What's Wrong With Israel's Disengagement
by Rafi Rom
Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, two small, disconnected strips of land that make up about 22% of what
was once Palestine. Israel occupied the Palestinian territories at the end
of the Yom Kippur war, a massive victory for Israeli forces in which armies
from six Arab countries (not Palestine) were squarely defeated. Over the years
Israel has built military and civilian infrastructure on Palestinian territory,
under the pretext that such a presence on the land is what is safest for Israel.
However it has become clear over the years that Israel has no intention of
allowing a Palestinian sovereign state to exist in the territories, and that
the goal of the “settler movement” has been to make the land internationally
recognized as Palestinian Territory inseparable from Israel-proper.
In October 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a right
wing hawk who has been a principal architect of nearly every major human rights
travesty committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians, announced his
intention to withdraw troops and civilians from the Gaza Strip, the smaller
of the two occupied lands, and much less historically significant to the Jewish
people. The proposal, called “Hitnatkut”— cutting ourselves
off—in Hebrew, has been dubbed “The Disengagement Plan”
in English media. Some members of the Israeli left, as well as others in the
International Community yearning for a peaceful solution to the conflict were
taken aback. Has Sharon, who in 1982 (after he orchestrated the invasion of
Lebanon which ended in a massacre of 20,000 Lebanese) said in an interview
“We shall start another war, kill and destroy more and more, until they
[ie the Arabs] will have had enough,” finally realized that endless
war does not serve the interest of the Israeli people?
Not at all. If you read the “disengagement plan”
closely and conceptualize it inside of the history of the conflict as well
as the “facts on the ground,” it is clear that it is just the
newest step in the Israeli government’s plan to control the West Bank
and Gaza. Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan” is a fantastic
example of how banality and technical language can make even the most horrific
actions seem progressive. The plan stems from the conclusion of influential
political and military officials that removing a military and civilian presence
in Gaza will make control of the Palestinian population more efficient.
This is not a step in the right direction. In an interview
with Haaretz, one of Israel’s major newspapers, Dov Wienglass, a senior
policy advisor to Ariel Sharon, said, the purpose of the disengagement plan
is to end the peace process. “When you freeze that
process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent
a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem...Effectively, this
whole package called the Palestinian state . . . has been removed indefinitely
from our agenda. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the
amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political
process with the Palestinians.”
Although Sharon was quick to distance him self from
these words, it is important to keep in mind that Weinglass is a longtime
friend and conspirator of Sharon’s, possessing the same thinking process
Sharon does. So much talking has been done about this that many believe that
the withdrawal has already begun. It has not. In fact, settlements are still
being built, homes are still being demolished, and raids deep inside Gaza
territory are still being carried out on a daily basis.The 1800 word plan
outlines a four stage, year long process that will remove any Israeli presence
inside of the West Bank. I am not brushing aside the historical significance
of Israel finally acknowledging that the settlements in Gaza are simply not
sustainable. However, what Israel proposes to put in its place, is equally
unsustainable for any long-term peace in the region.
Why the disengagement plan?
In order to fully understand what is going on with
Gaza, it is necessary to put it into historical perspective. Ariel Sharon
has probably been the most influential Israeli official, both politically
and militarily, in expanding Israel’s control over the occupied territories.
At every crucial juncture in the occupation, Sharon has been there. In fact,
from his position in the military in the late 1960s and 70s he moved the first
military bases into the West Bank, as a pretext for building Israeli infrastructure
over Palestinian land. Sharon has always made it clear that the West Bank—what
he, and many others call by the biblical name “Judea and Samaria”—will
eventually become part of Israel. Other territories that Israel has occupied
over the years, from the Golan Heights, Southern Lebanon, or the Sinai Peninsula,
have always been peripheral. Sharon’s plan with the Gaza Strip is not
the first time he has proposed such a thing. In fact, he was one of the first
major Israeli figures to pressure the Israeli government in withdrawing from
the Sinai Peninsula, which extends from Israel’s Southern border all
the way to the Suez Canal. This was after he lead the military front into
the Sinai Penninsula, which led to the land being occupied in the first place.
At the time, Sharon made his reasoning clear. Israel
could not maintain an aggressive relationship with Egypt and continue controlling
the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s only option was to exchange “land
for peace.” To Sharon, giving up the Sinai Peninsula was necessary to
fulfill his vision of seeing the other occupied territories fully incorporated
into Israel proper. During these peace talks, Sharon even said to then President
Jimmy Carter that one day there would be one million Jews in the West Bank.
All of this is outlined in “Righteous Victims,” a book by Benny
Morris, an Israeli historian famous for his deadpan explanation of Israel’s
misdeeds and his support for them. Now, Sharon has come to the same conclusion.
Gaza has little to offer Israel, resource and land wise, unlike the West Bank.
If anything, it is a major demographic nightmare, since Gaza, one of the most
densely populated strips of land in the world, is a major factor in lessening
the gap between the Jewish and Palestinian population in the “greater”
By withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, Israel buys itself
some more time before it has to face the demographic reality that there are
more Palestinians than Jews in the region. That said, it is a mistake to even
think of the “disengagement plan” as a withdrawal. As Webster’s
Dictionary makes it clear, disengage means “to release from something
that engages; to release or detach oneself.” What Israel is trying to
do is detach itself from any ethical or legal obligations it has to the nation
it occupies, without ending its control over the land. Israel plans on maintaining
the occupation from the outside, or as one Israeli commentator put it, by
Since Gaza is such a small territory, Israel will be
able to effectively control it from the outside, making it the largest prison
in the world. As Israel’s disengagement plan makes clear, when it comes
to military, economic, political, or environmental issues, the status quo
will remain the same. It should be noted that the status quo is absolutely
horrible. For instance, there is a massive water shortage in Gaza, with water
available only a few hours every day. It is bitterly comical that the plan
even says that control of the sewage structure will be given over to the Palestinians,
since Gaza has some of the most severe sanitary problems in the world.
There is no basis to believe that Gaza will become any
sort of independent territory. Israel will still control the seaports and
the air space, and will reserve the right to invade Gaza “at will.”
Moreover, it plans on keeping the buffer zone in place between Gaza and Egypt.
This buffer zone is the site of some of the worst human rights atrocities
in the region. According to Human Rights Watch, some 16,000 Palestinians have
been expelled from the region, and 1600 homes have been demolished.
The Disengagement Plan is only one part of what is basically
a two-pronged plan. The plan itself reads, “In any future final status
arrangement, there will be no Israeli settlement activity in the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, it is clear that there will be areas in Judea and Samaria
that will be part of the State of Israel, and there will be civilian communities,
security zones and other places in which Israel has further interest inside
those areas.” The bottom line is that Israel sees evacuating the settlements
from the Gaza Strip as the only path towards fully incorporating the West
Bank into the fabric of Israel.
In a memo released by the PLO Negotiation Affairs Department
on 10/7/04, “the Gaza withdrawal plan has less to do with what Israel
is giving up in Gaza and more to do with what Israel plans on taking from
the West Bank.”
Over the past few years, Israel has been stepping up
the construction of settlements and military bases in the West Bank. There
now exists what Israeli anthropologist and activist Jeff Halper has dubbed
“The matrix of control” – a sophisticated network of military
and civilian infrastructure that ensures that no viable Palestine state can
exist. Halper includes in this “matrix” the military rule imposed
on the Palestinians, the expropriation of land for the building of settlements,
the restriction of freedom of movement, and a whole host of other mechanisms
that make life in Palestine unlivable for Palestinians.
Linguistically, Sharon’s “disengagement
plan” is almost as manipulative as the “separation barrier”
or “security fence,” being built around and inside the West Bank.
The wall has been built on thousands of acres of Palestinian land, separated
villages, stealing natural resources, and most importantly, weaving around
many key settlements and essentially annexing them. The disengagement plan
is one more step in strengthening the apartheid regime that divides Israelis
and Palestinians. This does not mean the course of things is irreversible.
As long as Sharon remains in power, the conflict will continue
as it always has.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The Electronic Intifada (alternative news)
B’Tselem *(Israeli Human Rights Org)
PENGON (Coalition of Palestinian NGOs)
International Middle East Media Center
(alternative news) www.imemc.org
2005 Philadelphia Palestine
Film Festival (get involved!)
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