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Disengagement's Deceptive Plan

by Emily Gharabally |
August 23, 2005
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Editors note: The Palestinian resistance has forced an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Fight Back News Service is circulating the following article by Emily Gharabally, which analyzes the limited nature of the Israeli pullout and the role of settlers in occupied Palestine.

As major American newspapers proclaim an end to the occupation of Gaza on the front pages of their papers, the reality on the ground is quite a different story. The occupation of Gaza remains and will continue to be as present as ever even after the Jewish colonies are vacated.

The ‘disengagement’ of Gaza is nothing more than a public relations stunt on the part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Just like during the Camp David Accords, when the Israelis were portrayed as generous and the Palestinians were depicted as too demanding, once again the Israelis are made to look like they are making major sacrifices for peace and that the Palestinians should be grateful. What so many of the news agencies fail to report on is that the occupation of Gaza remains and that the removal of the illegal settlers, comprising only 0.5% of the population of Gaza, is a strategy that, in the words of Israeli professor and writer Mr. HaCohen, “give[s] up a hill in order to keep the mountain.”

So what is really happening on the ground? Gaza remains an ‘open-air prison’ in that Israel will continue to serve as an occupying power maintaining military and economic control. Gaza’s airspace, coastal waters and even international borders will continue to be controlled by the Israelis. Access to Gaza’s natural resources such as water, gas, electricity and fuel will all be controlled by the Israelis, forcing Gazans to do business through Israel, even when Israel charges the Palestinians among the highest trade prices in the world. This means that an impoverished community with poverty rates close to 70% becomes indebted to the very state that created such a hazardous economic situation. In a recent United Nations working paper last updated on Aug. 15, the World Bank has concluded that the disengagement plan will have little to no effect on the poor economic situation in Gaza, since Israel continues to refuse the opening up of external borders - preconditions, the World Bank says, for normal economic activity.

What is most startling and relatively unknown is the expansion of the ‘buffer zone’ between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Already several hundred homes inhabited by civilians have been razed to the ground in Rafah, displacing thousands of Palestinians. In spite of the disengagement plan, the Israeli army is still implementing the expansion of the buffer zone. After the next phase of expansion, Human Rights Watch estimates that hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian homes will be destroyed, displacing tens of thousands more in the Gaza Strip.

The removal of colonizing settlers is undoubtedly a good thing; however, it can hardly be called benevolent, since the construction of settlements on occupied territory is illegal according to international law and should have never occurred in the first place. While head of the Israeli Defense Force’s Southern Command, it was Sharon himself who came up with the idea of building settlements in the occupied territories. He referred to them as “Jewish fingers” that would even further fragment the existing Palestinian population, increasing Israel’s control over the occupied territories. Several decades later, it is Sharon who now plans on ‘pulling out’ the illegal settlers in Gaza, when in reality, his plan should actually be termed a ‘transfer,’ since it is expected that for this ‘concession,’ Israel should be able to claim more blocs of land in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, which is already home to over 420,000 illegal settlers.

On Aug. 15, Sharon gave a speech confirming the necessity of the Gaza ‘pullout’ plan. In it, he explained that, “The world awaits the Palestinian response - a hand offered in peace or continued terrorist fire. To a hand offered in peace, we will respond with an olive branch. But if they chose fire, we will respond with fire, more severe than ever.” Once again, Sharon and his deceptive policies are setting up the Palestinians for ‘failure.’ Of course there will be continued resistance, since the simple fact remains: the occupation has not ended. The removal of a small minority of settlers in Gaza only to continue construction of more settlement property in the West Bank is not a just policy. The ongoing occupation of Gaza both economically and militarily only furthers the oppression of the people living in the Strip and is not sound politics. The continuing campaign of killing innocent civilians - men, women and children - is not a way to build peace. The grave situation of political prisoners and the torture that goes on in the interrogation rooms will not be ignored. The humiliation of having to pass through several checkpoints on a daily basis, the curfews, night raids and home demolitions cause pain and suffering. And finally, the ongoing construction of the apartheid wall, separating Palestinians from their family, friends and farmlands, will only make the situation much worse.

Apart from the political deceptions inherent in the Gaza ‘pullout’ plan, the hypocrisy of the settlers’ protests cannot be denied. Both angry and mournful, Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip protest against their government, complaining that it is unfair to be removed. It is clear by their words and actions that the settlers do not agree with the government’s plan to ‘disengage’ from land that has been occupied for the last 38 years, since the Gaza Strip is the only land that some of them have ever known. In spite of the generous retribution packages (ranging from $250,000 to $500,000) that the settlers are promised to receive once they are transferred to ‘Israeli territory,’ a majority of the settlers still stringently oppose the measure.

It is estimated by the Israeli army that there are 5000 illegal Jewish settlers from the West Bank and Jerusalem who have entered the Gaza Strip to protest the pullout. The Israeli army has said that after Aug. 16, any remaining settlers or non-settler protesters will be forcibly removed. Since Israelis are typically described in the media as a benign group of people, for many, this is the first time that they are able to see what the settlers and ultra-right Jewish groups are capable of doing. For example, last week, an army deserter boarded a bus and began wildly shooting the Palestinians on board, killing four. On Aug. 17, a settler in the West Bank grabbed a gun from an Israeli soldier and shot and killed three Palestinians. In spite of the grossly sympathetic media attention the settlers have been receiving as of late, the violent and racist nature and the murderous tendencies of the settlers should not be overshadowed.

But it is the images of the teary-eyed settlers saying good-bye to their homes that forces me to highlight the plight of the Palestinian refugees who have been dispossessed from their homes for almost 60 years. Unlike the Jewish settlers, the Palestinians have not received any social or economic benefit packages. In fact, they have been forced to first live in tents erected by the United Nations and then left to fend for themselves in areas that are both socially and politically hostile to their very existence. The only thing all of the refugees are left with are the keys to their front doors, doors to homes that have either been long ago destroyed or are currently being occupied by Israelis.

How can we go about sympathizing with members of a colonialist regime, settler colonialists themselves, when it is they who have robbed Palestinians of their livelihoods and forced them to live not as Palestinians but as refugees in places like Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere? Who shall compensate them for their losses?

It is crucial that in a time like this, when the images and stories of distraught Jewish settlers make the headlines, that we are reminded of the Palestinian refugees who, since 1948, have had nowhere to go. Homes with manicured lawns, the ones that the Gaza Strip settlers are moving to, were not awaiting the Palestinians who were forced out of their homes decades ago. Moreover, Palestinians have not and still do not have the luxury to protest against the Israeli army for the losses they have incurred, while, on the other hand, angry settlers are permitted to block army jeeps from entering into the settlements or young Israelis are able to evade the soldiers and run past them to enter a closed-off area. Why is it then that stone throwing Palestinian children are shot and killed by the same soldiers that allow settler violence and dissent to continue?

If anything at all, the settler ‘pullout’ has brought attention to the hypocrisy that exists within the Israeli state in the sense that Palestinian resistance to occupation is ‘terrorism’ when Israeli opposition to a government-sanctioned plan is just that - opposition. When the international press highlights the plight of the ultra-religious Jewish settlers having to say “good-bye to Gaza,” it is about time that we are reminded of the actual plight of the Palestinians, who comprise the largest refugee population in the world and who have been refugees the longest. Since 1948, they have been waiting to return home, a right accorded to them by international law. In December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194 that calls for the right of return of all refugees at the earliest possible date. Almost 60 years later, the refugees are still waiting. For true peace to be achieved, the answer is simple: End the occupation of Palestinian land and implement the Right of Return to every refugee who has been eagerly waiting to return home.


Emily Gharabally is a recent graduate of Political Science from DePaul University in Chicago. She is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Group (www.psgchicago.org) and traveled to Palestine on a PSG delegation during the summer of 2004. She currently lives in New York City. Hatem Abudayyeh contributed to this article.

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