Aug 15, 2005
On August 15, the Israeli army will begin to evict the 8,500 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. Of course, in the U.S., this is being pictured by the U.S. news media and political establishment as a very big step taken by the Israeli government in the peace process.
But the reality is very different. The Israeli government is withdrawing this relatively small number of settlers in order to make it easier to police and control the 1.3 million Palestinians, who for more than half a century have been forced to live under the most appalling conditions. The Palestinians in Gaza have lived in a kind of stateless limbo, stuck in refugee camps and almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. They are crowded into a territory which is 25 miles long and about 7 miles wide at its widest point, and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It is also one of the poorest, ravaged by unemployment for 80% of the working population, malnutrition and rampant disease, where raw sewage flows freely down the streets.
Starting in the 1970s, the Israeli government had encouraged Israelis to settle in a section of this tiny territory, in order to eventually annex it into Israel. But the Israeli settlements always remained besieged, tiny islands amidst a sea of misery. The Israeli government tried to attract settlers with heavy financial subsidies and incentives, including relatively spacious homes with gardens, grocery stores and beach access. But who, besides a relatively few fanatics, would want to live surrounded by 1.3 million angry people for whom these settlements could only be a red flag? Who would want to bring their children into settlements that resembled upscale prison camps, with their barbed wire, watchtowers and heavily armed guards?
In 2003, the Israeli government and its U.S. backers decided that these small settlements had become just too expensive to maintain, in troops and resources. "The presence in Gaza with everything it entails, the price we are paying, had to end," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told an Israeli newspaper on the eve of the pullout.
Of course, Israel's pullout from Gaza will not end the occupation. The Israeli military has reserved the right to invade at any time. At the same time, it has already created an almost impenetrable barrier around the territory that will soon include the completion of a high-tech wall, with plans to slowly choke off the flow of Palestinian workers – already reduced to a trickle – into Israel. Finally, there will be no link between the Gaza Strip and Palestinians living in the West Bank, which has also been occupied by Israel. The Gaza Strip will be more and more turned into a kind of reservation, Bantustan or concentration camp.
The Israeli government will also continue its plans to beef up the settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank that are already home to half a million Jewish settlers. This includes continuing to enclose the main settlement blocks in the famous fence which also cuts up the small West Bank into tiny Palestinian enclaves, surrounding them too by walls, barbed wire and Israeli armed guards.
Today, a sizeable part of the Israeli settler population, especially among the settler youth, remain energetically opposed to the Gaza pullout. This just shows how much the Israeli settlers have embraced their role in the oppression of the Palestinians through violence of all sorts. This dehumanization of a sector of the Israeli population, too, is a fruit of the Israeli occupation.