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Home > News & Analysis > Analysis
FAQ on Gaza and the disengagement
IMEU, Aug 17, 2006

ghassan_gaza.gif
Then-Palestinian Minister of Development, Ghassan Khatib, discusses the upcoming disengagement plan from Gaza, in July of 2005. (Charlotte de Bellabre, Maan Images)
1. Why did disengagement from Gaza lead to more, rather than less, conflict?

2. Were Palestinians grateful to Israel for withdrawing from Gaza?

3. Has Israel's occupation of Gaza ended?

4. Did Israel's redeployment allow Palestinians to develop a viable state?

5. Do Gaza residents now enjoy greater freedom?

6. Why did Palestinians vote for Hamas and what are the implications?

7. Are Palestinians in Gaza healthier and safer than they were a year ago?

8. What are "Qassam rockets", and why did Palestinians fire them at Israel?

9. What precipitated the capture of the Israeli soldier on June 25, 2006?

10. Is the lesson from this that Israel should not withdraw from the West Bank?

1. Why did disengagement from Gaza lead to more, rather than less, conflict?

Gaza Palestinians greeted Israel's disengagement plan with a mixture of skepticism and cautious hope. Many believed that while Israel marketed disengagement as a step toward peace, the plan was designed to forestall peace negotiations and to consolidate Israel's control over Jerusalem and much of the West Bank. Nonetheless, they looked forward to freedom from the daily humiliations of life under Israeli military occupation.

Israeli leaders are aware that no truly representative Palestinian leadership could ever agree to Israeli designs for Jerusalem and the West Bank; to do so would eliminate the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. As Dov Weisglass, advisor to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon said in October 2004: "The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." (1) By appearing to make concessions to the Palestinians over the Gaza Strip, Israel hoped to gain sufficient international good will to unilaterally implement its plan to annex territories designated for a Palestinian state. Further conflict with Palestinians, therefore, was inevitable.

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2. Were Palestinians grateful to Israel for withdrawing from Gaza?

Palestinians saw disengagement not as a generous concession by Israel, but as a decision forced on it by a logic of racial preferences for Jews. Israel could not annex the Gaza Strip without absorbing 1.4 million Palestinian Muslims and Christians, thus jeopardizing Israel's commitment to remain a "Jewish and democratic" state. With an estimated 8500 Jewish settlers in Gaza, comprising only .6% of the population, it was cheaper and more politically expedient to exclude Palestinians, and give up Gaza, a relatively small land area with minimal natural resources.

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3. Has Israel's occupation of Gaza ended?

No. Israel continues to control the entry and exit of all people and goods into the Gaza Strip, to patrol its coast and airspace, to provide its water, fuel, electric utilities, and sewage, and to enter Gaza with military forces at will. Under international law, "effective control" is the measure of whether a territory is occupied. Thus it is most accurate to say that while Israel decolonized the Gaza Strip, its military occupation of the region has continued.

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4. Did Israel's redeployment allow Palestinians to develop a viable state?

No. Israel has maintained tight restrictions on movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, smothering the Palestinian economy. As a World Bank report observed prior to disengagement: "Palestinian economic recovery depends on a radical easing of internal closures throughout the West Bank [and Gaza] the opening of Palestinian external borders to commodity trade, and sustaining a reasonable flow of Palestinian labor into Israel." (2)

In the Occupied West Bank, Israel maintains hundreds of checkpoints that fragment Palestinian communities. Palestinian goods are unloaded and reloaded onto different trucks several times before reaching their final destination. For example, goods originating from Hebron (in the Occupied West Bank) destined for Nablus (also in the Occupied West Bank) must be unloaded and reloaded an estimated seven times, increasing transportation costs and the time goods take to reach their destination.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed significant economic decline owing to Israel's frequent closures of Gaza's borders. Investors are unwilling to invest with such uncertainty. Indeed, despite a 2005 promise by G8 countries of a $3 billion USD investment in Gaza for its reconstruction, no money has actually been invested in the Gaza Strip's redevelopment.

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5. Do Gaza residents now enjoy greater freedom?

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip no longer face daily confrontations with Israel soldiers, nor suffer the indignity of watching Israeli settlers traveling through their midst on Jewish-only roads - phenomena still faced by fellow Palestinians in the West Bank. They were also able to participate in parliamentary elections in January 2006 that were hailed globally as the most free and fair elections ever held in the Arab world.

But Gazans still grapple with severe restrictions on their freedom to travel.

The Rafah crossing point is the only access for Palestinians to Egypt. Pursuant to a November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access brokered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israel was to permit Palestinian-only travel through Rafah (other foreigners and Palestinians lacking Israeli identification documents were not permitted to use Rafah crossing). In June 2006, Israel dismissed European monitors, who had been dispatched to staff the crossing, and closed the facility. Since then, it has opened only briefly to permit some Palestinians stranded abroad to return home.

The Erez border station is the only place Palestinians can enter Israel for either work or to travel to the West Bank. Almost all Palestinians are barred from using Erez for "security reasons". Erez has been repeatedly closed since redeployment, again for unspecified "security reasons." Palestinian workers have been denied entry to Israel since March 2006, and only a handful have obtained permits to the West Bank.

In the November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, Israel committed to facilitate Palestinian travel between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but has failed to abide by the agreement.

As a result of all these restrictions, Gazans are trapped within the narrow confines of the Gaza Strip - unable to travel abroad or to visit relatives or conduct business in the West Bank.

Even Palestinian members of parliament are not permitted to travel. Parliamentary sessions are now conducted via video conference between Ramallah, in the West Bank, and Gaza City.

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6. Why did Palestinians vote for Hamas and what are the implications?

Palestinians voted for Hamas because they were disillusioned by the failures of the Fateh leadership - corruption, incompetence, and most of all, inability to effectively defend Palestinian territory against further seizures by Israel. However, in a December 2005 poll, fewer than 3% of Palestinians supported Hamas's proclaimed goal of establishing an Islamic state. (3)

Since the elections, Israel has strived to undermine the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. Under the 1994 Paris Protocols, Israel collects taxes and customs duties on goods passing into the Occupied Palestinian Territories on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Israel has refused to honor this legal obligation, retaining approximately $50 million monthly of Palestinian money.

The U.S., European Union, and other international donors have also withheld aid to the Palestinians until the Hamas government renounces violence, recognizes Israel, and agrees to honor prior agreements of the Palestinian Authority. The United States, which considers Hamas a "terrorist organization," has threatened to prosecute subsidiaries of any banks that facilitate transfers of funds to the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, the Palestinian Authority has been unable to pay nearly a million government salaries since January. Small private donations and aid from Arab countries have alleviated the resulting crisis only minimally.

John Dugard, South African law professor and Special UN rapporteur on conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has warned of an impending humanitarian crisis, and observed that "In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions - the first time that an occupied people have been so treated." (4)

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7. Are Palestinians in Gaza healthier and safer than they were a year ago?

No. The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have suffered serious deterioration in nutrition, health, and psychological well-being, particularly since the international blockade against the Palestinian Authority. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 70% of Gaza families are now dependent on aid to meet daily food needs. (5)

Since the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, tensions between Hamas supporters and members of the former ruling party, Fateh, have heightened, occasionally leading to armed clashes. Approximately 100 Palestinians have been killed over the last year in internal violence. Some members of the security services - which had been stacked by Fateh with its own supporters - have resorted to kidnappings in an attempt to coerce payment of their salaries.

Israel has continued its policy of "targeted killings" - assassinations of those it deems members of Palestinian armed groups. The killings typically are by air attack, employing missiles or bombs, and commonly kill innocent civilians.

Israel fired over 5,000 artillery shells into the Gaza Strip from the end of March 2006 to the end of May, ostensibly to halt the launching of "Qassam rockets" into Israel.

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8. What are "Qassam rockets", and why did Palestinians fire them at Israel?

"Qassams" are homemade rockets of various types. All are unguided, carry small warheads, and most have a very short range. Although they have certainly contributed to a sense of insecurity in Israeli towns bordering Gaza, since the first Qassam was launched in 2002, only about ten fatalities ensued in Israel. No Israeli fatalities have been registered since the disengagement, although some Israelis have been wounded.

Israel's decolonization of the Gaza Strip by no means ended its control over the Gaza Strip, and the daily life of Palestinians there has, in many ways, declined as a result of this control. Israel continues to hold more than 9,000 Palestinians in prisons in Israel, including hundreds of women and children. Many have never been tried, and some are held under indefinite "administrative detention". Gaza Palestinians are glad that their lands are not being taken for Jewish-only settlements, but they are aware that Israel continues to expand its illegal colonies in the West Bank on land it seizes from Palestinians there. The number of new settlers in the West Bank exceeds the number that were withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, and the process of Israel's colonization of Palestine, in net terms, has advanced. Israel continues to attack and kill Palestinians. Palestinians resent Israel's apparent effort to overthrow their democratically-elected government.

Unfortunately, some Palestinians have grown cynical about the willingness of the international community to enforce international law and U.N. resolutions in their case. They point, for example, to the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice that Israel's West Bank separation wall is illegal and must be dismantled. The ICJ judgment has been flaunted by Israel with impunity - as have the many U.N. resolutions calling for an end to Israel's military occupation and condemning Israel's policies there, including its illegal colonization. Some Palestinian groups have concluded that only violent resistance can stop the seizures of their lands and win them their freedom. While reprehensible, that is why Qassam launches continue.

Hamas, the leading religiously-based Palestinian organization, suspended armed actions on Israelis for approximately 16 months until June 2006.

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9. What precipitated the capture of the Israeli soldier on June 25, 2006?

The immediate trigger for the capture of the Israeli soldier was a June 9 bombing on a Gaza beach that killed seven members of the Ghalia family. Israel denied responsibility for the bombing, but Human Rights Watch determined that the wounds and shrapnel were consistent with Israeli ordnance. Then, on June 24, Israeli forces abducted Palestinian doctor Osama Muantar and his brother, Mustafa, claiming them to be Hamas members. The June 25 retaliatory raid was jointly mounted by the Izz ed-deen al-Qassam brigade (the military wing of Hamas), the Popular Resistance Committees (a coalition linking members of Fateh, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad), and the Army of Islam (a previously unknown group). The groups announced their willingness to release the captured soldier in exchange for the release of all Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

Beginning June 28, Israel has laid siege to the Gaza Strip, closing it almost entirely to travel and trade. Israeli jets bombed civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges, government buildings, and Gaza's main electrical generating plant. Civilian homes, agricultural fields, orchards, workshops, and offices have also been attacked. To date, 184 Palestinians have been killed, including 42 children, while another 650 have been wounded. 3,400 Palestinians have sought shelter from Israeli attacks on their neighborhoods. (6)

On June 29, Israel abducted 64 Hamas officials, including Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers and up to 20 parliamentary representatives. The abductions were reportedly planned weeks in advance and had been approved by Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. On August 6, Israel also abducted Palestinian parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik. Many Palestinians view this as further evidence that Israel exploited the capture of its soldier to launch a broader attack against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

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10. Is the lesson from this that Israel should not withdraw from the West Bank?

No. The lesson is that Israel cannot expect unilateral redeployments of troops that only shift the character of its control over Palestinian lives to bring peace. Palestinian aspirations for independence, freedom, and prosperity cannot be realized when Israel controls the borders and airspace of Palestinian territories, and exploits this control to throttle a democratically elected Palestinian government. Palestinians are not likely to abandon resistance to Israeli policies that deny their freedom and take their land. Unfortunately, that resistance is likely to include violence as long as the international community is unwilling to enforce international law and U.N. resolutions that apply to Israel, and thus to ensure that justice for Palestinians can be achieved through peaceful means.

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(1) Ari Shavit, Haaretz.
(2) See "Disengagement, The Palestinian Economy and the Settlements", the World Bank, June 15, 2004.
(3) http://www.jmcc.org/publicpoll/results/2005/no55.pdf.
(4) John Dugard, Human Rights in Palestine, 21 June 2006.
(5) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, HUMANITARIAN FACTSHEET ON LEBANON, OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, 9 August 2006.
(6)Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, HUMANITARIAN FACTSHEET ON LEBANON, OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, 9 August 2006.


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