Jamal Juma, Jerusalem
Without a doubt, the Zionist occupiers of Palestine did not evacuate the Gaza Strip settlers out of good will. The occupiers understood they would never be able to defeat Palestinians in Gaza, and despite all the Israeli crimes, sieges, and massacres, that the Palestinian resistance could not be broken.
Israel failed in its attempts to create internal Palestinian conflict in Gaza. It became a costly and heavy burden for the Zionists and a perpetual source of fear for Israel's soldiers and settlers.
Yet in the midst of the Palestinian "victory" celebrations — led by various political forces, and the media fanfare that included live Arabic and international media coverage of every step of the settler evacuation — the Palestinian people look on with frustration, knowing full-well that Israel will make them pay a heavy price for the so-called disengagement.
While in the West Bank the construction of the apartheid ghettos and their gates, the expansion of the settlements, and the opening of new settler-bypass roads accelerates, Gaza is becoming an even larger prison. The image of Gaza workers lining up at the Erez checkpoint is inscribed in our memory, and the West Bank seems destined for a similar future. Concurrently, Jerusalem is treated as if it was already ethnically cleansed and all opportunities to save it have been extinguished.
Escaping from Gaza has been an age-old Israeli dream, growing in persistence since the first intifada. The late Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin wished "the sea would swallow Gaza", but it is the current political machinations of the occupiers — and the increased international complicity with them — that convinced Israel that "disengagement" would not resemble a second "south Lebanon". Gaza will be cut off from the rest of Palestine by walls and fences, with "disengagement" serving as a distraction from the real aims of the Israeli occupation.
This involves first and foremost, disconnecting Gaza from the Palestinian cause while maintaining stronger and exclusive control over the West Bank.
Throughout the years of occupation Gaza has been the flame of resistance, considered by Israel as a terrifying battlefield. Resistance in Gaza was strengthened by the occupation's continuous crimes and further catalysed by the dense population of the Gaza Strip and the presence of the largest refugee camps. These, in effect, turned Gaza into one large refugee camp.
Today, the attempt to disconnect Gaza is reminiscent of the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1979, which succeeded in neutralising Egypt's role in the Palestinian cause. The overall blow to the Arab and Palestinian liberation movement facilitated Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, as Israel sought to totally eradicate the Palestinian resistance.
Meanwhile, the project of sealing Palestinians into disparate prisons throughout the West Bank is accelerating and will lead to a new reality that will force the people into intensified popular struggle. Fully aware of this, the occupiers want to deal with the West Bank alone, away from the heavyweight resistance in Gaza.
Israel seeks to forge a scenario in which Gaza will be alienated from the struggle for Palestine, tied down by new chains, and reduced to an observer of Zionist expansion as Arab states have been for years. Or, in the case of continued Palestinian resistance, Gaza will enter into some kind of internal conflict with the Palestinian Authority (which has undertaken the responsibility of "security"), while Israeli air-to-surface missiles would seek to burn the land and the people under the pretense of any action it disapproves of. In this case, Israeli massacres from now on may not be considered by the "international community" as crimes, since Gaza will be treated more as a sovereign state than as a hellish prison.
Israeli occupation minister Shaul Mofaz recently stated that the disengagement will make fundamental demographic changes in favour of Israel's interests. Current estimates show that the number of Palestinians in all of the former British mandate Palestine is equal to the Jewish presence. By cutting off the Gaza Strip, the occupation is able to remove 1.3 million Palestinians from its equation.
In his latest visit to France, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that he plans to bring a million Jews from all over the world to Palestine that can aid the few thousand settlers re-engaged in the colonisation of other parts of our country. If these plans are realised, an even larger Jewish "demographic capacity" of colonisation and expulsion will be created to secure the goals of the apartheid wall.
Ghettoised in already crowded residential areas, future Palestinian generations will be denied any living space, facing "voluntary" expulsion, while the refugees of 1967 will have no place to return to in the West Bank.
As impossible and costly as the control inside Gaza was for the occupation, the unilateral Israeli decision to evacuate settlers has been presented as the only political initiative on the table, to the maximum profit of the occupiers. It has been drawn up after internal Israeli negotiations, regardless of the US or international position, negating any presence of a Palestinian Authority (PA), while disingenuously bypassing even the rhetoric of the US-initiated "Road Map".
Israel has determined how, when, the conditions, and the role of the PA in the "disengagement" and thus set the rules that will determine any future "negotiations". These rules have been completely accepted by the PA, and reaped the praise of the US and European Union.
This comes as little surprise given the influence of the 1993 Oslo agreements on the current political climate, for it was Oslo which attempted to remove the liberating aspect of the Palestinian revolution and to turn the Palestinian cause into the project of an illusionary state.
The Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence has been changed into a so-called conflict of lands and borders, with even the word "occupation" being absent from political circles and recent conferences like Sharm al Sheikh and London.
What is next? In a few weeks' time, the tears will dry up and the dust over the celebrations of "liberation" will settle. We will wake up in a new reality with familiar scenarios: Gaza — a big prison surrounded by walls, destroyed infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, a devastated economy dependent on the Israeli economy, social problems and the severe polarisation of the political forces that will add to the anxiety and fears for the future of our people. The sea remains besieged. Borders, water and electricity remain under complete control by the occupation.
The West Bank, meanwhile, being sliced into a series of miserable bantustans and surrounded by walls and gates, with expanding settlements swallowing what is left of the lands. Open-air prisons and ghettos are shaping a reality in which life will be impossible.
In Jerusalem, the ethnic cleansing project that started with the city's occupation continues with the apartheid wall expelling the Palestinian presence from their capital. Next month, more than 120,000 Jerusalemites will be separated from both Jerusalem and their people in the West Bank. They will lose their right to reside in the city — the racist laws of the occupation have declared them "temporary" residents since the beginning of the occupation of the city. At the same time, thousands of Israeli housing units will be added to existing colonies while new settlements are being built in a massive judaisation campaign of Jerusalem.
The current phase of the Zionist project in the systematic plan to uproot the Palestinian people — a policy which began in the last century and persists today — is about to unleash a new disaster on Palestine through ghettoisation and renewed colonisation.
Refocusing our struggle under these conditions leads us to consider: How will the PA challenge the realities being carved out by the occupation? What do the Palestinian political parties and factions plan to do? Is there a national program to confront this plan and strengthen the resistance? Is there a national program to mobilise the Palestinian people all over the world? Or do we just wait for another Israeli decision to evacuate a few settlements here and there with the new conditions that come along with it?
In this critical moment, what we ask from our supporters worldwide is not to find ways to make the Israeli project "less painful", but to follow the lead of the daily grassroots resistance in the struggle for our freedom and the goals of genuine liberation and justice.
[Jamal Juma is coordinator of the Palestinian grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. For more information visit <http://www.stopthewall.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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