Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Towards a Geography of Peace: Whither Gaza?

Towards a Geography of Peace: Whither Gaza?
Ilan Pappé, The Electronic Intifada, 18 June 2007

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In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, a man sits next to a wall that
reads in Arabic, "No to internal fighting. Yes to fighting the
occupation." 16 June 2007. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

The Gaza Strip is a little bit more than two percent of Palestine.
This small detail is never mentioned whenever the Strip is in the news
nor has it been mentioned in the present Western media coverage of the
dramatic events unfolding in Gaza in the last few weeks. Indeed it is
such a small part of the country that it never existed as a separate
region in the past. Gaza's history before the Zionization of Palestine
was not unique and it was always connected administratively and
politically to the rest of Palestine. It was until 1948 for all intents
and purposes an integral and natural part of the country. As one of
Palestine’s principal land and sea gates to the world, it tended to
develop a more flexible and cosmopolitan way of life; not dissimilar to
other gateways societies in the Eastern Mediterranean in the modern
era. This location near the sea and on the Via Maris to Egypt and
Lebanon brought with it prosperity and stability until this life was
disrupted and nearly destroyed by the Israeli ethnic cleansing of
Palestine in 1948.

In between 1948 and 1967, Gaza became a huge refugee camp restricted
severely by the respective Israeli and Egyptian policies: both states
disallowed any movement out of the Strip. Living conditions were
already harsh then as the victims of the 1948 Israeli politics of
dispossession doubled the number of the inhabitants who lived there for
centuries. On the eve of the Israeli occupation in 1967, the
catastrophic nature of this enforced demographic transformation was
evident all over the Strip. This once pastoral coastal part of southern
Palesine became within two decades one of the world's densest areas of
habitation; without any adequate economic infrastructure to support it.

The first twenty years of Israeli occupation at least allowed some
movement outside an area that was closed off as a war zone in the years
1948 to 1967. Tens of thousand of Palestinians were permitted to join
the Israeli labor market as unskilled and underpaid workers. The price
Israel demanded for this slavery market was a total surrender of any
national struggle or agenda. When this was not complied with -- the
'gift' of laborers' movement was denied and abolished. All these years
leading to the Oslo accord in 1993 were marked by an Israeli attempt to
construct the Strip as an enclave, which the Peace Camp hoped would be
either autonomous or part of Egypt and the Nationalist camp wished to
include in the Greater Eretz Israel they dreamed of establishing
instead of Palestine.

The Oslo agreement enabled the Israelis to reaffirm the Strip's
as a separate geo-political entity -- not just outside of Palestine as
a whole, but also cut apart from the West Bank. Ostensibly, both the
Gaza Strip and the West Bank were under the Palestinian Authority but
any human movement between them depended on Israel's good will; a rare
Israeli trait and which almost disappeared when Benjamin Netanyahu came
to power in 1996. Moreover, Israel held, as it still does today, the
water and electricity infrastructure. Since 1993 it used, or rather
abused, this possession in order to ensure on the one hand the
well-being of the Jewish settler community there and on the other in
order to blackmail the Palestinian population into submission and
surrender. The people of the Gaza Strip thus vacillated in the last
sixty years between being internees, hostages or prisoners in an
impossible human space.

It is within this historical context that we should view the violence
raging today in Gaza and reject the reference to the events there as a
campaign in the 'war against terror,' an instance of Islamic
revivalism, a further proof for al-Qadia’s expansionism, a seditious
Iranian penetration into this part of the world or another arena in the
dreaded Clash of Civilizations (I picked here only few out of many
frequent adjectives used in the Western media for describing the
present crisis in Gaza). The origins of the mini civil war in Gaza lie
elsewhere. The recent history of the Strip, 60 years of dispossession,
occupation and imprisonment produced inevitably internal violence such
as we are witnessing today as it produced other unpleasant features of
life lived under such impossible conditions. In fact, it would be fair
to say that the violence, and in particular the internal violence, is
far less than one would have expected given the economic and social
conditions created by the genocidal Israeli policies in the last six

Power struggles among politicians, who enjoy the support of military
outfits, is indeed a nasty business that victimizes the society as a
whole. Part of what goes on in Gaza is such a struggle between
politicians who were democratically elected and those who still find it
hard to accept the verdict of the public. But this is hardly the main
struggle. What unfolds in Gaza is a battleground between America's and
Israel's local proxies -- most of whom are unintentionally such proxies
but none the less they dance to Israel's tune -- and those who oppose
it. The opposition that now took over Gaza did it alas in a way that
one would find very hard to condone or cheer. It is not the Hamas'
Palestinian vision that is worrying, but rather the means it has chosen
to achieve it that we hope would not be rooted or repeated. To its
credit one should openly say that the means used by Hamas are part of
an arsenal that enabled it in the past to be the only active force that
at least tried to stop the total destruction of Palestine; the way it
is used now is less credible and hopefully temporary.

But one cannot condemn the means if one does not offer an
Standing idle while the American-Israeli vision of strangling the Strip
to death, cleansing half of the West bank from its indigenous
population and threatening the rest of the Palestinians -- inside
Israel and in the other parts of the West Bank -- with transfer, is not
an option. It is tantamount to "decent" people’s silence during the

We should not tire from mentioning the alternative in the 21st
century: BDS -- Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions -- as an emergency
measure -- far more effective and far less violent -- in opposing the
present destruction of Palestine. And at the same time talk openly,
convincingly and efficiently, of creating the geography of peace. A
geography in which abnormal phenomena such as the imprisonment of small
portion of the land would disappear. There will be no more, in the
vision we should push forward, a human prison camp called the Gaza
strip where some armed inmates are easily pitted against each other by
a callous warden. Instead that area would return to be an organic part
of an Eastern Mediterranean country that has always offered the best as
a meeting point between East and West.

Never before, in the light of the Gaza tragedy, has the twofold
strategy of BDS and a one state solution, shined so clearly as the only
alternative forward. If any of us are members in Palestine solidarity
groups, Arab-Jewish dialogue circles or part of civil society's effort
to bring peace and reconciliation to Palestine -- this is a time to put
aside all the false strategies of coexistence, road maps and two states
solutions. They have been and still are sweet music to the ears of the
Israeli demolition team that threatens to destroy what is left of
Palestine. Beware especially of Diet Zionists or Cloest Zionists, who
recently joined the campaign, in Britain and elsewhere against the BDS
effort. Like those enlightened pundits who used liberal organs in the
United Kingdom, such as The Guardian, to explain to us at length how
dangerous is the proposed academic boycott on Israel. They have never
expended so much time, energy or words on the occupation itself as they
did in the service of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. UNISON,
Britain’s large public service trade union, must not be deterred by
this backlash and it should follow these brave academics who endorsed
the debate on the boycott, as should Europe as a whole: not only for
the sake of Palestine and Israel, but also if it wishes to bring a
closure to the Holocaust chapter in its history.

And a final small portion of food for thought. There are quite a few
Jewish mothers and wives in the Gaza Strip -- some sources within Gaza
say up to 2000 -- married to local Palestinians and parents to their
children. There are many more Jewish women who married Palestinians in
the Palestine countryside. An act of desegregation that both political
elites find difficult to admit, digest or acknowledge. If despite the
colonization, occupation, genocidal policies and dispossession such
harmonies of love and affection were possible, imagine what could
happen if these criminal policies and ideologies would disappear. When
the Wall of Apartheid is removed and the electric fences of Zionism
dismantled -- Gaza will become once more a symbol of Fernand Braudel's
coastal society, able to fuse different cultural horizons and offer a
space for new life instead of the war zone it has become in the last
sixty years.

Ilan Pappe is senior lecturer in the University of Haifa Department of
political Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian
Studies in Haifa. His books include, among others, The Making of the
Arab-Israeli Conflict (London and New York 1992), The Israel/Palestine
Question (London and New York 1999), A History of Modern Palestine
(Cambridge 2003), The Modern Middle East (London and New York 2005) and
his latest, Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)

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