(Thank you Grace)
Ammar Awad, Reuters
If Israel is the “occupier” of Gaza (as so many angry readers told me following my recent columns in support of Israel’s attacks), how come it has no troops or military posts in Gaza, and has not had since 2005?
How come Israel spent the summer and early fall of 2005 forcibly evicting 7,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip if it is an “occupier”? Israeli society — including the army — was deeply divided over the removal of the settlers. Yet Ariel Sharon’s government did it anyway.
Many soldiers refused to take part in the uprooting of families, some of whom had lived in Gaza for three generations. Most settlers under 40 knew no other home, and many resisted the expulsion through acts of civil disobedience.
But still Israel carried it out because the Palestinians insisted the presence of the settlers was their prime irritant and obstacle to peace.
It cost Israel more than half a billion dollars to relocate the settlers. More than 1,000 acres (3.5 million square metres) of greenhouses were abandoned, and 15% of Israel’s agricultural exports were lost due to the evacuation. Approximately 5,000 Palestinians lost their jobs processing the crops Israelis grew on the Strip.
Palestinians and their supporters often complain that Israeli settlers take the best land. If only they would give it back, the Palestinians themselves would work that land and become self-sufficient.
But in Gaza, all the occupied land has been given back, along with extensive cultivation and irrigation infrastructure. And now — just three years later — the land is largely barren, the greenhouses and irrigation works are largely in ruins. There are almost no exports, meaning there are no export-based jobs for Palestinians and no foreign-currency income for Gazans from international produce buyers.
Also in 2005, Israel removed all its soldiers from Gaza, as the Palestinians
had demanded. Now it has only border patrols and checkpoints along its boundary with the Palestinian enclave.
Admittedly, Israel controls sea and air access to Gaza, but it does not control all of the ground access.
I have been told time and again by Palestinian-friendly readers that because of Israel’s “occupation,” Gazans have been forced to dig tunnels between the Strip and Egypt just to get food and water. But Egypt, not Israel, controls Gaza’s southwestern frontier. So how do Israel’s restrictions make Gaza-Egypt tunnels necessary? If Egypt were not just as determined to keep Gaza sealed off, the tunnels would be unnecessary, no matter what Israel was doing.
Indeed, readers may recall that in early 2008, Gazans breached their border with Egypt. Thousands poured through in search of supplies and consumer goods. Yet, as soon as it was able, Egypt resealed the border, re-erected the concrete and barbed wire barriers that have kept Gazans out of Egypt for nearly 40 years.
And why, when Egypt controlled Gaza from 1948 to 1967, did it not allow the Palestinians to relocate freely? Why did it keep them in their refugee camps?
Doesn’t all of this make Egypt a cooccupier?
Over and over, too, I have been told the existing troubles stem from the way Israel forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes between 1947 and 1949 to make way for a Jewish state.
But while it is true that 650,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced by the founding of Israel, often overlooked are the more than 800,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab states at the same time, and told to go to Israel. Most often, they were forced to leave without their belongings and without compensation for their confiscated property.
The displacement of people was hardly one way.
Israel is Gaza’s largest supplier of humanitarian aid. Since Operation Cast Lead began on Dec. 27, nearly 200 trucks have crossed into the Strip from Israel carrying 6,000 tons of food and medical supplies.
The most badly wounded Palestinians are taken to Israeli hospitals for treatment, too.
Iran eagerly supplies Hamas, Gaza’s rulers, with plenty of weapons to fire on Israel, but it provides precious little food or medical aid for ordinary Palestinians. Nor do Saudi Arabia or any of the oil-rich Gulf states come close to Israel’s aid levels.
Israel may not be blameless in Gaza, but neither is it a cruel, unprovoked aggressor.