Issues Around the Gaza Withdrawal

Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza is the first ever acknowledgement of the wrong done to the Palestinian people more than half a century ago when the century old Zionist dream of founding a Jewish homeland became a reality. There has been continuous media coverage of crying and protesting Israeli settlers. Around 8000 from the settlements in Gaza have been evicted by Israeli soldiers. The soldiers involved in the eviction were asked to treat the resisting with respect and sensitivity.

Some commentators have also referred to the evicted settlers from Gaza as the “dispossessed.” Yet clearly the Palestinians on whose grossly over populated narrow strip of land these settlers were forced are more the dispossessed than those who have lived in Gaza for 38 years illegally on Palestinian land-they were there through sheer force and intimidation. The settlers moved to Gaza following Israel’s occupation of the strip in 1967.

Meanwhile the sympathetic media coverage of the settlers eviction has repeatedly prompted the question ‘what if ?’ What if when the Palestinians were forcibly evicted from their ancestral homelands, more than half a century ago, when they were being deprived, destroyed and left debilitated someone out there was willing to broadcast their painful plight.

Then the world would have heard for example the following testimony of Abu Yousef, also 70 years old. He lives in Am’ari refugee camp near Ramallah and recalled "After the battle, the Jews took elderly men and women and youths, including 4 of my cousins and a nephew. They took them all. Women, who had on them gold and money, were stripped of their gold. After the Jews removed their dead and wounded, they took the men to the quarry and sprayed them all with bullets…One woman had her son taken some 40 to 60 meters away from where she and the rest of the women stood by, and shot him dead. Then they brought Jewish kids to throw stones at his body. They later poured kerosene on his body and set it ablaze while the women watched from a distance. We later collected ourselves, & checked who was missing. At Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, the Arab Supreme Committee gathered us. Each of us was looking for a son, a daughter, a sister or a mother. “

Or another one of Abu Mahmud 70, currently lives in the Old City of Jerusalem,”"I was in the village when the Jews attacked. My colleagues and I were on the western side of the village, opposite Al Qastal. We had our guns on us. All villagers, mainly the youths, were ready for whatever may happen after the Qastal battle was over. By 1630 on Thursday 8 April 1948, Abdul Qader Husseini was killed as we were watching the battle from a distance. After his death, we took precautionary measures in case anything would happen: We guarded the village until 0230 the next morning when the Jews started entering the village with the use of spot and search lights looking for our fighters. The Jews closed on the village amid exchanges of fire with us. Once they entered the village, fighting became very heavy in the eastern side and later it spread to other parts, to the quarry, to the village center until it reached the western edge. The battle was on three fronts, east, south and north. The Jews used all sorts of automatic weapons, tanks, missiles, and cannons. They used to enter houses and kill women and children indiscriminately. The youths in the village fought bravely against them and the fighting continued until it was around 1530 afternoon.”

Then there are also historical acknowledgements by men of power and pen. Israel’s founding father its first Minister Moshe Dayan said in his adddres to the Technion in Haifa that “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu’a in the place of Tal al- Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab Population." (as quoted in Ha’aretz, 4 April 1969)

Another acknowledgment by a Palestinian scholar, Walid Khalidi, in his book All That Remains. "By the end of the 1948 war, hundreds of entire villages had not only been depopulated but obliterated, their houses blown up or bulldozed. While many of the sites are difficult of access, to this day the observant traveler of Israeli roads and highways can see traces of their presence that would escape the notice of the casual passerby: a fenced-in area, often surmounting a gentle hill, of olive and other fruit trees left untended, of cactus hedges and domesticated plants run wild. Now and then a few crumbled houses are left standing, a neglected mosque or church, collapsing walls along the ghost of a village lane, but in the vast majority of cases, all that remains is a scattering of stones and rubble across a forgotten landscape."

A more current observation on the state of the Palestinians in Gaza, came from an Professor Reinhart from the linguistics and cultural studies at Tel Aviv University and at the University of Utrecht. In her September 11, 2003 interview with Jon Elmer of Znet she said, “What is happening in the Territories is a process of slow and steady genocide. People die from being shot and killed, many die from their wounds–”the number of wounded is enormous, it is in the tens of thousands. Often, people cannot get medical treatment, so someone with a heart attack will die at a roadblock because they cannot get to the hospital. There is a serious shortage of food, so there is malnutrition of children. The Palestinian society is dying–”daily–”and there is hardly any awareness of this in Israeli society.”

So then how much of this will alter with the Gaza withdrawal? Gaza withdrawal is insufficient to create conditions of peace. And Sharon has reaffirmed his intention to hold on the major West Bank blocs and the controversial plans for new suburbs linking the latter to Jerusalem. However this violates every plan agreed between the Israelis and the Palestinians from Oslo Accord onwards as well the UNSC resolutions 242 and 338 calling for unconditional even if staggered withdrawal from all Occupied territories.

Washington too has supported revival of the “road map” which calls for immediate freeze on Israeli settlements. Israel also needs to remove unauthorized Israeli outposts on West Bank and cede total control of Gaza to the PA. In failing to take these steps Israel will trigger violence not peace. Will then the onus of stopping the inevitable cycle of violence be put on the PA as it always has been? Is this real withdrawal, will the Palestinians get control over the sea, air and borders. Or will Gaza remain like a prison controlled by the Israelis?

To the Palestinians, Sharon said in his Gaza pull out speech that “The Palestinians bear the burden of proof. They must fight terrorist organizations and dismantle their infrastructure and show sincere intentions for peace so they can sit with us at the negotiating table. The world is waiting for the Palestinian response – a hand stretched out to peace or the fire of terror.” Clearly his shifting the entire onus of the progress of peace to the Palestinians is illogical.

Ariel Sharon has much to do before the Palestinian can be assured that his days of freedom are approach. His track record is of a callous colonizer. For example in May 2003 an Israeli journalist Johnathan Cook reported about the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to rid the huge semi-desert area of the Negev, located in the south of Israel, of its Bedouin farmers.The claim of the Bedouin who comprise some 15 percent of the one million Arab citizens of Israel, over Negev, which they exclusively inhabited, have been recognized by the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate authorities.. During the 1948 war, and afterward, it was considered a priority by the fledgling Israeli state to clear the Negev of its Bedouin population.

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, wrote to his son 11 years before the birth of the Jewish state: "Negev land is reserved for Jewish citizens whenever and wherever they want. We must expel the Arabs and take their place." By 1951, fewer than 13,000 inhabitants remained of a community that numbered somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 in the late 1940s. As late as 1953, the United Nations reported the expulsion of some 7,000 Negev Bedouin into adjacent areas of Jordan, Egyptian-occupied Gaza and the Sinai, though many later slipped back over the borders undetected.

In April 2003, Sharon’s government approved a five-year plan, backed by a budget of more than $200 million, as "a real attempt to deal with problems faced by [the Bedouin] sector, as well as the land issue." Bedouin leaders reacted differently, however. The Bedouins’ main lobbying group, the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, stated in a press release: "We see this plan as a declaration of war on the Bedouin community of the unrecognized villages."

But if Ariel Sharon is willing to demonstrate that he intends to undo the other wrongs: West Bank, Negev, Jerusalem and deal with the refugee question – then peace is plausible and possible. By the logic of dialectic the primary cause of chaos is also its best cure. Who better than Ariel Sharon? He must realize the cure for the chaos, inflicted on the lives of both the Palestinians and of the Israelis, is the end to Occupation.