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(en) Israel-Palestine, Media, SHARON'S "DISENGAGEMENT" - A Pacifier for the majority - An anarchist take on Israeli politics by Tanya Reinhart

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 22 Mar 2004 10:39:05 +0100 (CET)


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Getting out of the Gaza Strip is an old dream of the majority in
Israeli society. Even before the Oslo agreements in 1993, the call
to get out of there was heard after every terror attack. Today,
according to the polls, it has the support of 60-70% of the Israelis.
But governments come and fall, and still, this majority has not
found the political power to realize its will.

At the start of the Oslo process, the majority believed that Israel
was withdrawing first from the Gaza Strip. But Rabin gave the
concept of withdrawal a new meaning: he left all of the settlements
intact, increased their territory, and built a heavy fence around the
areas left for the Palestinians. With the Gaza strip imprisoned and
isolated, there began a process of eternal negotiations with the
Palestinian leadership over the details of further stages that would,
perhaps, materialize at some future point. The majority believed
at the time not only that we had already left Gaza altogether, but
also that we were just about to get out of the rest of the occupied
territories and end the occupation. This continued until the
explosion that Barak created reminded us that, in fact, we have
not yet gotten out of anything.

In February of 2002, Ami Ayalon and the council for Peace and
Security called for a break from the route of eternal negotiations. It
is both possible and necessary, they said, to withdraw unilaterally
from the territories that the majority agrees we will get out of at
the end of the process: all of the Gaza strip and all of the West
Bank, excluding 6%-10% of the big settlement blocks. This means
evacuating unilaterally and immediately all of the settlements in
these areas, even before the final agreement. At the polls, 60%
supported this idea, but what came out of it at the end was an
extensive campaign to 'let us first build a fence' (kodem gader
ve-az nedaber). In the elections of 2003, Mitzna stepped into the
spotlight with a more modest version of the idea of unilateral
withdrawal - Let us evacuate the settlements of the Gaza strip
immediately. But during his election campaign, "immediately"
has turned into "in a year or two after the elections", and in the
meanwhile, let us strengthen the fence.

But now, so the papers say, we have finally reached a historical
turn. The majority is asked to believe that of all Israeli leaders, it
is Sharon who will get us out of Gaza. Sharon, who shaped the
map of the settlements in the Gaza strip in the seventies, and
explained persistently the supreme strategic importance of the
Netzarim settlement in cutting the strip into halves, Sharon of the
Lebanon war, Sharon of Jenin - he is the one who will now
dismantle the Gaza settlements and end the occupation there.

For those who doubt, ample evidence is provided by the world of
politics. Intensive negotiations of the plan take place, with the
U.S. and with Egypt. Low and behold, the right wing is already
protesting, the settlers are furious, the chief of staff Ya'alon has
reservations, and Sharon may be about to loose his coalition - a
strong indication of how serious he is. Those who still doubt
remember that there have already been many plans in the past,
and road maps and diplomatic convoys, and still it turned out at
the end that Sharon did not really mean what he said. To restore
their faith, the political discourse is filled with explanations on why
this time it is different. Some say that Sharon has changed, or that
he has had to yield to the will of his voters, to whom he has
promised peace. Others explain that what drives Sharon is the
need to distract attention away from the various scandals and
allegations of corruption in which he is involved, or that perhaps
he is willing to give up on the Gaza settlements in order to gain
international support for his fence plan in the West Bank.

The point is that in order to achieve the goals assumed in these
explanations, one does not need to dismantle a single settlement.
It is sufficient to declare intentions, and start a new process of
negotiations. This is precisely what all Israeli governments have
done successfully since 1993, and what Sharon has done for the
last three years. The only innovation is that now negotiations take
place with everyone except the Palestinians. All that is needed is
to throw a pacifier at the majority and to convince them that this
time Sharon really means it. This way, the majority will continue
to sit silently another year, and let Sharon apply the Gaza model
also in the West Bank.

The American historian Howard Zinn formulated a simple rule:
Governments lie. It appears that this generalization is one of the
most difficult for people to internalize and digest in a democratic
society. Until this changes, the majority is doomed to believe
again and again the same lie.


Narrowing the prison cells

Sharon's "disengagement" plan was introduced in early February
2004, at the peak of international criticism of Sharon's project of
the wall, with the Hague hearing scheduled to begin just a few
weeks later, on February 23.

In an interview with Ha'aretz, Sharon announced that "this
vacuum for which the Palestinians are to blame, cannot go on
forever. So as part of the disengagement plan I ordered an
evacuation - sorry, a relocation - of 17 settlements with their 7,500
residents, from the Gaza Strip to Israeli territory…The aim is to
move settlements from places where they cause us problems or
places where we won't remain in a permanent arrangement. Not
only settlements in Gaza, but also three problematic settlements in
Samaria." (Yoel Marcus, Ha'aretz, Feb 3, 2004). Although the
headlines presented this as a plan for an immediate unilateral
Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip, modeling Israel's
withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, Sharon, in fact, clarified
already in this interview that "the process will take one to two
years". He explained that a long process of negotiations lies
ahead, not with the Palestinians, who will be excluded from any
negotiations about the plan, but with the U.S., with whom,
"agreement is needed on both the evacuation and the matter of the
fence" (ibid).

Three days later, full details were given on what Sharon asks of
the U.S. in return for his generous concessions - "shifting the
separation fence to the east, with U.S approval, to a temporary
security line that will surround more settlements than the present
path of the fence… The new security line will be maintained until
the full application of the road map. After negotiations [with the
Palestinians] resume and an agreement reached, [Israel] will move
the fence to the border that will be determined." (Aluf Ben,
Ha'aretz, Hebrew edition, Feb 6, 2004). Sharon also seeks U.S.
permission "to expand the big settlement blocks in the West
Bank, which are to be annexed to Israel in the permanent
agreement" (ibid).

Indeed, the fence-route has been at the center of intense Israeli
negotiations with the U.S. Nachum Barnea, one of the most well
briefed Israeli journalists, reports that "Israel does not ask for
money to finance the evacuation, although it will be glad to get it.
It mainly seeks support of the fence-route." (Yediot Aharonot
Saturday supplement, Feb 20, 2004).

Apart from the negotiations with the U.S., there is no sign on the
ground of any intention to evacuate from Gaza. A committee was
formed to make plans about how to compensate the settlers there,
but so far there are no reports of any interviews or contacts made
by the committee with any of the settlers, nor of any concrete
plans it has come up with. There isn't even a list of the
settlements that supposedly will be evacuated from Gaza. Shortly
after Sharon's ceremonial announcement to Yoel Marcus in
Ha'aretz, we heard that "sources in Sharon's office have said that
the planned evacuation of Gaza will include less than the 17
settlements that Sharon mentioned in the interview with Yoel
Marcus. According to a diplomatic source in Jerusalem, Sharon
may propose to evacuate in the first stage only the isolated
settlements and postpone the evacuation of the Katif block [the
largest settlements block in the Gaza strip] to a second stage"
(Aluf Ben and Arnon Regular, Ha'aretz, Hebrew edition, Feb 9,
2004).

One could infer that at least isolated settlements such as Netzarim
are being prepared for evacuation in the near future. This, in fact,
would be a significant step forward. As Sharon has repeatedly
explained, the Netzarim settlement was not erected arbitrarily. It
lies close to the seashore in the middle of the strip. In order to
reach it from the mainland, Israel built a special road dotted with
Israeli army posts.. This road, with its constantly widening
"security strip" separates the northern area of Gaza city from the
rest of the strip. Transit between the northern part of the strip and
its southern part is completely at the mercy of the Israeli army,
which means that, in reality, it is not possible for Palestinians.
Evacuating at least this settlement with its road and army posts
would enable some territorial continuity in the crowded Gaza strip.
But on the ground, work on fortifying this settlement has only
intensified in recent weeks. "The IDF is currently building, at the
cost of millions of shekels, a new electronic fence for Netzarim…
The new fence will prevent penetration under foggy weather
conditions… The chief of staff approved the plan and the region
commander issued the orders, including the appropriation of land
from Palestinians" (Nachum Barnea, Yeddiot Aharonot Saturday
Supplement, March 12, 2004).

But since both Israelis and the world are so eager to believe that
Sharon intends to evacuate the Gaza settlements soon, who would
notice the daily horrors? At least the fence project in the West
Bank is a focus of some world attention. In the Gaza strip, the
fence was already completed during the first stages of the Oslo
process. The strip has become a huge prison, further divided
internally into smaller prison units. But the present project of the
military is narrowing the prison cells even further. This is done
through a steady erasure of houses and orchards along the
"security strips". Alex Fishman, the senior military analystof
Yediot Aharonot, describes one of the projects that continues as
Israel "prepares to withdraw". "In the Gaza battalion, they keep
executing gradually but systematically the old dream: to widen the
"Philadelphia" road [along the border with Egypt] to at least one
kilometer in width… The realization of this dream has been
happening for two years already. Every time the IDF spokesman
announces that our forces are operating in the area of Rafa to
expose tunnels, a few rows of houses are erased in the refugee
camp. In some of the segments of the road, the width is already a
few hundred meters, and their hands are still outstretched."
(Yediot Aharonot Saturday Supplement, March 19, 2004).

Now that Sharon "intends to withdraw", this project can continue
undisturbed. Since the announcement of the new initiative, there
have already been three murderous Israeli attacks on Palestinians
in Gaza (reported on February 12, March 8, and March 17-21). At
the same time, new prospects are opened for the future
maintenance of the prison, e.g. who should be responsible for
feeding the prisoners. National Security Advisor Giora Eiland,
who is in charge of composing the full details of the
disengagement plan, explained in a meeting of the security
establishment with Sharon that as Israel withdraws from the Gaza
strip "it would no longer be responsible for what happened there.
'Let the world worry about them,' he said. 'I will no longer be the
occupier in Gaza, so it will be as much the Egyptians' and
Europeans' business as mine' " (Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz, March 18,
2004).

Here is how Amira Hass describes the daily reality of the Gaza
strip:

This is an admission of failure. The written word is a failure at
making tangible to Israeli readers the true horror of the occupation
in the Gaza Strip…This admission of the failure of the written
word is not meant to enhance the role of photography. A picture
may indeed be worth a thousand words, but for the Israeli
occupation to approach some level of comprehension, Israelis
need to see tens of thousands of photographs, one after the other,
or watch documentaries that are at least eight hours long each, so
they could grasp in real time the fear in the eyes of the school
children when some whistling above turns into twisted crushed
metal with charcoaled bodies inside.

Another movie should show the viewers the vineyards of Sheikh
Ajalin, the ripe grapefruits, the peasants who for years nurtured
the fruit with great love only to see it all turned to scorched earth
left behind by Israeli tanks and bulldozers. No movie has yet been
produced that would enable Israelis to taste the wonderful grapes
of Sheikh Ajalin. The vineyards are gone so the military positions
can protect Netzarim.

How would photographs illustrate the following facts - from
September 29th up to Monday this week, 94 Israelis have been
killed - 27 civilians and 67 soldiers, according to the IDF. From
that same date up to February 18th this year 1,231 Palestinians
have been killed - all of them were terrorists? Lacking a central
Palestinian agency, there are differences between the data
provided by Palestinian groups and none claim to be 100 percent
accurate…

The failure to bring all this home to readers is not because of
the weakness of words or a lack pictures. It is because Israeli
society has learned to live in peace with the following facts. There
are 8,000 Jews and 1.4 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The
total area of the Strip is 365 square kilometers. The settlements
occupy 54 square kilometers. Along with the areas held by the
IDF, according to the Oslo accords, 20 percent of the Strip is
under Israeli control. That's 20 percent of the territory for half of
one percent of the population.

The proximity of every expansive settlement to the densely
populated, suffocating crowded Palestinian community is what
causes the large number of Palestinian casualties in the Gaza
Strip, including many civilians. It is what determines the flexible
rules of engagement, the type of bombs that break into fragments,
the unmanned aircrafts that fire missiles.

Amira Hass, Words have failed us, Ha'aretz, March 3,
2004.

(This part appeared in Hebrew in Yediot Aharonot, March 17,
http://www.tau.ac.il/~reinhart


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