Israel’s occupation of Gaza never really ended
Haaretz' journalist Gideon Levy recalls that day in November 1989, at the height of the first intifada, when Ariel Sharon, then Israel's Minister of Industry and Commerce, took him on a tour of the Gaza Strip to persuade him - and the Israeli public thereafter - that the Israeli presence there must remain forever.
At the time, Sharon had plans to chop up the Gaza Strip with more settlements. He firmly believed that settlements, unlike military installations, were permanent and that settlers were the avant-garde of Zionism.
"Sharon's so-called betrayal was a great gift to Zionism, as he provided Israel with a free-of-charge occupation and established a permanent state of collective punishment without the cost of boots on the ground"
16 years later, Sharon has transformed from the father of the settlement movement, a legacy that nicknamed him the "Bulldozer", to the man who would plan and carry out what had become known as the Gaza Disengagement Plan.
Sharon's plan made him a traitor to many in the settler community and a hero to liberals.
However, politics are never black and white.
Leaders' personalities and belief systems may oscillate, but their core personality traits and beliefs remain stable. Deviation in policies is not necessarily a deviation in ideology, certainly not for a hardcore ideologue and war criminal like Sharon.
Collective punishment — mass starvation, denial of medicine and water — what Ariel Sharon’s son is succinctly describing here is a war crime. https://t.co/brKXZha231— 🟣 harry reis 🟣 (@harryreis) May 18, 2021
Sharon did not have a change of heart; he came to the realisation that the notion of greater Israel was not attainable with a dwindling Jewish minority in an ocean of Palestinian majority in Gaza. He did not deviate, he adjusted.
The years that followed the disengagement would prove that Sharon's so-called betrayal was a great gift to Zionism, as he provided Israel with a free-of-charge occupation and established a permanent state of collective punishment without the cost of boots on the ground.
The Gaza blockade was officially started by Israel and Egypt in June 2007 when Hamas took control of the Strip, but practically and effectively, it had already begun two years prior when the last Israeli soldier left Gaza.
"When Ariel Sharon walked out of Gaza on 15 August 2005, he shut the gate behind him and threw away the key, turning the 365 square km strip of land into the world's largest open-air prison"
To Gazans, when Ariel Sharon walked out of Gaza on 15 August 2005, he shut the gate behind him and threw away the key, turning the 365 square km strip of land into the world's largest open-air prison.
Ever since the Israeli regime has built two congruent narratives in its relations to Gaza: first, that Israel "withdrew" from Gaza and therefore has no further legal or moral responsibility toward its residents and, second, that by granting Palestinians "concessions", Israel has paid dearly.
Israel's so-called 'disengagement'
The first narrative ignores that Israel remains in full control of the Gaza border - both air and sea. It still controls several aspects of the Palestinian population's registry, production of ID cards, and passports, among other things. Israel also has veto power on who leaves or enters Gaza through the Rafah Crossing with Egypt, scrutinises economic activities, construction, and building material, and even decides the number of calories that Gazans can consume.
From the outset, especially shortly after the Disengagement Plan was passed in the Knesset in October 2004, several rights groups questioned the plan and warned of its final outcome.
Human Rights Watch in October that year stated that the mere repositioning of the Israeli army did not qualify as "withdrawal", emphasising that a territory is considered occupied when it is effectively placed under the authority of a hostile army and that the occupying army - designated by international law - is not relieved of its responsibilities toward the local population as long as it continues to have control over them.
In March 2005, only five months before the disengagement had been implemented, Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem pointed out that the plan was going to increase the severe restrictions already imposed on the Strip, and that Gaza would effectively turn into "one big prison".
Yet, the outcry did not seem to matter.
The US hailed the plan as historic, even though the words "withdraw" and "ending the occupation" were not included, and despite the fact that the plan explicitly stated Israel's intention to maintain full control over Gaza and the freedom to conduct military activities in the area at will.
It did not seem to matter either that the Palestinian Authority's request to be involved in the process was denied.
Perhaps most astonishing of all was the failure to see that a "unilateral plan" meant re-drawing the geopolitical map to exclusively serve the planner and that Gazans were given no part in the disengagement planning.
In a second narrative, some Israelis resent Gaza for becoming a "threat", rather than the "Singapore of the Middle East". This rhetoric is not random, it is purposefully designed to deter any future withdrawals from the West Bank.
Fifteen years after the Disengagement Plan, Israel effectively holds the keys to life and death in the Strip without having to spend a penny on the local population or administrate their daily affairs. To many Israeli Jews, since there are no troops on the ground, there's no guilt involved. Gaza is reduced to the nasty next-door neighbour that is only considered when Gazans fire rockets into the nearby settlements.
"The Gazans may be poor and frustrated, but that's only because of Hamas. After all, we left there during the disengagement. So, what do they want?" Noa Landau sarcastically comments in Haaretz.
"The formula is simple: no geographical congruity or administrative unity between Gaza and the West Bank means no independent state"
Even as he paid lip service to the Bush administration regarding the two-state solution, Sharon's intention was to sabotage the peace process. Rather unapologetically, his senior advisor, Dov Weisglass, said to Haaretz in 2004 that the Disengagement Plan meant "a freezing of the peace process… And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders, and Jerusalem."
Whether condemned as a traitor or praised as a hero, one fact stands: Sharon has set the trajectory for Israel's policies on Gaza and, by extension, the rest of the Occupied Territories.
Israeli leaders, from across the political spectrum, have built on Sharon's worldview. They have ensured that Gaza remains under siege, as an entity severed from the overall Palestinian collective, both geographically and administratively.
The formula is simple: no geographical congruity or administrative unity between Gaza and the West Bank means no independent state.
Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.
Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.