Gaza Context

by Yahav Zohar -

The media tends to juxtapose Hamas's rockets against Israel's bombings so that it almost seemed in this war one should support one side or the other based on its ethics of warfare.  War was made to look like a game conducted and judged by some rules of fair play. There is almost no discourse about what the war was about nor of how we got to this point. Israel fighting Gaza was a given.

But Israel and Gaza are not two countries at war. Israel is a country trying to quell something like a prisoner revolt in the fenced-in refugee camp that is Gaza. The people of Gaza have been contained in this narrow strip of land since they were driven there by the Israeli army in 1948. At the end of that war Israel closed its new borders, and much of  the population of some one hundred villages and towns were trapped in the tiny Egyptian controlled strip. Their former homes all became part of the state of Israel, their houses and fields destroyed or taken over.  

When Israel conquered Gaza in 1967 the strip was placed under military government. Gazans were then able to  visit their homes and fields, but not to live there.  Encouraged to work in the rest of Israel but forbidden from living anywhere but in the tiny and increasingly crowded strip (it didn't help that  some 40 percent of the strip were taken over by Israeli agricultural settlements), these refugees-close-to-home became laborers, building new houses and cleaning the streets in the neighborhoods and towns built by and for Jews over their ancestral homes.

After 20 years of this, the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, broke out and Israel decided to fence Gaza in, so that it could be entered or left only through military checkpoints. Shortly thereafter, Israel handed control of most of the strip over to the Palestinian Authority, and closed the checkpoints even tighter. After the second Intifada in 2005 Israel  dismantled its settlements and pulled its military back to the line around the strip.

Gaza, however, is still crowded fenced-in refugee camp, and Israel still controls its airspace and borders. In some ways Gaza is like one of those reservations made for Natives in the United States and the autonomy is something like a tribal council. The difference is that Gazans are in open revolt against Israel. 

Ever since Hamas took over the Gaza strip in 2007 Israel has tightened its hold on Gaza's already tightly held borders and placed the strip under siege by land and sea. The official line is that the siege will be maintained until Hamas recognizes Israel and the Oslo accords, a siege to induce political moderation. Surprisingly this did not work. 

Or maybe it did. Because now Hamas's chief demand to make a long term cease fire is the ending of the siege. The extreme demands of the extremist terrorist organizations are a seaport and an airport for 1.8 million imprisoned people. Israel will very probably not grant these demands.  It says Hamas cannot be trusted with a port and will only use it to bring in weapons and attack Israel further. (This may or may not be true. One imagines that if people had jobs and/or clean water they would be less prone to near-suicidal warfare). So, it seems the Israeli (and Egyptian) line is Gazans are to be kept indefinitely imprisoned. This will somehow lead to peace. Or at least allow Israel to go about its business while Gazans wallow. 

What then are Gazans supposed to do? How does one offer non-violent resistance against an occupier that controls you with drones and kill-zone fences (means if you come anywhere near the fence you get shot). And if you do decide to fight, how can you target the military surrounding you without high-tech weaponry like theirs? It's either rockets fired covertly from densely populated areas (otherwise the drones will get you before you fire) or tunnels to under the bases maintaining the siege. 

As of now, a week after the ceasefire, the border control around Gaza has not eased one bit. Critical equipment needed for water purification still blocked from entering, as is cement for rebuilding the many thousands of homes destroyed.  This hardly gets reported, because it doesn't go bang. The media, the international community, the UN seem to only pay attention when things are blowing up.

But Gaza is not just this war or the ones before it. It is  a story of forced displacement and refugeehood, of occupation and of siege. It is 1.8 million people in an open air prison without clean water and reliable electricity. The questions we need to ask are not about  how that siege is maintained or resisted but why, and what can be done to fundamentally change this situation.

Yahav Zohar is Senior Tour Guide with Green Olive Tours. - Profile Here.


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