The Meaning of Gaza

September 15, 2014

By Shiv Sethi

What is Gaza? A tiny sliver of land (area 360 square kms) along the eastern Mediterranean sea surrounded by countries hostile to its people? The largest and the oldest refugee camp in the world? The largest open prison, populated by 1.8 million people, in the history of humankind? The last vestige of the 19th century phenomenon of political control by colonial, settler occupation in the 21st century? The most striking illustration of the fact that the defining feature of international law remains ‘might is right’? Or it symbolizes the long and glorious resistance of Palestinian people while facing the collective might of Israel and Western powers?

A Brief history of Gaza’s political subjugation: the meaning of occupation

Gaza was turned into a refugee camp in 1948 when a large fraction of Palestinian land was forcibly occupied by the nascent state of Israel; a fraction of the inhabitant of these lands were driven into Gaza. In a few months in 1948, the population of Gaza tripled to around 300000 (for details see The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe). At the present, over 70 percent of Gaza’s residents are still registered as refugees [1].

In 1967 Gaza was occupied by Israel. At a time when de-colonization of the world hitherto occupied by Western powers was in full swing, Israel’s action seemed to reverse the trend. It was hoped that Israel’s occupation would be short lived and Arab countries petitioned the world powers through institutions such as the UN to negotiate an Israeli withdrawal. However, since 1967 Israel has proceeded to deepen its hold on the occupied territories, making all the so-called peace talks aimed at creating two states–Israel alongside a viable Palestine–increasingly pointless.

Gaza’s economy was systematically put through a process of ‘de-development’ after its occupation (for details see The Gaza Strip: The political economy of de-development, Sara Roy). Gaza’s work force became the cheap labour in Israel and Gaza became a dumping ground for finished consumer products from Israel. This process ensured that even though consumer goods flooded Gaza and its GDP grew, the traditional sectors of the economy suffered and became increasingly unviable. This position of subservience was partly geared to legitimize the occupation.

During the first and second intifadas (1987–1992, 2000–2005), this arrangement came unstuck. Starting 1990s Gaza became an enclosed enclave isolated from other areas of Palestine and Israeli economy. The cumulative impact of Israeli policies since 1967 had already reduced Gaza to an unviable entity almost wholly dependent on international aid for sustenance [2]. During this period Israel also expanded its settlements in Gaza, West Bank, and East Jerusalem and routinely suppressed the resistance by destroying physical infrastructure (e.g. scarce water resources in Gaza) while over-exploiting existing resources. For instance Israeli settlers in Gaza used over 600 liters/person/day while the Palestinian usage remained less than 100 liters/person/day, the minimum recommended by WHO [3].

Nearly 7500 settlers occupied 20% of Gaza’s area with another 15% of the area earmarked as no-go area for Palestinians to protect these settlers and to provide them exclusive access to Israel with bypass roads. When these settlers were relocated from Gaza strip in 2005, the act was widely celebrated across the world as the beginning of a peace process which might eventually lead to an independent and viable Palestinian state. However, more prescient observers saw this ‘unilateral disengagement’ as a sign of an impending tightening of the noose around Gaza. Palestinian Authority (PA) rejected this unilateral step and denounced it as “…a recipe for a takeover of most of the territories of the West Bank”. One observer noted [4]:

The damaging effects of Israel withdrawing from Gaza unilaterally — without a final peace deal establishing a sovereign Palestinian state — are not hard to predict. Even if the army does pull back, it will simply be withdrawing to a new line around Gaza. The Strip would be effectively besieged, with no Palestinian control over entry or exit, either by land or sea. It would be a settler-less occupation, but a continuing occupation nonetheless.

The political landscape of Gaza changed in 2006 with the election victory of Hamas. Hamas’ main rival, Fatah, had been involved in all the major negotiations with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo accord and the Camp David negotiations in 2000, before the rise of Hamas [5]. Fatah’s credibility was lost owing to its failure to get Israel to implement any terms of multiple agreements. It was widely seen to be corrupt, compromised, and devoid of the spirit of resistance needed to counter Israel. If Hamas’ victory raised the hopes of Palestinians, it gave Israel yet another excuse to intensify its attacks on Gaza. The withdrawal of Israeli settlers had already given Israel a freer hand to lay a siege on Gaza.

Israel’s ‘unilateral disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005 paved the way for Gaza to become the largest open prison in the world. The disengagement plan declared: “Israel will hold sole control of Gaza airspace and will continue to carry out military activity in the waters of the Gaza Strip.” The land borders with Israel and Egypt were also either controlled by Israel or could not be opened without Israel’s express permission, e.g. the Rafah crossing with Egypt [6].

Among many vicious plans of Israel to strangle Gaza, one related to the slow starvation of the population of Gaza. An Israeli official declared: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” From detailed calculations based on population age and gender break-up of Gaza, they arrived at 2279 kcalories a day (average) as being enough for this purpose. They adjudged 170 trucks a day as being enough for this purpose. A human rights organization of Israel forced the government to release this ‘food red lining’ document in October 2012 [7].

Even though Israel vehemently denied this to be their official policy, the average number of trucks to enter Gaza per day was 67 per day from 2007 to 2012. So clearly Israeli government were knowingly starving Gazans. According to Robert Turner, the director of the UN’s refugee agency in Gaza: “The facts on the ground in Gaza demonstrate that food imports consistently fell below the red lines” [8]. The Gazans meet some of this shortfall by using the ‘smuggling tunnels’ connecting them with Egypt. Both Egypt and Israel periodically bomb and destroy these tunnels.

After the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza in 2005, Israel expanded its buffer zone along the border. These no-go regions for Gazans are between a few hundred to 1 km deep and occupy 30% of the arable land of Gaza. Israeli army uprooted and destroyed 112000 olive trees and many citrus orchards between 2000 and 2008. Israel’s blockade which doesn’t allow fishing beyond 3 miles of the Gaza coast has destroyed the fishing industry in Gaza. This industry supported over 60000 people at one time; at present over 90% of 4000 fishermen in Gaza are unemployed. All exports from Gaza are also subject to Israel’s unilateral decision and are routinely blocked [9]. Israel has refused to reimburse the custom duties it collects on behalf of the Gaza government to the Hamas-led government since 2007.

One outcome of these policies is a steep downturn in the economic activity of Gaza. By any meaningful economic measure Gazan economy is in recession since 1990s and deep depression since 2005; at the end of 2008, the real per capital consumption in Gaza was 40% below 1999. Over 80% of Gazans depend on humanitarian aid. According to UNRWA, the agency was meeting the food needs of 80000 people in 2000 while it feeds over 830000 people at the present in Gaza; over 95% of the population of Gaza is dependent on external aid for basic needs [10].

Israel military launches attacks on Gaza strip on a periodic basis. In 2006, Israel launched major military offensives in Gaza (operation summer rains and autumn clouds) which claimed over 500 lives. In each military incursion Israel systematically targets important infrastructure, e.g. water extraction and treatment infrastructure; the only power station in Gaza was destroyed in 2006 and again in 2014.

In Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Israel killed over 1400 Gazans; 1200 of them were non-combatants and 350 were children. This attack also was deliberate economic warfare: 11000 homes were partially or fully destroyed (rendering nearly 100000 people homeless, which is 8% of the population of Gaza); 200 factories were damaged (30% of them were bulldozed); agricultural land (almost all the 10000 smallholder farms were completely or partially damaged) and resources (half a million trees were destroyed) were targeted; livestock was killed on a large scale (minimum of 35000 cattle, sheep, and goats and over 1 million birds and chickens were killed). In addition civilian infrastructure, e.g. schools, mosques, and even hospitals were destroyed [11].

The siege of Gaza remained in place after the military operation in 2009 and so did the low intensity assault of Gaza. Over 300 Gazans were killed from 2009 to 2012 before the launch of the next major military operation which claimed 200 lives over a period of 8 days. The 2014 military operation in Gaza has been the largest yet—it claimed close to 10000 casualties (over 2100 deaths), 40000 houses were destroyed or damaged (over 4 times the destruction of operation Cast Lead), and a quarter of the population of Gaza was displaced. As usual, Israel destroyed the water infrastructure (70% of water wells were destroyed) and the only power plant in Gaza [12].

A recent UNRWA report noted that, at the current rate of consumption, coastal aquifers in Gaza might be too saline to provide drinking water by 2015 and this damage might be irreversible by 2020; or Gaza might not be habitable after 2020 [13]. Israel’s policies, e.g. refusal to allow desalination plants inside Gaza, exacerbates this crisis and in the long term are directly responsible for the current situation. It is another form of economic warfare consistent with Israeli statesmen’s oft-stated aspiration of ‘no Palestinians from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan river’.

An analysis of Palestinian fatalities since the second intifada reveals an intensification of the Israeli assault. In the most recent attack, the number of Palestinians killed in 50 days is nearly two times the Palestinian fatalities during the entire first intifada (1987–1993) [14]. In just four operations in Gaza (Operation Summer rains (2006), Operation Cast Lead (2008), Pillar of defense (2012), and the Protective Edge (2014)) which together lasted less than a few months, the number of Palestinian fatalities are comparable to the total during the entire period from 1990 to 2006. During the same period, the number of Israeli fatalities has sharply decreased after the second intifada, less than 100 in the operations notedabove.

Israel’s presence in Palestine: the meaning of settler colony

Israel’s conduct in Gaza, and other Palestinians territories, is not without historic precedence from other parts of the world. Settler colonialists through the centuries have acted similarly. In some cases they managed to exterminate a majority of the local population and reduced them to an extremely tiny and marginalized minority (Americas, Australia, New Zealand, etc). In South Africa, the local population was forced into highly dense urban enclaves and rural bantustans. Israel has often been compared to the apartheid regime in South Africa. And there are reasons to believe Israel did not only enjoy close diplomatic ties with the regime, they learnt much from White supremacists in South Africa.

An important difference between the two is that while the apartheid regime plundered the mineral resources of South Africa with the cheap labour provided by the Black majority, Israel’s aims are consistent with the expulsion of Palestinian population from the occupied territories. Just like the apartheid regime, Israel enjoys the backing of Western powers and is seen as an outpost of Western civilization in the ‘barbaric east’.

All these aspects—economics of Israel’s occupation, Israel’s aim to permanently occupy Palestinian land, and the invocation of superiority based on race or otherwise–have been extensively discussed.

As noted above, Israel did incorporate Palestinian economy (of the occupied territories) in a subservient role from the occupation until late 1980s. Partly owing to the economic downturn in Gulf countries and Israel in mid-1980s, this arrangement broke down and contributed to the uprising culminating into the first Intifada, which further accelerated the process of isolation of Palestinian economy from Israel (for details see The Political economy of Israel’s occupation: repression beyond exploitation, Shir Hever).

Apart from Palestinians in the occupied territories, Palestinians constitute over 20% population of Israel. They are legally citizens of Israel since 1948 but remained under military occupation until 1966. They suffer from what can only be termed ‘internal colonization’. Like the occupied territories, they have also lost their land to continual encroachment and currently own less than 3% of land in Israel; the Land Day commemorated by all Palestinians capture the spirit of their struggle [15]. They continue to face segregation, systematic persecution, legal disenfranchisement, and an overt threat of expulsion (For details see The Forgotten Palestinians: A history of the Palestinians in Israel, Ilan Pappe) [16].

It is a matter of record that Israel has never sought a political solution based on negotiations with Palestinians since 1948. The much-celebrated Oslo accords in 1993 amply attest to this view. Even though these agreements was professedly geared to usher in a viable Palestinian state in the pre-1967 Palestinian territory (Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem), Israel accelerated the process of building settlements and outposts in the West bank and East Jerusalem after 1993, nearly doubling the number of settlers in West Bank in less than 7 years [17].

Currently there are over 500000 settlers in West Bank and East Jerusalem and Israel continues to expand these settlements by encroaching on Palestinian land. These settlements, criss-crossing network of roads for the exclusive use of settlers, no-go buffer areas to protect the settlers and a separation wall has reduced the Palestinian areas into a set of bantustans. In the Oslo agreement, the West Bank was divided into three regions. Area C, over 65% of the area,remained under the exclusive control of Israel. Area A which was less than 5% of the area and housed important towns and cities dominated by Palestinian population, was to be administered by Palestinians. And the remaining area (area B) was to jointly run by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has expanded settlements in Area C and has annexed East Jerusalem; Israeli military’s regular incursions into the other areas has prevented the PA from any sense of sovereignty in the West Bank [18]. In essence, Israel made no meaningful concessions but, in lieu of relinquishing limited administrative control, forced the PA to police and suppress the resistance against Israel. Or the main aim of Oslo negotiations for Israel was to defang Palestinian militancy and reduce a section of them to collaborators [19].

Buoyed by uncritical support of Western countries, Israeli elite’s deeply racist view towards Palestinians and Arabs in general has been expressed in many subtle and explicit ways by Israeli statesmen in the past 67 years. The following statement attributed to an Israeli PM, after Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982, is one end of this outlook:

“Our race is the Master Race. We are divine gods on this planet. We are as different from the inferior races as they are from insects. In fact, compared to our race, other races are beasts and animals, cattle at best. Other races are considered as human excrement. Our destiny is to rule over the inferior races. Our earthly kingdom will be ruled by our leader with a rod of iron. The masses will lick our feet and serve us as our slaves.”

Israeli prime Minister Menachem Begin in a speech to the Knesset [Israeli Parliament] quoted by Amnon Kapeliouk, “Begin and the Beasts,” New Statesman, June 25, 1982” (Begin was a member of Jewish extremist militia Irgun which carried out many massacres during 1948 including the one in Deir Yassin. He later won a Nobel prize for peace for his role in the Camp David accord with Egypt in 1979) [20].

While Western powers, especially the US, support Israel unconditionally, these powers also retain a complex relation with the Palestinians to placate Arab powers in an oil-rich and strategically important region. Many of these powers put an oil embargo in 1973 partly in retaliation to the US’s support for Israel in its war against joint Arab armies led by Egypt and Syria; this sent shock-waves through the world economy, quadrupling oil prices in less than a year. This was also the last time Arab countries acted together to undertake punitive measures against Western powers for their uncritical support of Israel.

It might seem ironic that the US has vetoed every single UN resolution against Israel and is the largest supplier of military aid and hardware to Israel, and yet the US is also the largest single contributor to UNRWA, the UN agency exclusively tasked to provide relief and development funding to Palestinians since 1949. The largest three contributors to this agency in 2013—US, EU, and Saudi Arabia—also backed Israel uncritically in its recent attack on Gaza. Given the intensification of Israel’s assault on a besieged Gaza in the past 7 years, Gaza would have faced recurrent famines if not for UNRWA relief centers. The role of UNRWA is to constantly adjust to Israel’s occupation policies and prevent a human catastrophe in Palestinian areas in the face of growing Israeli atrocity. Politically, this aid helps to keep alive the smokescreen of the peace process which allows Israel to gradually expand into Palestinian territory and the US-backed Arab regimes to justify their anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel stand and keep the resentment of their populations under control. In other words, UNRWA is yet another tool in the hands of Western powers to perpetuate the oppression of Palestinians.

The economic aspects of Israel’s occupation have already been briefly discussed above. Another important issue is access to water. Israel obtains up to 60% of its fresh water from mountain aquifer located in the West Bank and sea of Gallee, whose exclusive control fell to Israel after the annexation of Golan heights from Syria (and Shebba farm from Lebanon) in 1967 [21]. Israel settlers in the West Bank occupy land atop the main aquifers and continue to deprive the Palestinian population of access to this crucial and scarce resource [22].

It has been often pointed out that occupation and repression of Palestine is expensive and the US aid (over 3 billion dollars a year) helps Israel defray the expense of keeping its over-sized police and military machinery in perpetual readiness. However, this view is partial and doesn’t reveal how Israel has managed to turn the apparatus of population control into marketable goods. Israel has supplied weapons, provided training, and sold other surveillance equipment for decades to right-wing regimes/insurgencies backed by Western countries, e.g. white-racist regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and contra rebels in Nicaragua [23]. In the recent past Israel has become a world leader in homeland security. Yet again one of the main selling point is ‘Israel’s experience in fighting terrorism’. According to Israel’s ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labour:

Israel has more than 300 Homeland Security (HLS) companies exporting a range of products, systems and services… These solutions have been born by the necessity of Israel’s survival and matured by the reality of the continual terrorist threat to the country… No other country has such a large pool of experienced former security, military, and police personnel and no other country has been able to field test its systems and solutions in real-time situations.

In a detailed analysis, Gordon studied the rise of these industries since the 9/11 attacks in the US [24]. These industries are tightly coupled to the military industries in Israel and their exports totalled more than 4 billion dollars in 2010 (in addition to over 7 billion dollars worth of exports of other military hardware and services, the 7th highest in the world in 2014) [25]. In other words, the constant repression of the population of occupied territories turns out to be highly profitable to military and associated industries in Israel.

There is a broader perspective to Israel’s growing export of military hardware and homeland security equipment and services. Their demand increased across the world partly in response to the 9/11 attacks but a deeper look shows a longer trend. For instance, Israel is a partner in building a fence in the Southern US to prevent the inflow of immigrants from central and Latin America. Israel sells technologies of prison management, crowd control, and urban warfare to Brazil to ‘pacify’ urban slums. Israel provided security to control urban unrest during 2012 Olympics in China. While Israel’s occupation and control of Palestinian population has played a role in developing and finessing these technologies, Israel could not possibly have created a demand for such goods and services across the world on such a scale.

This demand has been created by sharply growing inequality across the world owing to the onset of a particularly virulent form of capitalism, Neoliberalism, since early 1990s; Neve Gordon, in the aforementioned article, investigates in detail links between the rapid growth of Israel’s homeland security industry and neoliberalism. To sustain and justify such a system, governments and large corporations have increasingly felt a need to sense and crush dissent across the globe. A recent report of the US military underlined the fact that urban warfare—at home and away—is the new face of warfare [26].

The US and Israel already run facilities in Israel to study the impact of such eventualities across the world. This perspective allows one to understand the role of Israel—a highly industrialized and militarized society perpetually at war—in the global scheme of things. If Palestinians are guinea-pigs for Israel’s weapon industry, Israel itself is a laboratory which caters to the needs of a tiny world population that are beneficiaries of neoliberalism. This has also won Israel partners across the world. A case in point is India’s deepening ties with Israel.

The newly-independent India voted against the UN resolution proposing the formation of Israel in 1947. As founders of the eventually ineffectual Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), India’s nationalist leaders stood for the liberation of colonies across the world as a matter of principle, e.g. Rhodesia, S. Africa, or Palestine. India had no diplomatic ties with Israel until 1992. It is not surprising that India’s political alliance with Israel started just around the time when the Indian elite willingly integrated Indian economy into the global economy dominated by the US, on conditions set by the IMF in early 1990s. The overall rightward shift of Indian polity was also accompanied by the rise of extreme right-wing Hindutava forces that had traditionally seen Israel as an ally against Islamic ‘insurgency’ in India and its neighbors.

Defense ties between India and Israel got a boost during the Indo-Pakistan Kargil war when Israel was credited with supplying UAVs for border surveillance during the war. At the present, Israel is the forth largest supplier of weapons to India after the US, Russia, and France [27]. The defense deals between India and Israel are thought to be worth over 10 billion dollars in the past decade [28]. As expected, India’s strengthening political relations with Israel and the US have come at the cost of its historic ties with developing countries with strong nationalist outlook. For instance, India has voted against Iran on IAEA resolutions on Iran’s nuclear program more than once from 2005 to 2009 while signing a nuclear deal with the US in 2005. Indian present government led by the Hindutava party BJP refused to even issue a statement against Israel’s recent assault against Gaza.

It has been noted that India’s strong support for the Palestinian cause was partly strategic—the Arab countries (and Iran) were suppliers of crucial energy resources to India and a destination for a fraction of India’s workforce which earned India crucial foreign exchange. One of the diplomatic triumphs for India was to keep convincing OPEC countries not to take a stand against India (and in the favour of Pakistan) on Kashmir issue. But now times have changed. Iraq was destroyed in early 1990s and never recovered. Iran threatened to stop selling oil to India after the first negative Indian vote at IAEA, but backed off soon realizing it was far more isolated as compared to India. Or India’s burgeoning ties with Israel got strengthened at a time when nationalist countries that back the Palestinian cause in the region were becoming weaker.

Gaza: the meaning of resistance
Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation and repression has moved through many phases. In the first phase, the demand for the liberation of Palestine was articulated through neighboring Arab countries; Palestinian groups based in these countries periodically targeted Israeli assets throughout the world. While these countries fought more than one war against Israel since 1948, they also petitioned international organizations such as the UN on the behalf of the Palestinians. This phase ended when Egypt, the largest Arab country, signed a separate peace treaty with Israel in 1979 (the camp David accord). Even though Egypt got in return the Sinai region occupied by the Israel in 1967, the treaty was seen as humiliating for Egypt and an open betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

The demilitarization of the Sinai peninsula, a clause in the treaty, also meant Israel had effectively secured its southern border against surprise army attacks and blocked access to Gaza from the Egyptian side. While this accord was a major diplomatic victory for the US and Israel, it was one of the principal reasons for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 by soldiers of Egyptian army. In 1994, the signing of a US-brokered peace treaty between Jordan and Israel removed another obstacle for Israel to continue its assault on the Palestinians.

The second important phase of Palestinian resistance started with the first intifada. The first intifada started as a peaceful mass protest against Israel in the occupied territories. The movement also won the support of Palestinians living inside Israel. Israel responded by not only shooting at unarmed Palestinians but deliberately adopted the policy of ‘breaking the bones of protesters’ to quell the uprising [29]. Israel killed over 1000 Palestinians during the first intifada and its security forces systematically tortured a large number of Palestinians as a matter of policy.

Over 120000 Palestinians were arrested during the first intifada [30]. While the militancy of Palestinian resistance increased during the first intifida it never reached the point of being an organized armed resistance. However, it did force Israel to the negotiating table and the Oslo accords recognized partial, though highly limited, sovereignty of the Palestinians over the occupied territories for the first time. But, as already noted above, Oslo accords were a series of interim agreements which promised more than they offered and they served to lay bare the severe limitations of the Palestinians to extract any meaningful concessions from Israel, at least through direct negotiations mediated by the US; in fact, all the main concessions were made by the Palestinians [31].

The euphoria of these accords did not last. The Israeli violence, especially settler violence, against Palestinians increased sharply in 1994. The Palestinian resistance also stiffened with a rise in the level of militancy.

The third phase of Palestinian resistance started with the second intifada in 2000. One cause of the second major uprising in less than a decade was the failure of the Camp David summit, which signalled the death of Oslo accords for most Palestinian groups [32]. Another major inspiration came from Lebanon: Israel had occupied a part of South Lebanon since 1978. The armed resistance led by the militia of the political group Hezbollah forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.

The second intifada was far bloodier than the first intifada. It claimed over 4500 Palestinian lives, but significantly, the Palestinian resistance managed to kill over 1000 Israelis between 2000 to 2005. The Palestinian resistance managed to strike targets inside Israel as well the occupied territories. Unlike the first intifada, the resistance increasingly resembled an armed insurgency, more akin to the tactics of Hezbollah in Lebanon than just the peaceful mass civil disobedience.

Both Hamas and the armed wing of Fatah participated (The PFLP, traditionally the second largest party in PLO, also raised the level of its militancy after 2000 after relative inactivity during 1990s). But the political leadership of Fatah continued to collaborate with Israel to retain limited sovereignty in the West Bank, which they lost in 2002 when Israel re-occupied the whole of West Bank and did not leave until after the end of the intifada in 2005. This created a rift between the leadership of PA, dominated by Fatah members, and groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that called for armed struggle. To placate Israel, the PA tried to crack down on the armed groups but ended up losing the support of Palestinian people who strongly backed armed resistance. This was one of the main reasons of the electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza in 2006.

At the same time a new ‘axis of resistance’ emerged during the second intifada: a strong collaboration between Hamas (and other groups such as Islamic Jihad) and Hezbollah backed by Syria and Iran.

Israel’s response to the second intifada was aerial bombardment of Gaza for the first time and to further isolate Palestinians in the occupied territories from Israel and settlers by building a separation wall and numerous check points and exclusive routes and roads for settlers in the West Bank [33]. Israel also expanded its electronic surveillance networks for border control and intelligence gathering.

The second intifada was a significant victory for the Palestinian resistance. For the first time Israel withdrew from Palestinian territories since 1948 when it dismantled its settlements in Gaza and ended the military occupation of the strip in 2005. The defining image of the first intifada was Palestinian protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles. Much had changed since then. Palestinian resistance had acquired mortars and rockets which were fired on settlements in Gaza and South Israel. The resistance successfully ambushed check-posts and attacked vehicles using Improvised Explosive Devices. Facing such a stiff challenge Israel knew the cost of maintaining settlements in Gaza was too high. But, as already discussed above, the end of settlements in Gaza since 2005 led Israel to lay a brutal and crippling siege on Gaza.

But an important debacle for the Palestinian resistance was the demilitarization of the West Bank. Israel militarily occupied it during the second intifida but could not possibly achieve it without the open collusion of the PA [34]. This meant a split in the forces of the resistance: PA based in the West Bank pitted against the armed insurgency in Gaza. This also meant isolation of Gaza which allowed Israel to strike it at will without fearing the opening of a second front in the West Bank.

The regional situation has fluctuated between hope and despair for Gazans, but has finally further contributed to the solitude of Gaza in the recent years. Israel launched a full scale attack on Lebanon in 2006, including a ground incursion into South Lebanon. The Lebanese resistance, ably led by Hezbollah, managed to inflict a humiliating defeat on Israeli army even though it could not do anything about the aerial bombardment of Lebanese towns and cities. This victory elevated Hezbollah to the status of ‘saviours of Lebanon’ and inspired resistance forces throughout the region, in particular in Gaza. But the West-backed ongoing dismantling of Syria since 2011 has undermined the capabilities of both Hezbollah and Hamas. Syria hosted Hamas headquarter and provided an important conduit to the flow of Iranian arms into Lebanon and into Gaza.

The victory of Mohammad Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate, in the first-ever democratic presidential elections in Egypt in 2012 gave hope to the beleaguered people of Gaza. However, it was short-lived. This government was deposed with extreme violence by the Egyptian military in 2013 [35]. The present Egyptian government sees both MB and Hamas as ‘terrorists’, and was an active collaborator of Israel in the recent assault on Gaza. Egyptian military has destroyed or sealed off over 1500 tunnels connecting Gaza with Egypt in the past few years, further choking off Gaza’s economy already reeling under the impact of Israel’s blockade.

Turkey, a Nato ally and arguably the most powerful country in the region, has been long allied to the US and Israel. When its traditional military-backed governments paved way to a more democratically elected power structure in 2002, and this government respected public opinion and refused to back US’s assault on Iraq in 2003, there was much hope across the region. This hope took a palpable form when Turkey supported a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for besieged Gazans in 2010. Israel’s commandos raided and killed 8 Turkish nationals on these ships, further deteriorating relations between Israel and Turkey. Turkey, along with MB’s government in Egypt, sharply criticized Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2012 and played a key role in the subsequent ceasefire agreement. But this hope has turned out to be short-lived. Turkey is presently a key Western ally in the destabilization of Syria and in spite of its occasional bluster against Israel, cannot be seen as a supporter of Palestinian struggle.

In other words, Gaza is more isolated today then it ever was. This also means Israel can continue ‘incremental genocide’ in Gaza with impunity [36]. The formation of a unity government with the PA in 2014 was the first sign of Palestinian solidarity for years, but the inability of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to carry out armed insurgency does not provide much succour to Gazans.

Since 2000, the people of Gaza have refused to allow the slow death of their communities, inflicted by expanding Israeli settlements and outposts encroaching upon Palestinian land and resources. Facing an astounding imbalance of power, they know the high price of resistance, are paying it, and will continue to pay it. If these years highlight their incredible courage and resilience, they also provide testimony to their ingenuity and capability to improvise. Be it the home-made rockets or the tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt, they have constantly learnt and adjusted in the face of increasing repression.

The tenacity and versatility of resistance was in evidence during the most recent Israeli ground attack on Gaza. Israeli attack was launched after heavy aerial bombardment and artillery shelling, which was deemed disproportionate by even US army officers [37]. According to Abu Murad, the head of bomb defusal squad in Gaza, Israel dropped between 18–20 thousand tonnes of explosives on Gaza in a period of 50 days, which is equivalent to the atom bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima [38]. Yet the ground offensive faced stiff resistance and claimed the lives of 65 Israeli soldiers, 8 times the fatalities of operation Cast Lead; e.g. the ambush of Israeli army’s Golani Brigade in Shujaiya showed the depth of the strategy of the resistance.

The people of Gaza know that they must fight today or there will be no tomorrow to fight for. Their glorious resistance is an inspiration and a lesson for the oppressed people across the world!

Notes and References:
[1] In comparison about 25 percent population of West bank has the status of refugees
[2] for an overview of Palestinian economy Gaza economy,
impact of intifada, check-points, and separation walls see e.g.,
[5] The formation of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 signalled united Palestinian response to Israel’s occupation. The PLO was an umbrella organization of different Palestinian political formations. The largest such formation was Fatah with PLFP, a radical left organization, being the second largest. Hamas was formed in 1980s and rose to prominence with armed attacks in Israel and occupied territories since 1990s
[6] see e.g.
[7] full document at:
[8] e.g.
[13] in 2020.pdf
[14] data from
[16] One such discriminatory law is the ‘law of return’. This law
allows persons of Jewish religion to immigrate to Israel as full
citizens, even though Israel has refused to allow any Palestinians expelled in 1948 to return to either Israel or occupied territories. After the break-down of Soviet Union and the subsequent economic collapse, over 1 million people moved to Israel from that region in 1990s. This directly impacted the Palestinian community inside Israel and in the occupied territories. These new immigrants had preferential access to not only government funds and jobs inside Israel but all the structures of the state out of bounds for Palestinians inside Israel, for details see e.g. The Forgotten Palestinians, Pappe
[17] e.g.
[18] As a matter of policy, Israel has tried to expel Palestinians from occupied territories in West Bank and East Jerusalem. It has partly been achieved by demolishing Palestinian houses and other structures and annexing the land for use by settlers. Israel has demolished over 28000
Palestinian houses/buildings since 1967. In the past 10 years, nearly 300000 Palestinians have left West Bank and East Jerusalem (for details see
[19] e.g.
[20] an explicit emphasize on the inferiority of the occupied people is a defining characteristic of settler colonies and Israel is no exception to this rule. Settlers see themselves as ‘a villa in the jungle’, to quote another Israeli PM Ehud Barak, (
For a partial list of such statements by Israeli leaders, see
[23] for a more complete list see e.g.
[25] e.g.
[30] Israel has imprisoned over 800000 Palestinians since 1967. At the present there are more than 5000 political prisoners in Israeli jails (
[31] see e.g. Edward Said called Oslo accords “an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles”. He noted: “Arafat’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist carries with it a whole series of renunciations: of the PLO Charter; of violence and terrorism; of all relevant UN resolutions, except 242 and 338, which do not have one word in them about the Palestinians, their rights or aspirations. By implication, the PLO set aside numerous other UN resolutions (which, with Israel and the US, it is now apparently undertaking to modify or rescind) that, since 1948, have given Palestinians refugee rights, including either compensation or repatriation…It would therefore seem that the PLO has ended the intifada, which embodied not terrorism or violence but the Palestinian right to resist, even though Israel remains in occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The primary consideration in the document is for Israel’s security, with none for the Palestinians’ security from Israel’s incursions.”
[32] e.g.
[34] e.g.
[35] for more details and references see
Abu Murad also estimated that over 1000 tonnes of this ordnance lies unexploded in Gaza, which might claim lives for years to come. He died a few days later while defusing a bomb using rudimentary equipment. One of the outcomes of Israel’s blockade on Gaza is that the equipment needed for safely defusing bombs is not allowed into Gaza.

No Comments »

Leave a comment