not willing to consider, the option promoted by the army is breaking the Palestinians by devastating brutal force.

They should be starved, bombarded, terrorised with sonic booms for months, until they understand that rebellion is futile and accepting prison life is their only hope for staying alive. Their elected political system, institutions and police should be destroyed. In Israel’s vision, Gaza should be ruled by gangs collaborating with the prison warders. The Israeli army is hungry for war. It would not let concerns for captive soldiers stand in its way.

Since 2002, the army has argued that an “operation” along the lines of ” Defensive Shield” in Jenin was also necessary in Gaza. Just over a year ago, on July 15 (before the Disengagement) the army concentrated forces on the border of the Strip for an offensive of this scale on Gaza. But then the US imposed a veto.

Secretary of State Rice arrived for an emergency visit that was described as acrimonious and stormy, and the army was forced to back down. Now, the time has finally come. With the Islamophobia of the American administration at a high point, it appears that the US is prepared to authorise such an operation, on condition that it not provoke a global outcry with excessively reported attacks on civilians. With the green light for the offensive given, the army’s only concern is public image.

Fishman reported recently that the army is worried that what threatens to bury this huge military and diplomatic effort is reports of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Hence, the army would take care to let some food into Gaza. From this perspective, it is necessary to feed the Palestinians in Gaza so that it would be possible to continue to kill them undisturbed.

____________________________________ Tanya Reinhart is an Israeli scholar, linguist, author and media commentator. She will deliver the Edward Said Memorial Lecture at the University of Adelaide on Saturday, October 7.

Professor Reinhart is an Israeli Emeritus Professor of Linguistics and Media Studies at Tel-Aviv University. Her second book, A Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine since 2003, is due for release this month.

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