GEORGE ARIDA,, Dec 9, 2005

Despite appearances to the contrary, Ariel Sharon is one of the true constants of Israeli politics.

Although he remains uncompromising in his ideology and consistent in his methods, he periodically redefines his political identity to serve his underlying agenda.

This week the mainstream Western media carried characteristically misleading headlines of his latest bold initiative: “Sharon Bolts Likud to Form Centrist Party” and “Israel’s Sharon unleashes political earthquake.”

As absurd as it seems at first to see the word “centrist” to describe Sharon or his new party, on reflection it may be an accurate term after all, given the spectrum of Israeli mainstream politics.

The sad truth is that “mainstream” Israeli politics occupies a narrow space, and Sharon’s new identity as a “centrist” is a reflection of the disturbing state of the Israeli body politic rather than any sign of change in Sharon’s stripes.

The left-to-right spectrum in Israel ranges from a kinder and gentler vision of “separate and unequal” (Labor, Meretz and the mainstream “left”) to a “banish-or-kill-em-all” vision of ethnic and religious superiority disturbingly reminiscent of some of Europe’s and America’s darker moments (elements of Likud, National Union, the National Religious Party, Kach, etc.)

Sharon’s heart is in the latter camp. In a global sense, he sits in a place of prominence among heads of government in terms of his open bigotry, enthusiastic use of overwhelming violence and enforcement of a brutal form of apartheid against an entire society, not to mention his personal record of atrocities.

But he is a master political pragmatist. Nothing demonstrates this better than his removal of 8,000 illegal Jewish settlers from Gaza to consolidate the grip of 250,000 of those same settlers over much more valuable Palestinian West Bank land. His reincarnation as a “centrist” is the next step in breaking the shackles of ideologically-blinded Likud rivals like Benjamin Netanyahu, who still balk at giving up a mole hill to save a mountain.

More importantly, Sharon is taking a pre-emptive swipe at the new leader of the Labor Party, Amir Peretz. Having toppled the fossilized Shimon Peres on a stridently anti-settlement, pro-working class platform, Peretz promises to negotiate peace with Palestinian partners who Sharon has consistently claimed are nowhere to be found. With his roots in Likud’s traditional base — Israel’s “second-class,” non-European Jewish population — Peretz could be a real rival.

It remains to be seen whether Peretz represents something new in Israeli politics. But clearly, Sharon does not. One need only realize that on the day Sharon declared his new party, his government began a mass demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem to use up this year’s demolition budget. For the scores of Arab families now homeless in the cold, it was still politics as usual.

Arida is a co-founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Re Isthmus article on Camp Shalom

Kathy Walsh, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, December 5, 2005

Regarding Robert Ablove’s letter about the Isthmus article on Camp Shalom (“Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” 9/2/05):
My daughter and I visited Israel/Palestine last winter. While we were there, there were no suicide/homicide bombings by Palestinians. But while we were there a 10 year old girl was shot and killed, and a 7 year old girl was injured. They were Palestinian schoolchildren in the yard of their UN school. The shots came from an Israeli sniper tower and were presumably fired by an Israeli soldier.  These are hardly isolated incidents.
I will refer to statistics posted by Remember These Children. Since September of 2000, 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians. During this time 704 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis, most by Israeli soldiers.  For 2005 the numbers are 7 Israeli children versus 57 Palestinian children killed. Since the publication of the article on Camp Shalom one Israeli child and 11 Palestinian children have been killed. I ask Robert Ablove who are the more succesful terrorists? Whose parents should be more afraid?

University of Wisconsin Regents Urged To Divest From Israel

Aaron Nathans,The Capital Times, November 11, 2005

Protesters packed a hearing Thursday on the University of Wisconsin’s investment portfolio, encouraging the Board of Regents to divest from Israel.

Many held Palestinian flags, as speaker after speaker called for the university to divest from companies that do business with the Israeli military. They argued, for example, that Caterpillar makes bulldozers that are used to knock down houses of families of suspected Palestinian terrorists. And Lockheed Martin supplies the Israeli Air Force.

“As a mother, my heart goes out to the mothers of Palestine,” said Rae Vogeler, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate. She brought along her 8-year-old son. “Do we want to be investing in machines that kill?”

But local supporters of Israel said the effort had nothing to do with changing its military, and was instead part of a sustained campaign on American campuses to delegitimize the Jewish state.

The UW Board of Regents’ Business and Finance Committee held its annual forum on trust funds at Grainger Hall, with committee members, as usual, sitting quietly at a table in front while members of the public said their piece. The event, usually a tepid and sparsely attended affair, is designed to allow people to comment on the university’s investment choices. About 70 attended on Thursday.

Occasionally, the Board of Regents has taken action, such as two years ago, when it briefly divested in Tyson Foods bonds to show solidarity with striking workers at the plant in Jefferson.

Mohammed Abed of the University of Wisconsin Divest From Israel Campaign said Israel should be the board’s next target. He said the Jewish peoples’ history of suffering does not justify keeping the Palestinian people down.

“Is it not substantial personal injury when a person’s home is demolished, and they have nowhere else to live?” Abed said. “People come along and say, why Israel? That is not the real question. The real question is, why not Israel?”

Ken Goldstein, a UW-Madison political science professor, was one of the few pro-Israel speakers to attend the event. He said everyone knows that the best solution is Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side. The Palestinians have yet to control their radical elements and take risks for peace, he said.

Referring to Vogeler, he said: “When a Palestinian mother loves her child as much as that woman loves her child, and does not encourage 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds to strap bombs onto their body and blow up Israeli -3, 4-, 5-year-olds at a pizzeria, then we’ll have a two-state solution,” Goldstein said.

“This terrorism is not about a two-state solution,” Goldstein said. “This is about driving the Israelis into the sea.”

On another topic, freshman Molly Glasgow said the university should divest from Abercrombie & Fitch because, she said, it has factories in nations where labor is treated unfairly.

The UW’s current investment portfolio is at $350 million, up slightly from last year.

Re: Regents urged to divest from Israel

Kathy Walsh, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, November 11, 2005

In the Capital Times article on the divestment debate at UW you quote Professor Ken Goldstein:

    “When a Palestinian woman loves her child, and does not encourage 14-, 15-, and 16-year olds to strap bombs onto their body and blow up Israeli 3-, 4- and 5-, year olds at a pizzeria, then we’ll have a two-state solution.”

I was in Rafah (a city in the Gaza strip) when a 10-year-old girl was killed by Israeli sniper fire while standing in line outside her school. I saw the mother. She was beyond herself in grief. Her child may be considered a martyr, but her mother was NOT celebrating her martyrdom, but grieving it, as I know Jewish mothers and Christian mothers and even atheist mothers like myself would do. And I don’t think it was because her daughter was killed before she had a chance to be a bomb. The child’s name was Norhan, from “no’or” which means light in Arabic. She was a light extinguished for no reason.

I believe this mother loved her child as much as I love my daughter who was traveling with me, as much as Rae Vogeler loves her son, and presumably as much as Professor Goldstein loves his daughter. I know I would give my life to protect either of my daughters.

I want to ask who encouraged the soldier to pull the trigger and open fire on a schoolyard. I also must comment that many Israeli soldiers refuse to participate in such carnage and many Jews are horrified by such acts.

I want to encourage everyone to look up the statistics on who is killing whom. They can be found at Remember These Children, B’Tselem, or even the Israeli Defense Force websites. As of November 9, 2005 the totals for Israeli children killed by Palestinians since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000 is 123. In this same time period, Israelis have killed 704 Palestinian children.

Two children have been killed since November first, both Palestinians. They are Mohammad Hamdi Abu Salha, 15, of Nablus, and Ahmed Ismail Khatib, 12, of Jenin. Both were shot by Israeli soldiers. Ahmed’s father donated his organs to several Israeli children and one Israeli woman. That is just one example of the hatred that Palestinians teach their children. I want to ask Professor Goldstein how he teaches his daughter to love, or hate.

If we reversed the nationalities in Professor Goldstein’s statements, they would be seen for what they are, a veil of language, very racist language, used to obscure the truth. Yet in our society it is those who claim that Palestinians are full members of the human race, deserving of the same basic human rights as all other humans, who are usually labeled “racists.”

I do not hate the people that disagree with me. Yet since I have become involved in this issue I have had people spit in my face, call me hateful names, and drop me as friends. One of my friends in this struggle has received death threats, for herself and her child, whom she also loves more than life itself. Yet we are considered the “racists” and “hatemongers.” I do not hate those who disagree with me, but I am angry. And I want the people at my University, in my city, in my state, and in my world to see through the veil and view the anti-Palestinian rhetoric for what it is.

November 3, 2005
Ibdaa Dance Troupe in Madison


We are excited to announce that on Thursday November 3 the world-renowned Ibdaa Children’s Dance Troupe will perform for the first time in Madison at 7:30 pm in the UW Union Theater.

This group of 10 boys and 10 girls between the ages of 10 and 13 is touring major cities in the U.S. under the sponsorship of the San Francisco-based Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA). The dancers combine traditional “debke” dance and brilliant costumes with a modern narrative about their experiences as Palestinian refugees growing up and living in the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem. The Ibdaa children’s troupes have performed all over the world to great acclaim.

The Madison performance will be free and open to the public. It is sponsored by MRSCP, the Arab Student Association, and Al-Awda Wisconsin. For more information e-mail or

Albuquerque, NM, Amherst, MA, Austin, TX, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, Detroit, MI, Houston, TX, Keene, NH, Los Angeles, CA, Minneapolis, MN, Sacramento, CA, , Santa Fe, NM, Seattle, WA

For venues, and information:

Tawfiq Nasser: Palestinian Doctor Tells Of Life Under Occupation

Samara Kalk Derby, The Capital Times, October 10, 2005

To get to work each day, Tawfiq Nasser needs a green card, known as a “dirty ID.” He also needs what is called a magnetic card to show that he is not a terrorist or security threat.

On top of that, he must carry two permits, both of which have to be renewed every few months.

Nasser is one of the lucky ones. As director and CEO of Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, the Palestinian doctor moves about the city and the rest of Israel with some aggravation and complication.

“This is a privilege, a real privilege,” he told an audience of about 40 Sunday afternoon at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg.

Nasser, who has studied and worked in the U.S., was in Madison to give a presentation, “A View From Jerusalem: Challenges for Palestinian Health Care.” He also spoke at St. Stephens Lutheran Church in Monona. His appearances were co-sponsored by the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

“I am not angry,” said Nasser, 40, noting that he makes a good living and has a driver to help navigate the checkpoints.

But with its 52 permanent and 60 “flying” or mobile checkpoints, and now its security fence almost half complete, the Israeli government punishes the whole Palestinian population for the crimes of a few, creating “more anger, polarization and radicalization,” he said.

Suicide bombers — whom Nasser calls creative and “literally crazy” — will plan their attacks close to the wall to make holes in it, he said: “Just to signify to the world that we need a way out. We can’t just be prisoners.”

Israel contends that its controversial 435-mile security barrier — a mixture of concrete, razor wire, ditches and electronic fence – is crucial in keeping out Palestinian suicide bombers.

Hundreds of Israeli civilians have been killed and injured in suicide attacks in the last five years. Israel maintains that the wall has cut attacks significantly.

The U.S. administration is talking about a viable Palestinian state, Nasser said.

“We appreciate Bush saying it,” he said. “We just don’t know if he meant it. Like when he said we are in a ‘crusade’ in the Middle East. Whoops!”

October 9, 2005
Dr. Tawfiq Nasser in Madison

A View From Jerusalem – Challenges for Palestinian Health Care

Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, CEO of Augusta Victoria Hospital, Jerusalem

St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church
5700 Pheasant Hill Rd., Monona
Dr. Nasser will preach at 8:00 & 10:00 Worship
and make a presentation beginning at 9:10

Memorial United Church of Christ
5705 Lacey Rd., Fitchburg
Dr. Nasser will speak from 4:30 – 5:30

Evening Reception of Hospitality and Conversation
At the home of Rev. Bruce Burnside
1109 Gilbert Rd., Madison
RSVP Requested to Rev. Burnside (see below)

The public is invited to any and all events of the day. For Information or directions please contact Rev Bruce Burnside, 608-222-1241 or

AUGUSTA VICTORIA HOSPITAL stands atop the Mt. Of Olives in East Jerusalem where for over 50 years it has, as a project of Lutheran World Federation, provided exceptional health care to Palestinian people, primarily from East Jerusalem, many refugee camps and villages in the West Bank. Numerous challenges have threatened the work of the hospital, its staff and patients over the years, but none, perhaps, as great as those now being faced because of the Israeli “Security Wall” and an Israeli tax decision. A great deal of the hospital’s care is provided on a charitable basis.

The Director of the hospital DR. TAWFIQ NASSER grew up in Ramallah and Jerusalem and now lives in Ramallah with his wife and children. Nasser is a Palestinian Christian in the Anglican tradition. His work as CEO of the hospital is characterized by tremendous resourcefulness, amazing stamina and noble dedication. Under his leadership the hospital has developed a first class pediatrics dialysis department, has recently opened an enviable radiation oncology unit and has developed a series of mobile clinics to travel into the West Bank to provide medical care for Palestinians who no longer have access to the hospital because of closures, checkpoints and the “Security Wall” which cuts the hospital off from the West Bank. While bureaucracy, economic hardship and movement restrictions plague the hospital, Dr. Nasser continues to break new ground as a visionary and man of compassion.

An articulate and energetic speaker, Tawfiq Nasser will inspire you with stories and challenge you to support the cause of justice and peace.

Co-sponsored by St. Stephens Lutheran Church, Memorial United Church of Christ, and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

September 22 – December 1, 2005
Film Series: “Finding Hope in Unexpected Places”

A Community Film Series
September 22 – Uncovered: The War on Iraq
October 20 – Rana’s Wedding
November 10 – Hidden in Plain Sight
December 1 – Until When . . .

Edgewood College, Predolin Humanities Center, Anderson Auditorium
7:00 pm for all showings

“The Arts Go to War”, an Edgewood human issues class; the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and the School of the Americas Watch — Madison join forces to bring you four thought-provoking, disturbing, and enlightening films. An audience discussion will follow each film. All films are free and open to the public.

September 22 – Uncovered: The War on Iraq
Documentary; Director: Robert Greenwald; 2004; 87 minutes
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald chronicles the Bush Administration’s case to invade Iraq following Sept. 11, 2001. The film examines the administration’s argument for war through interviews with U.S intelligence and defense officials, foreign service experts and U.N. weapons inspectors — including a former CIA director, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and President Bush’s Secretary of the Army.

“When the Bush Administration’s case for war in Iraq shifted from the existence of weapons of mass destruction to the existence of ‘weapons of mass destruction-related activities’, director Robert Greenwald got angry. Uncovered: The War On Iraq is his response; a powerful, well-constructed and sober documentary that – via a dense collection of interviews with intelligence experts, diplomats, weapons inspectors, and politicians – painstakingly and ruthlessly takes apart the American government’s changing arguments for invasion.” – Jonathan Trout, BBC

October 20 – Rana’s Wedding
Feature; Director: Hany Abu-Assad; 2002; 90 minutes
Shot on location in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, and checkpoints in between, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the eyes of a young woman who, with only ten hours to marry, must negotiate her way around roadblocks, soldiers, stonethrowers, overworked officials and into the heart of an elusive lover.

Roger Ebert says Rana’s Wedding is ” . . . fascinating as a document. It gives a more complete visual picture of the borders, the Palestinian settlements and the streets of Jerusalem than we ever see on the news . . .” Phil Hall of Film Threat says Rana’s Wedding is “among the finest films made in the Middle East.”

November 10 – Hidden in Plain Sight
Documentary; Director: John H. Smihula; 2003; 90 minutes
Hidden in Plain Sight is a feature-length documentary that looks at the nature of U.S. policy in Latin America through the prism of the School of the Americas (renamed, in January of 2001, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), the controversial military school that trains Latin American soldiers in the USA.

Demonstrators denounce the SOA as a “School of Assassins,” but Army officials argue that the school has played a crucial role in bringing democracy and stability to Latin America. On this issue, the U.S. Congress is sharply divided. Enter noted scholars Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Christopher Hitchens, and Michael Parenti, who broaden the debate to include such subjects as militarism, globalization, national security, and international terrorism. Personal accounts from victims of the violence and repression in Latin America raise questions and concerns about the true aims of U.S. foreign policy.

Informative and provocative, this documentary presents different points of view which illuminate the turbulent reality of Latin America, demystify the policy-making process, and shed light on some of the most complex and urgent problems facing U.S. citizens today.

December 1 – Until When . . .
Documentary; Director: Dahna Abourahme; 2004; 76 minutes
Until When . . . explores the lives of four Palestinian families who live in Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. People share their experiences with the Israeli occupation and how it affects their lives. Director Dahna Abourahme integrates archival photographs, map animations, and informational text into the film’s historical journey. The personal stories convey sadness, frustration and nostalgia for absent family members. However, they live and marry, so the families dance and ululate when they celebrate momentous occasions.

Sonia Nettnin writes in Scoop: “Palestinians affirm their human rights to freedom from oppression now and for future generations. Their shared feelings weave a narrative thread that leads to hope.”

Sr. Maureen McDonnell, mcdonnel at
RafahSisterCity at

Ain’t gonna study war no more

Bill Lueders, Isthmus, September 1, 2005

Camp Shalom had children pretend to be Israeli soldiers

It was the face paint that tipped Tsele Barr off. Early this summer, she was picking up her two sons from Camp Shalom, a day camp run by the Madison Jewish Community Council, and noticed that some of the children had paint on their faces. She asked her youngest son, Izak, what this was about and he explained, “We were playing Israeli army.”

This, Barr learned from Izak, involved “doing drills and such.” Then her older son, Jasper, told her that similar training was part of his camp experience the summer before, and had included shooting make-believe guns.

Barr, a freelance graphic designer, was deeply troubled by this news and placed some calls to other parents. She also spoke to the camp director, Lynn Kaplan, and to Shirin Ezekial, a cultural ambassador from Israel who led the children in this activity.

“Although they listened to my concerns, I got the impression that they didn’t see what the big deal was,” relates Barr. “I really think it’s appalling that a camp that calls itself Camp Shalom [the word means peace] would glorify the Israeli army” — which, she says, “repeatedly commits human-rights abuses.”

Other parents also contacted Kaplan. Susan Cook, a professor at the UW-Madison School of Music, says her son reported that, during this year’s simulation, he raised his hand to ask a question, only to be told: “Soldiers don’t ask questions, they follow orders.”

“That is something I do not teach my children — to blindly follow orders,” says Cook. She thought Kaplan was initially defensive but ultimately seemed to grasp the reasons for her discomfit: “I came away feeling very good about her response.”

Both parents stress that Camp Shalom is an excellent camp and that they have no problem with a component that teaches children about life in Israel. But they object to what Cook calls “inculcating militaristic beliefs.”

So do others in the community. “I just feel really outraged that at Camp Peace, the kids were playing Israeli army,” says Jennifer Loewenstein, the founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister-City Project. “When I heard about it, I was just livid.”

George Arida, an Arab American member of Loewenstein’s group (whose efforts to establish a formal sister-city link were voraciously opposed by the Madison Jewish Community Council), has this to say: “If there was an Islamic kids’ camp and it had even a hint of playing Islamic war games, there would be a huge public outcry and rightly so.”

Kaplan, in a brief phone interview, disputed an overview of the parents’ accounts (without giving any specifics) but admitted they “did raise a concern and it was a very valid concern” about a camp “activity.” Kaplan, saying she was too busy to talk, promised to call back later but never did, ignoring a follow-up message.

Marc Rosenthal, whose son attended a subsequent session of Camp Shalom, says the Israel soldier role-playing was apparently not repeated. Which is fine by him. “This is not what we want our kids doing. This is not what Camp Shalom is all about.”

Barr, for her part, vows to remain vigilant: “We’ll see what happens next year.”

Israeli Wall to Ruin Palestinian Economy

Al Jazeera, August 26, 2005

The Palestinian economy has deteriorated sharply since the start of the
uprising in 2000, and Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank will
depress it further, a United Nations agency said.

The economy shrank 1% in 2004, one in three Palestinian workers was jobless
at the end of last year and 61% of households had income below the poverty
line of $350 per month, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said in
its annual report on the occupied territories on Thursday.

“Put simply, in the wake of the past four years of Israeli occupation and
war, the Palestinian economy invests and produces less and therefore
consumes more imports, especially those from Israel,” the report said.

Palestinian net imports from Israel represent two-thirds of the total trade
deficit of $2.6 billion, it said. Some 80,000 workers formerly employed in
Israel must also be absorbed.

The Palestinian Authority must now focus on reducing widespread poverty and
boosting production to revive its war-torn economy, the UNCTAD report said.

Ability to Produce

But the barrier or wall Israel is building inside the West Bank will further
erode the fragmented Palestinian production base and resources and “people’s
ability to feed themselves,” it said.

Israel says the wall is a security measure and is intended to keep out

Earlier this week Israel finished evacuating all 21 Jewish settlements in
Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank, part of its plan to withdraw
completely from Gaza, where some 8500 Israeli settlers lived close to 1.4
million Palestinians.

The Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza, broke out in 2000 when peace talks stalled. Israel had
occupied both territories since the 1967 Middle East war.

Occupation-related Distortions

“The top priority at this stage of the Palestinian economy’s development is
to focus on poverty reduction while nurturing productive capacity,
eliminating occupation-related distortions and laying the ground for
sustainable economic recovery,” the UNCTAD report said.

The estimated opportunity cost to the economy over the past five years,
representing the value of goods and services that were not produced because
of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, is estimated at 6.4
billion, while capital stock losses are estimated at $3.5 billion during the

“Economic realities on the ground after the prolonged conflict remain very
harsh and uncertain, regardless of all the positive developments we’ve
witnessed recently,” Raja Khalidi, the report’s main author, told a news
briefing. “In both Gaza and the West Bank, challenges of recovery are

Distortions due to decades of Israeli occupation and dependence on the
Jewish state must be corrected before the future Palestinian state turns to
trade liberalisation, the report added.

Jobless in Gaza

Mehammed Mack, L.A. Weekly, August 25, 2005

A somber note for many Gazans witnessing the Israeli pullout was the prospect of losing jobs. Al-Jazeera profiled the closure of one of the last remaining monuments of Oslo-era cooperation, the Erez industrial park, a multidisciplinary Gaza manufacturing facility that had employed more than 4,000 Arab workers. One of the newly redundant vented to Al-Jazeera cameras: “This is a cruel decision for us, I have worked here for 10 years,” he said. “I don’t have any work in Gaza, I am going to have to sit around doing nothing.” According to Israeli Gaza correspondent Amira Hass, the settlements employed around 3,200 Palestinians whose cheap labor (salaries averaging about a third of the Israeli minimum wage) inflated the wealth of Israeli farmers and entrepreneurs. The international LinkTV, whose Middle Eastern–themed programming attracts many Arab viewers because of shows like the Peabody award–winning newsreel Mosaic, ran a documentary peering into the life of a Palestinian family working on a Gaza agricultural settlement, remarkable for its unintentional echoes of the Old South. One memorable image showed the enthusiastic Palestinian father speaking in Hebrew of the brotherly bond between Arabs and Jews, while seated at a table with the settler couple that had given him a good job and food to eat.

Overall, the Arab media approached last week’s Israeli withdrawal from Gaza from an almost unanimously critical perspective. But the Middle East’s satellite commentators and editorial pages were anything but monolithic in content, sharply disagreeing over what the week’s “disengagement” meant and, more importantly, portends. Reading a sampling of reports and opinion from the region’s main Arabic and English presses, it would be difficult to decide whether the Gaza pullout was cause for Palestinian celebration or gloom.

Neglecting economics, Arab papers had particular scorn for the Western media’s “soft” treatment of previously belligerent settlers. Rami Khouri, of Lebanon’s Daily Star, wondered in his column if everyone had forgotten who the victim was: “The widespread press descriptions of the Gaza settler’s ‘emotional pain’ at being sent back to their own country of Israel lack both credibility and relevance.” Khouri, among other acerbic commentators, noted the glorification of Ariel Sharon’s “heroic” masochism in reneging on his legacy as father of the settlements: “It is outrageous that Sharon would say, even as he was evacuating Gaza, that he prefers to keep it.” The paper’s editorial, however, rationalized Sharon’s promise to “continue and develop” settlement activity in the West Bank as the words of a man trying to appease his public: “We can partly excuse the imperialist hostility of his statement by acknowledging that the pullout has stirred strong sentiments in Israel, and Sharon is now facing considerable domestic pressure and even a potential challenge to his premiership.”

Despite a few overtures, the main attitude spanning the Arab media is one of extreme vigilance and suspicion. Discussion around the seemingly benevolent withdrawal has turned to what the “catch” will be, a dreaded prospect that has precluded widespread Palestinian celebration, for fear of indicating partnership in a bargain that might mean the loss of the West Bank. A fearful Daily Star editorial raised the empty threat of international law against Sharon’s PR maneuvering: “He cannot continue to ignore his responsibilities to the international community under the ‘road map’ to peace, nor can he speak two different messages — one of peace to the international community and one of conquest to his Israeli public.” Speculation as to Sharon’s true disengagement motives was far-reaching and almost unanimously bleak. Khouri called the pullout “an expedient, grudging, defensive, reluctant endeavor” that “does not have the compelling ring of authenticity and honesty that characterized the white South Africans’ coming to terms with black majority rule.”

As Western anchors gaped at Ariel Sharon’s incredible personal sacrifice, getting teary over the drama of internecine Jewish conflict, Al-Jazeera sat back like a pessimistic theater critic and waxed unenthusiastic: “The question of the evacuation of the settlements has not come with the difficulty the Israeli government is trying to project,” sighed Palestinian correspondent Shereen Abu Aqla. More curious to Al-Jazeera was the soldiers’ “excessive sensitivity” in evicting the settlers, and all the “images of self-control, patience and kindness that the eye has not witnessed before from the Israeli forces,” especially in comparison to the Israel Defense Forces’ callous and sometimes deadly management of Israeli Arab protests. An article on the Al-Jazeera Web site had six references to Israeli “tears” and seemed to make much of the sympathy-provoking practice by which settlers would wave their children in front of phlegmatic soldiers, portraying their behavior as a kind of child endangerment similar to Michael Jackson’s toddler-dangling. One report read, “Another man who had been forced onto a bus held his infant nephew out of the window, shouting to the soldiers, ‘You want him?’”

Veteran journalist Daoud Kuttab, writing in the Jordan Times, cautioned against believing that the withdrawal came in response to Palestinian resistance, especially during the current climate of ambiguity: “It would be a mistake to attribute the Israeli withdrawal exclusively to Palestinian attacks,” he explained. “After all, this bittersweet Israeli action was neither a clear result of military defeat nor a consequence of political negotiations.” He acknowledged the political stakes of Sharon’s decision, stopping short of using the word “courage”: “There is no doubt that the evacuation of Jewish settlers in areas that Israelis consider part of their God-given territory represents a huge ideological reversal.” One analogy that kept re-appearing throughout media speculation of Sharon’s pullout motives was that of military strategizing, as in the words of Ghassan Sharbal, editor in chief of the influential pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat: “Sometimes a warrior is forced to retreat a step. But that doesn’t mean he wants peace,” he wrote. “The retreat aims to redraw the lines, a redeployment to strengthen his ability to fight the next battle.” The Al-Ahram Weekly viewed the withdrawal as a smoke screen to distract from accelerated construction in Palestinian East Jerusalem, where new settlements and the growing Separation Wall threaten to imminently cut the civic and economic heart of Palestine out of the West Bank. The paper quoted the somber prediction of professor Ali Jarbawy, from Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University: “By giving up Gaza, the Israelis are winning 15 years’ advance in materializing their project,” he explained. “The formula for Sharon now is not land for peace, but land for time.” The disengagement has expanded the almost-deaf disconnect between the sides, with both dreaming up isolated and unrealistic endings to the story that begins with Gaza, as Cairo’s Al-Ahram Weekly’s Sherine Bahaa described.

“It would seem as if the two parties are speaking different languages,” she said. “Palestinian officials believe Gaza is but a prelude to the liberation of Jerusalem and the West Bank while the Israelis are reiterating that no more retreats are expected, neither now nor ever.”

Ehud Asheri, of the Israeli left-wing Daily Ha’aretz (whose coverage of Middle East affairs many Arab journalists prefer to The New York Times), cut through the satellite fog and gave the best summary of the media circus, calling attention to “the real battle being waged in the Gaza Strip — the battle over the disengagement narrative,” which the settlers were “winning,” regardless of real events, “on television.”

The Gaza Evacuations

Disengagement or Tactical Military Redeployment?

SHAMAI K. LEIBOWITZ and KATERINA HELLER, CounterPunch, August 24, 2005

The imminent handover of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority and the evacuation of a small portion of the West Bank from Israeli settlers has been billed by the international media as a turning point in the violent history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through well-planned media strategies, which included inviting the world media to capture images of Israelis dragging men, women and children out of their homes in the illegal settlements they occupied for thirty-eight years, the Israeli government has succeeded in marketing the Unilateral Disengagement Plan as a great “concession” on Israel’s part and a revival of the “peace process.”

But the Unilateral Disengagement Plan will turn out to be no such thing as it is no more than a tactical military redeployment of Israel’s Occupation Forces. This is evident from Israel’s decision to retain military control over the would-be evacuated areas in the West Bank and control over airspace, coastline and border crossings of the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s decision to continue with the building of the West Bank Wall deep inside the West Bank.

In a December 2004 report, the World Bank predicted that by continuing to control the flow of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, rather than offering Gaza inhabitants economic progress, the Disengagement will worsen the already dire economic situation of the Gaza Strip.

Effectively, the Disengagement Plan will turn Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison with 1.3 million Palestinian inmates. The result will be a continuation, if not an increase, of the bloodshed and violence. Similarly, the removal of 4 out of 130 Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied West Bank while building and expanding others, at the expense of 2 million Palestinians who continue to live without human or civil rights, does not signal an end to the Israeli Occupation but, rather, its perpetuation.

Despite its severe flaws, can the Disengagement be beneficial toward peace? Yes, if the international community would demand from Israel a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in the mean time, deploy an international peacekeeping force to serve as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians.

In 1999, when East Timor began its transition from Indonesian occupation toward independence, the UN deployed an International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) consisting of 8,000 peacekeeping troops to quell the violence in the region. They successfully maintained the peace and served as a buffer between Indonesia and the East Timorese, allowing the latter to develop their independence peacefully.

Based on this precedent, the UN Security Council should issue a similar resolution to deploy “INTERFIP- International Forces in Israel/Palestine”, which would be stationed in the West Bank and Gaza, monitor Gaza’s border crossings, airports and coastline, while serving as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians. These forces would terminate the system of closures, curfews and arbitrary restrictions imposed by the Israeli army on Palestinian movement which have devastated the Palestinian economy. This would allow for economic growth and progress in the West Bank and Gaza, and foster a peacebuilding environment on both sides.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as the World Bank and the European Union, have publicly supported international intervention, whether in the form of a UN-based force or a NATO force. The Palestinian Authority has welcomed this idea. There remains a “small” problem: The Israeli government has objected to it.

Israel should learn from its past mistakes. The deterioration and eventual collapse of the Oslo Accords have been attributed mainly to the absence of international armed peacekeeping forces to enforce the agreements and prevent human rights abuses. To prevent the same mistake from happening twice, the international community must economically pressure Israel to agree to the deployment of a neutral armed peacekeeping force. This has the power to transform Disengagement into a peacebuilding operation, leading the way to the implementation of the “Road Map to Peace” – the plan, sponsored by the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the U.N., to establish an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state by 2005.

As Israelis, we are proud of our country’s decision to start complying with international law, but we are terribly worried this will not bring peace and security to our people. We urgently need the support of the international community – by deploying peacekeeping troops now.

Shamai K. Leibowitz is an Israeli attorney who holds a Master of Laws in International Legal Studies from American University’s Washington College of Law and is an active member of Gush Shalom – the Israeli Peace Bloc.
Katerina Heller is an Israeli organizational psychologist and founding editor of The Occupation Magazine. They can be reached at:

Amira Hass: The Remaining 99.5 Percent

For the sake of about half a percent of the population of the Gaza Strip, a Jewish half-percent, the lives of the remaining 99.5 percent were totally disrupted and destroyed – worthy of wonderment indeed.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Aug 24, 2005

“I want to ask you as a Jew to a Jewess,” the young man said a few days ago. In these days, a beginning such as this invites a dialogue of the kind in which we have been drowning for several weeks now – a dialogue in which the definition “Jew” has been appropriated to describe some type of unique entity, one that is set apart from the other human species, a superior one. Sometimes it’s the Jewish boy with his arms raised from the Warsaw Ghetto; sometimes it’s the young girl whose orange shirt bears the slogan, “We won’t forget and we won’t forgive;” and sometimes it’s the soldier who refuses to evacuate a Jew. A unique entity of ties of blood, sacredness and land.

“As a Jew to a Jewess,” said the young man, who turned out to be a tourist from South America who has family in Israel and also understands Hebrew. It was at the Erez crossing, among the barbed-wire fencing, the locked gates, the revolving gates, the intimidating guard towers, the soldiers using special cameras to keep an eye on the handful of individuals passing through, and the booming loudspeakers through which they bark out their orders in Hebrew to women who have been waiting in the heat for five hours to go visit their sons imprisoned at the Be’er Sheva jail.

“Is it possible,” he continued with his question, “that the Israelis, who are so nice and good – after all, I have family here – are unaware of the injustice they have caused here?” The images of destruction left behind by Israel in Palestinian Gaza and witnessed by him in the past few days have left a look of shock in his eyes. “I am a Jew, and my father is a Holocaust survivor, and I grew up on totally different values of Judaism – social justice, equality and concern for one’s fellow man.”

As naive as it may have been, the question was like a breath of fresh air. Here was a Jew who was voicing his opinion on the fate of 1,300,000 people, while the entire world appeared to be focused on every one of the 8,000 Jews who are moving house. Here was a Jew who was moved by what have become dry numbers – 1,719 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip from the end of September 2000 until today; and according to various estimates, some two-thirds of them were unarmed and were not killed in battles or during the course of attempts to attack a military position or a settlement.

Based on figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, of those killed, 379 were children under the age of 18; 236 were younger than 16; 96 were women; and 102 were the objectives of targeted liquidations during the course of which the Israel Defense Forces also killed another 95 individuals who, according to the military too, were “innocent bystanders.”

Some 9,000 Gaza residents were injured; 2,704 homes to some 20,000 people were razed by the IDF’s bulldozers and assault helicopters; 2,187 were partially destroyed. Some 31,650 dunams of agricultural land were left scorched.

The Israeli responses to these numbers are standard: They invited it upon themselves, or: What do they expect when they fire Qassams at children and peaceful homes, or try to infiltrate and murder citizens in their houses – that the IDF won’t come to their defense?

A direct line is drawn between these questions, which expressed the public’s support for the Israeli assault policy, and participating in the sorrow of the evacuees and the wonderment at this “magnificent chapter” in the history of the Zionist settlement enterprise – a direct line of fundamental belief in the Jews’ super-rights in this land. Indeed, one can join those who are amazed by the settlers in general, and the Gaza Strip settlers in particular.

What talent it takes to live for 35 years in a flourishing park and splendid villas just 20 meters from overcrowded, suffocated refugee camps. What talent it takes to turn on the sprinklers on the lawns, while just across the way, 20,000 other people are dependent on the distribution of drinking water in tankers; to know that you deserve it, that your government will pave magnificent roads for you and neglect (prior to Oslo, before 1994) to the point of destruction the Palestinian infrastructure. What skill it takes to step out of your well-cared-for greenhouse and walk unmoved past 60-year-old fruit-bearing date trees that are uprooted for you, roads that are blocked for you, homes that are demolished for you, the children who are shelled from helicopters and tanks and buried alongside you, for the sake of the safety of your children and the preservation of your super-rights.

For the sake of about half a percent of the population of the Gaza Strip, a Jewish half-percent, the lives of the remaining 99.5 percent were totally disrupted and destroyed – worthy of wonderment indeed. And also amazing is how most of the other Israelis, who did not go themselves to settle the homeland, suffered this reality and did not demand that their government put an end to it – before the Qassams.

A big, well-fed goat was removed from the Gaza Strip this week. And therefore, the sense of relief felt by many of the 99.5 percent is understandable – although it is a far cry from the reality emerging from the so-superficial media reports that are focusing on the celebrations of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In the words last week in the Khan Yunis refugee camp of a former worker at one of the settlements: “The settlements divided the Strip into three or four prisons. Now, we will live in one big prison – a more comfortable one, but a prison nevertheless.”

Praying with Their Eyes Closed

Reflections on the Disengagement from Gaza

Sara Roy, MIFTAH, August 20, 2005

Israel’s disengagement plan is 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. This essay is a refutation of that view. After presenting the current situation of Gaza as the result of deliberate Israeli policies of economic integration, deinstitutionalization, and closure, the author demonstrates how provisions of the plan itself preclude the establishment of a viable economy in the Strip. Examining the plan’s implications for the West Bank, the author argues that the occupation, far from ending, will actually be consolidated. She concludes with a look at the disengagement within the context of previous agreements, particularly Oslo—all shaped by Israel’s overwhelming power—and the steadily shrinking possibilities offered to the Palestinians.

When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, we had the Bible in our hand, and they had the land.
—Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya

On 9 June 2005, the last legal hurdle to implementing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza was cleared when the Israeli High Court approved the plan and its removal of all the Jewish settlements there. The settlers, though angered by the decision, were not surprised and vowed to oppose their coerced departure with all means possible. Considerable media attention in the United States has been devoted to the suffering of the Jewish settlers and the personal costs for them of the disengagement. This attention has served to thaw and then humanize the often violent and zealous settler population, and in so doing, to illustrate and amplify the sacrifices Israel is making for peace.

By now a great deal has been written about the disengagement plan by both supporters and opponents. Many of the arguments in favor focus on the redeployment as an opportunity to break the near five-year-old political impasse between Palestinians and Israelis and usher in a new era of stability and peace. In April 2005, for example, President Bush stated that Israel’s withdrawal will allow the establishment of “a democratic state in the Gaza” and open the door for democracy in the Middle East. Tom Friedman was more explicit, arguing that “[t]he issue for Palestinians is no longer about how they resist the Israeli occupation in Gaza, but whether they build a decent mini-state there—a Dubai on the Mediterranean. Because if they do, it will fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank.”

Embedded in both statements are a set of assumptions: that Palestinians will be free to build their own democracy, that Israel will eventually cede the West Bank (or even consider the possibility), that Israel’s “withdrawal” will strengthen the Palestinian position in negotiations over the West Bank, that the occupation will end or become increasingly irrelevant, that the gross asymmetries between the two protagonists will be redressed. Hence, the Gaza disengagement plan—if implemented “properly”—will provide a real (perhaps the only) opportunity for resolving the conflict and creating a Palestinian state. It follows that Palestinians will be responsible for their success, and that if they fail to build a “democratic” or “decent mini-state” in Gaza, the fault will be theirs and theirs alone.

Dubai on the Mediterranean?

It would be useful to consider what the Palestinians in Gaza have to work with to achieve success.

Today, there are over 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Strip. By 2010 this number will reach close to two million. The Gaza Strip has the highest level of fertility in the region—5.5–6.0 children per woman—and the population grows at a very high rate of 3–5 percent annually. Fifty years ago, 80 percent of the population had not yet been born. Fifty percent of Gazans are 15 years old or younger, with rapidly declining access to health care and education. The half of the territory in which the population is concentrated has one of the highest population densities in the world. In the Jabalya refugee camp alone, there are 74,000 persons per square kilometer, compared with 25,000 persons per square kilometer in Manhattan.

Palestinians are currently experiencing the worst economic depression in modern history, according to the World Bank, primarily caused by long-standing Israeli restrictions (especially closure) that have dramatically reduced Gaza’s trade levels (especially exports) and virtually cut off Gaza’s labor force from their jobs inside Israel. This has resulted in unprecedented levels of unemployment ranging from 35 to 40 percent. Some 65 to 75 percent of Gazans are impoverished (compared to 30 percent in 2000), and many are hungry.

In 2004, a Harvard study concluded that the increase in Gaza’s population by 2010 will require the “creation of some 250,000 new jobs . . . to maintain current employment rates at 60 percent and the establishment of an additional 2,000 classrooms and 100 primary healthcare clinics annually to bring access to education and public health services at par with the West Bank.” Yet, the disengagement plan states that Israel will further reduce and eventually bar Palestinians from working in Israel. Researchers on the same Harvard study also stated that in a few years, Gaza’s labor force will be “entirely unskilled and increasingly illiterate.” As for educational services, between 1997 and 2004, student-teacher ratios declined by 30 percent, with 80 students per class in government schools and 40 per class in UNRWA schools. Test scores for Palestinian children are well below passing, currently under 50 percent, and the majority of 4th graders fail to advance to the next grade.

About 41 percent of Gazans are now assessed by the World Food Programme (WFP) to be “food insecure,” defined as lacking secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development; in five areas of Gaza, the figure exceeds 50 percent. An additional 30 percent of the population is “food vulnerable,” which places them under threat of becoming food insecure or malnourished.

Since 2000, the economy of the Gaza Strip and West Bank has lost potential income of approximately $6.3 billion. In addition, the economy has suffered over $2.2 billion worth of physical damage by the Israeli army, which means, in effect, that the “occupied Palestinian territory has lost at least one fifth of its economic base over the last four years as a consequence of war and occupation.”

Yet, despite these conditions, the plan states: “The process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” This idea rests on another powerful assumption of the Gaza plan and the discourse surrounding it: that Gaza’s agony is a recent phenomenon borne of the last five years of intifada, and that the return of the land taken up by military installations and settlements—anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the territory—will easily redress the situation. Under this widely held notion, the context for understanding the disengagement begins in 2000, not in 1967. Israel’s primary role in creating Palestine’s misery and decline over nearly four decades is quite simply expunged from the narrative.

There is no doubt that the destruction wrought by Israel over the last five years has been ruinous for Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip—the demolition of homes (some 4,600 between 2000 and 2004), schools, roads, factories and workshops, hospitals, mosques, and greenhouses, the razing of agricultural fields and the uprooting of trees, the further undermining of the economy, the spatial imprisonment of the population and denial of access to education and health services resulting from near total closure. But one need only look at the devastated economy of Gaza on the eve of the uprising to realize that the devastation of Gaza is not recent. By the time the second uprising broke out, Israel’s closure policy had been in force for seven years, leading to levels of unemployment and poverty that were, until then, unprecedented. Yet the closure policy proved so destructive only because of the near 30-year process of integrating Gaza’s economy into Israel’s, which undermined the local economic base by making it deeply dependent on Israel. As a result, when Gaza was severed from Israel through closure, the means for self-sustenance no longer existed. Thus, closure and the destruction caused by the intifada occurred on a foundation already undermined by thirty-eight years of deliberate Israeli policies of expropriation, integration, and deinstitutionalization that had long ago robbed Palestine of its developmental potential, insuring that no viable economic (and hence, political) structure could emerge.

The destruction of Palestine’s present (and any strategy for addressing it) can only be understood as part of its destroyed past. The damage—the de-development of Palestine—cannot be undone by simply “returning” Gaza’s lands and by allowing Palestinians freedom of movement and the right to build factories and industrial estates. Enlarging Gaza’s sliver of land—or Palestinian access to it—cannot solve Gaza’s myriad problems when its burgeoning population is confined within it. Density is not just a problem of people but of access to resources, especially labor markets. Without porous boundaries allowing for the migration of workers to job markets, which the disengagement plan does not address and in effect denies, the Strip will remain an imprisoned enclave, precluding any viable economic solution. Yet, it is the opposite idea—that with disengagement development is possible—that Israel is striving to instill, since it will absolve it of any responsibility for Gaza’s desolation, past and present.

The Terms of Disengagement

Leaving aside Israel’s primary responsibility for what Gaza is today, the plan itself cannot possibly initiate any real development process. It states that Israel will evacuate the Gaza Strip—except for the 100-meter-wide Philadelphi corridor on Gaza’s border with Egypt—and redeploy outside it. Israel subsequently agreed to withdraw from the Philadelphi corridor in favor of Egyptian military control, but the terms are still being deliberated, with strong opposition from within the Israeli cabinet and parliament. Pending the final disposition of the corridor, the Israel Defense Forces has begun to erect a wall along the 12 kilometer long corridor that will consist of “8 meter high concrete plates, [that] could easily be removed. . . . The new wall will be interspersed with observation posts and a new road for heavy armored vehicles is being paved on its southern side.”

But whether or not Israel eventually withdraws from the Philadelphi corridor (or gives Palestinians control over their own seaport and airport, as is also being discussed) is ultimately irrelevant to Palestinian development over the longer term. For even with these changes, the plan still gives Israel “exclusive authority” over all air space and territorial waters, which translates into full control over the movement of people and goods into and out of the Strip. Israel will also “continue, for full price, to supply electricity, water, gas and petrol to the Palestinians, in accordance with current arrangements.” In other words, Gaza’s continued economic dependency, and Israel’s continued security, political, and economic control of the Strip, are assured.

As for the perimeter separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, a second fence is already under construction. This new fence is being constructed to the east of the existing fence on Israeli territory and creates a buffer zone around the Gaza Strip 70 kilometers long and several hundred metres wide. The fence will be augmented with a series of optical and electronic sensors that will indicate any attempts to cross it. “It will enable us to better prevent illegal entries of Palestinians from Gaza,” an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) source [stated] . . . “We are witnessing an increase in attempts to cross the existing fence around Gaza, though mostly by workers seeking employment rather than terrorists.”

There is no reference in the disengagement plan to linkage with the West Bank, though there has been some discussion of a rail line between the two territories. Based on Israel’s total disregard of Oslo’s affirmation that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are “one territorial unit,” it seems clear that Israel will not tolerate a genuine territorial linkage, despite the fact that there are only forty-eight kilometers (thirty miles) separating Gaza and the West Bank. With the plan, then, the population of Gaza will be effectively sealed in, and the national dismemberment of the Palestinians, long a cornerstone of Israeli policy, will arguably have been achieved, at least with regard to the West Bank and Gaza.

The part of the plan that relates to the West Bank calls for the evacuation of four of the 120 Jewish settlements in “an area” to the north of Nablus, allowing for territorial contiguity for Palestinians there. However, in a July 2005 decision by the Israeli security cabinet, Israel will “retain security control of the territory around the four West Bank settlements and keep existing military bases in the area,” which translates into Israel’s continued control over the northern West Bank after the evacuation of the four settlements. In other regions of the West Bank, the plan states, Israel will “assist . . . in improving the transportation infrastructure in order to facilitate the contiguity of Palestinian transportation.” This “contiguity of transportation” will have to accommodate the following conditions:

  • A planned 620 kilometer wall (of which 205 kilometers have been built) made of nine meter high concrete slabs and impermeable fences, constructed on confiscated West Bank lands; at best, Palestinians will have access to only 54 percent of the West Bank once the wall is completed, deepening the dispossession and isolation of Palestinian communities;
  • Twenty-nine settler highways or bypass roads spanning 400 kilometers of the West Bank, explicitly designed to provide freedom of movement for 400,000 Jewish settlers while imprisoning three million Palestinians in their encircled and isolated enclaves;
  • Twenty-four planned tunnels in the West Bank (of which seven are completed) that will connect Jewish settlements to each other and to Israel;
  • The planned construction of 6,400 new settlement housing units in the West Bank;
  • The isolation of East Jerusalem—the commercial and cultural heart of the West Bank—from Ramallah and Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank;
  • The separation of the northern and southern West Bank; and
  • The separation of Gaza, Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Salfit, Nablus, and Jenin.

None of these elements is in any way mitigated by the plan; on the contrary, their persistence is assured. The territorial fragmentation institutionalized by the plan ends any hope of Palestinian territorial and national unity and contiguity, and it can only accelerate Palestine’s gradual depopulation, continuing what the Oslo process had begun. Yet, despite its brutality, the Gaza disengagement agreement—like Oslo, Camp David, and Taba before it—is surrounded by an almost seamless and comforting silence that is shattering in the facts it conceals.

Whatever else it claims to be, the Gaza disengagement plan is, at its heart, an instrument for Israel’s continued annexation of West Bank lands and their physical integration into Israel. This is all but spelled out in the plan itself. Thus, “[i]n any future permanent status arrangement, there will be no Israeli towns and villages in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand [and here, Israel is atypically transparent], it is clear that in the West Bank, there are areas which will be part of the State of Israel, including major Israeli population centers, cities, towns and villages, security areas and other places of special interest to Israel.” In all but the evacuated area in the northern West Bank, Israeli settlement in the West Bank can continue unimpeded. Throughout, whether under Labor or Likud, Israel has engaged in a zero-sum struggle for control of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, and with the Gaza disengagement plan it clearly believes this struggle can finally be won. Far from paving the way for more concessions and withdrawals, the unilateral disengagement can only consolidate Israeli control, bringing Palestinians greater repression, isolation, and ghettoization. How, given all this, can the current plan represent a political or policy departure from previous ones or an act of Israeli courage or magnanimity, as many have argued? Why should disengagement be regarded as a new opening or opportunity, let alone a watershed event?

“Disengagement” and Occupation

The international community, led by the United States, would like to weave the disengagement plan into the road map, believing it to be a first step toward a comprehensive solution for the Palestine problem involving a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. Yet under the terms of disengagement, Israel’s occupation is assured. Gazans will be contained and sealed within the electrified borders of the Strip, while West Bankers, their lands dismembered by relentless Israeli settlement, will continue to be penned into fragmented geographic spaces, isolated behind and between walls and barriers. Despite this terrible reality, the word “occupation” has been removed from the political lexicon, as would an insult or obscenity. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, an architect of Oslo, never once used the word “occupation” in any of the agreements he helped draft. Yet, it was the gap between Oslo’s implication that the occupation would end, and the harsh reality that emerged instead, that led to the second Palestinian uprising. At the Sharm al-Shaykh summit between Abbas, Sharon, and Bush in February 2004, again the word “occupation” was not mentioned.

The final version of the Gaza disengagement plan makes no reference to it either, but the original 18 April 2004 version is explicit about what clearly is one of the plan’s main goals: upon completion of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip, the plan states, “there will be no basis for claiming that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory.” The fact that the clause was omitted from the 6 June 2004 revised plan by no means indicates a change in Israeli priorities. Indeed, one of the most striking elements of Geoffrey Aronson’s revealing technocratic study of the plan, commissioned by an international donor and based on a series of interviews with Israeli officials, is Israel’s obsessive focus on legally ridding itself of occupier status in the Gaza Strip. It would appear that this intensity is really about obtaining international acquiescence (however tacit) in, and vindication of, Israel’s full and unquestioned control over the West Bank—and eventually Jerusalem—even while retaining control over the Strip in a different form.

With the Gaza plan, it is possible that Israel may, for the first time and with pressure from the international donor community, be able to secure Palestinian endorsement of what it is creating. In this regard, the disengagement plan can be seen as yet another in a long line of Israeli attempts to extract from the Palestinians what it has always sought but has so far been unable to obtain: total Palestinian capitulation to Israel’s terms coupled with the acknowledgment of the legitimacy of Israeli actions. This is what former Prime Minister Ehud Barak demanded of Yasir Arafat at Camp David in July 2000 when he insisted on an end-of-conflict/end-of-claims clause, and this is what Sharon, in his own way, is insisting on as well: almost total Palestinian surrender to Israeli dictates and the suffocating reality they have created, formalized in a plan that would recognize those dictates as justified. Tragically, the Palestinian leadership continues to view the Gaza disengagement as a first step in a political process toward the resumption of negotiations for final status talks, refusing to accept that the disengagement from Gaza is the final status and that the occupation will not end.

As for the international community—particularly the foreign donors—almost the entire focus has been on “developing” the Gaza Strip. This attention is painfully reminiscent of some of the analytical and structural mistakes of the Oslo period, particularly with regard to three key assumptions: (1) the preexisting structures of occupation—Israeli control and Palestinian dependency—will be mitigated, perhaps even dismantled; (2) Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will create a political, economic and bureaucratic opening that will shift, if not change, the priorities of the protagonists from issues of territory and security to the economic interests of entrepreneurs and nations; and (3) innovative modes of thinking with respect to economic cooperation will lead to political stability and peaceful coexistence in the Middle East. Economic cooperation, and the tangible benefits that result, will build trust and create a template for peace.

If these assumptions proved so utterly unfounded with regard to the Oslo agreements (where, at least initially, there was a modicum of bilateralism and cooperation), how will they fare under a unilateral disengagement plan that makes no secret of being a diktat, and at a time when the structures of occupation and Israeli control are far more deeply entrenched? Furthermore, given Israel’s continued occupation and control over Gaza’s borders, and the plan’s declared aim “to reduce the number of Palestinian workers entering Israel to the point that it ceases completely,” there is good cause to expect that the Israeli authorities will use economic pressure to ensure control and extract political concessions much as they did during the Oslo period. Despite this—arguably because of it—international donors are again displaying the same unwillingness to politically confront the occupation and its most pernicious measures as they did ten years ago. Rather, they seem resolved to mitigate the damage, aiding the Palestinians even if it means the imposition of an unjust solution, whatever their private reservations may be. In so perverse an environment and in the absence of a more activist political posture aimed at challenging Israel’s structure of control, international assistance will not eradicate poverty but simply modernize it. In so doing, donor aid—despite its critical importance—will solidify the structures of occupation by simply ignoring them. Under this scenario, how could Palestine ever become a producing society?

The Shrinking Contours of Agreement

With the international community eager to be rid of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all, Palestinian powerlessness is arguably more acute now (with Gaza disengagement) than before (with Oslo). As with the losses incurred during the Oslo period, the Palestinians’ continued dispossession is regarded as the price of peace, not as a reason for conflict. So defined, Palestinian legitimacy, at least for parts of the international community, no longer derives from the justice and morality of its cause but from Palestinian willingness to concede to terms largely if not entirely imposed by Israel. Thus, with the Gaza disengagement plan, the Palestinian quest for minimal justice entailing a state in 22 percent of their homeland, once dismissed as utopian, is now derided as short-sighted and selfish. Within this construct, the asymmetries between occupier and occupied are not only sanctioned but their institutionalization is lauded as progress, removing any possibility that could meaningfully end Israeli domination.

There is an appalling sameness about Israel’s plan to disengage from Gaza when compared with earlier agreements, notably Oslo: a common thread runs through all of them, molding the terms, predetermining the outcomes. Like its predecessors, the disengagement plan is hailed as an act of courage, as yet another example of Israel’s desire for peace, its willingness to make concessions and sacrifices without demanding equivalent concessions of the Palestinians who are the real aggressors, repeatedly refusing Israeli generosity. In this “peace” initiative, as in others, Israel seeks, and will no doubt secure, control over Palestine while ceding all responsibility for it.
Another common feature is the sheer weight and accepted legitimacy of Israeli unilateralism: the power of Israel to impose its own terms virtually unchallenged by domestic or international forces. In the case of the disengagement plan, however, Israeli unilateralism becomes open and explicit: even the fiction of consultation is dispensed with; as a unilateral plan, rather than an agreement, it is unapologetically imposed. This is a nuance, however, and the earlier agreements, too, were drawn up to preclude the possibility of negotiations on substantive issues where Israel was unwilling to make any concessions. Similarly, the disengagement initiative makes explicit, in a way that Oslo did not, that Israel is really negotiating with the United States, not with the Palestinians, over how far it can go in dispossessing them. Despite Bush’s promises to Abbas regarding the contours of the Palestinian state and how it will be established, the United States will, in the end, accept, as it always has, what Israel wants and does. According to Aaron Miller, a former State Department official who was deeply involved with the Middle East peace process, during his near twenty-five years in government there never was “an honest conversation about what the Israelis were actually doing on the ground. Nor were we prepared to impose, at least in the last seven or eight years, a cost on the Israelis for their actions.”

Finally, Israeli unilateralism is evident in another, more subtle, way having to do with the starting point for negotiations. History, to which Israel and the Jewish people cling so tenaciously, is denied to the Palestinians, whose mere invocation of it is decried as obstructionist and unhelpful. Thus Palestinians are rendered mute, and their historic compromise of 1988—when they conceded 78 percent of the country where they had constituted two thirds of the population and owned all but 7 percent of the land in order to settle for a state in the West Bank and Gaza—is rejected (if remembered at all) as a legitimate point of departure. Rather, the Palestinians must begin negotiations at whatever point Israel (backed by the United States) says they should, a point that keeps contracting in line with the diminished realities Israel has imposed on the Palestinians. The result of Israel’s ever shrinking “offers” is that compromise becomes more difficult if not impossible, and Palestinian violence is more likely to erupt. With the Gaza disengagement plan, Israel’s generous offer has gone from a weak cantonized entity in the West Bank and Gaza to the encircled and desperately impoverished enclave of the Gaza Strip—1 percent of historical Palestine. In this regard, the plan to disengage from Gaza (while encircling it and absorbing the West Bank) is the starkest and most extreme illustration to date of Israel’s power to determine and reduce what there is left to talk about.

A Concluding Thought

Of course, it is better for Israel to leave Gaza than to remain there and for some sort of renewal to begin. As the analyst Jennifer Loewenstein has argued, “All of us should support the evacuation of the settlements from Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from the Strip on the grounds that international law demands them. But equally, we should oppose Sharon’s Disengagement Plan for the cynical motivations that inspired it and the reality its execution is going to create.”

Israel’s “withdrawal” from Gaza aims yet again to create practical realities that will contain and fragment Palestinians and diminish their collective and personal aspirations—now through a Palestinian mini-state in Gaza. In a context so politically attenuated and devoid of meaning and purpose, historical memory recedes and with it the notion of a national identity and the sense of purpose and attachment to which it gives rise. Must Palestinians withdraw from the future and from the past into a present that lays waste, and be grateful?

Today in Gaza and the West Bank, ideas and discourse have given way to a devastating internecine conflict. People seek power over philosophy, order over liberty, and for many, death over life. Israel and the United States worry that the Islamists will ascend politically. But the real threat lies deep within society, with the waning of resolve, injury to being, disabling of families and communities, and disintegration of youth—where the whole of society is rapidly ceding to its wounded and afflicted parts. Can the Gaza disengagement plan, with its promise of restricted and externally controlled autonomy, be expected to redress any of this?

For Palestinians, the taking of their land has always been the primary issue distinguishing Israel’s occupation from earlier ones. Although the problem of land is often presented in political terms, its impact on the individual and society is profound, shaping not only the way people live but who they are and how they define themselves. By taking so much more away from Palestinians than has any other agreement since the occupation began, the disengagement plan will prove disastrous for everyone, including for Israel. Seldom has a political decision so sealed the fate of an entire people as cruelly as this one.

Sara Roy, a senior research scholar at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, has worked on Gaza for two decades and is the author of The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development (IPS, 2d edition 2001), among other works. Her new book, Between Extremism and Civism: Political Islam in Palestine, will be published by Princeton University Press.