Disengagement in Gaza: Withdrawal, means for peace or a cosmetic procedure to calm international pressure?


“Far from its portrayal as a traumatic operation of historic significance, the disengagement is in reality a superficial, cosmetic operation.”
Sharif Hamadeh, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority in Israel

The recent history of the Palestinian people, particularly since the 1940s, has been marked by colonization, conflict, segregation, overcrowded living conditions and both massive and incremental population transfer from their homes and lands.

Israel’s disengagement plan is being widely hailed by the international community, led by the United States, as a first step toward the final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Indeed withdrawal from occupied territories satisfies some of the requisites for resolving the conflict. However, much of the international media again have obscured the reality of the situation through a myopic voyeurism. Attention is focused on the alleged trauma of the Israeli government’s decision to sponsor the relocation of approximately 8,000 Jewish Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip and a few hundred others from four West Bank settler colonies to homes within Israel and elsewhere in the occupied Palestinian territories.

At issue are the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, all which were built after the forced appropriation of Palestinian territory at the conclusion of the 1967 war, including some built throughout the nominal “peace process” and during the current intifada. Throughout the Oslo process, Israel has seized more Palestinian land for its military use and to develop illegal settler colonies, while making thousands of Palestinians homeless, as in the Rafah demolitions of 2004. Ironically, the pattern suggests to many that the requirements of peace—including withdrawal the end of colonization—have been inherently absent in any “peace process” to date.

As for the Israeli settlers, theirs is a redeployment, and no mere withdrawal. They are being relocated to other indigenous Arab lands, and have received generous new incentive packages (this time, $250K–400K) from the government agency created to administer the withdrawal.

The Performance-based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-state Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict observed that:

“A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement.”

But the plan itself cannot possibly initiate any real development process as it lacks the necessary clarity about Israel’s role and state obligations to respect conditions for a viable, democratic Palestinian state. This omission is manifest in Israel’s current withdrawal, which leaves over 1.3 million Palestine people living in the Gaza strip under strict Israeli military control. Without sovereignty over their borders, Palestinians will not be able to transit outside the Gaza strip without special permission of the Israeli military government. The future will continue to imprison Palestinians with Israel maintaining control of natural resources and means of transportation.

Additionally, the construction of the Separation Wall is continuing throughout the West Bank. Land confiscation, demolition of homes and isolation of communities Israel’s remains consistent practice against the Palestinian population, even with Israel’s alleged initiative for peace. In 2004, Israel’s settlement encroachment completed dissected the West Bank, and Jerusalem, Palestine’s principal urban center, is increasingly inaccessible to Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israel has built several other, smaller walls in the Gaza Strip to secure Jewish settlements and military zones. All these walls have meant Israel’s more confiscations of more land. Thus, Palestinians have been unable to inhibit the continuous loss of their land, critical needed for their livelihood and essential facilities, such as infrastructure, schools, hospitals, cemeteries and food not to mention housing. Events of this week have changed little.

These losses are accompanied with restrictions on movement and closures in and around the occupied Palestinian territory (Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip), producing serious increases in the rates of poverty and unemployment, which concurrently has limited the population’s capacity to remedy the dense and dismal housing conditions in which the majority of Palestinians now live.

These developments essentially reflect the laws and institutions inside the State of Israel that prohibit the remaining million indigenous Palestinian population—as well as some 5 million refugees—from accessing much of their country’s lands, including their own titled property. Both within the State of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories, this system of law, executing “national institutions” and political and socioeconomic policies impose apartheid-like settlements and segregation along theocratic and ethnic lines. This forms a housing and land-use formula that elsewhere has proved to be a failure and generated conflict. As experience has demonstrated, so has been the outcome in Palestine/Israel.

The events of this week raise fundamental but seldom-posed questions about the dynamic of colonization that underlies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As dramatic and prolonged as the official statements and media reporting of evicted settlers may be, they have managed to preserve the core of the conflict intact. Likewise, despite political processes rendered superficial, unproductive and irrelevant by deference to the suffocating inertia of United States foreign policy, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a problem awaiting solution. Without the necessary legal and constitutional reforms and policy corrections, simply waiting prolongs tyranny and stifles calls for democracy on both sides of the Green Line, and perpetuates conflict with its serial losses. Several cosmetic peace agreements have failed for lack of material efforts toward democratization, restitution and nondiscriminatory development. International efforts are urgently needed—particularly by less-inert parties—to conduct accurate monitoring, foster democratic reform, avoid further violation of human rights, apply international law and promote a viable reconstruction of the shattered Palestinian economy.

In the next weeks Israeli bulldozers will come in and disable the 1,500 houses. All land and assets left behind by the settlers after withdrawal would be managed by the Palestinian Authority. Although Palestinians have a critical need for housing and light industry, the land will be used primarily for agriculture to protect an ailing aquifer. The challenge of reviving and rehabilitating communities which have been devastated by the Israeli occupation is to be effective only if the affected people are to be involved in planning the rehabilitation of their own communities and livelihoods. The reconstruction of the settlements presents an important opportunity to organize and strengthen communities, many of which were poor and marginalized.

Remaining focused on the basics of the ongoing conflict as the context of current events, HIC General Secretariat and HIC Housing and Land Rights Network reaffirm:

The Human Right to Adequate Housing and Land is essential for communities, especially indigenous peoples, to survive and thrive. Israel—like other States—remains bound by international law and the criteria of international legitimacy to respect, protect and fulfil this right. Moreover, as a practical framework for respecting the rights of others, upholding the Human Right to Adequate Housing and Land is also a formula for enduring peace and mutual security. Merely redeploying the deprivation of larger land rights, in the present phase, obviously will not be sustainable. The events of this week demonstrate the feasibility of truly effective withdrawal. We encourage such further measures required, consistent with human rights and humanitarian law obligations, as they are long overdue to restore housing and land rights to those Palestinian individuals and communities consistently deprived over the past six decades.

For more information:

hic-net.org, www.hic-mena.org, www.hlrn.org

and consult The Disengagement Digest from Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza), now available at: http://www.mezan.org/site_en/evacuation/settlements.php