Saturday, April 09, 2005

Disconnection in progress

In June 2000, when the Israeli army pulled out of South Lebanon, the Israeli prime-minister at the time, Ehud Barak, termed it a "unilateral withdrawal". Most Israelis supported this move - nobody saw much sense in staying there - but hated the term "withdrawal". It smelled of defeat. Nobody likes to lose, but worse than losing is admitting it.
Sharon is much more clever from Barak in this sense. He termed his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza "Hitnatkut", which is usually translated as disengagement, but is actually more like "disconnection". It's a strange term, in Hebrew as in English. There's something so digital about it. So 21st century like. Like closing your internet connection, or ending a conversation on a mobile phone. So very simple: one button click, and it's over, you're disconnected. Easy, painless. No human suffering involved, at least nothing you can see - who knows what happens on the other side of the line, after you disconnect? And who cares?
It's very appealing for most Israelis. They want nothing to do with Gaza. And 'disconnection' promises them so much: that after 38 years of occupation, it's possible to forsake all responsibility for this place, and forget about it. Even the word 'separation' which is also popular here in political discourse (if there's something most Israeli Jews agree on, it's that they don't want to see the Palestinians) carries with it a notion of ending a human relationship, like a separating couple. 'Disconnection' has nothing human about it. It sounds clear cut, clean, technological. No wonder the word caught on so quickly.
There are less than10,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza, or 1300 families. They live in the midst of 1,300,000 Palestinians. The Gaza Strip is quite small - 360 square km - but the settlers occupy about 20% of it, and this includes the some of the best land, for agriculture and on the seafront. They specialise in 'hydrophonic agriculture', growing herbs and vegetables that are not planted in soil but suspended in the air (irony irony). The workers are usually Thai immigrant workers, who knew nothing before they came there to work. Few of them were killed in recent years in Palestinian attacks on the settlements. Poor guys.
I've visited the Gaza Strip twice, before the current Intifada. I remember seeing the settlements from the top of the high Red Crescent building in Rafah. Within this over-crowded urban landscape - this is the most densely populated area in the world - suddenly you see a spacious village, one storey cottages with gardens, heavily protected behind watchtowers and fences. Probably the most hard core gated community on this planet. It's surreal, absurd, distilled colonialism.
Apart from occupying Gaza's best land, the settlers are a daily nightmare for people there; The Israeli Army often blocks the roads between Rafah and Gaza so they can travel to and from Israel. Palestinian houses and fields bordering on the settlements are always in threat (snipers fire, house demolitions). In some settlements, a crazy fundemantialist bunch of 100 people are protected by a whole battalion. Most Israeli soldiers hate going there, and many of them hate the settlers. Under the Oslo agreement all the settlements stayed until Final Status negotiations. So even though there were no Israeli troops inside Gaza for the last 14 years, Israel still effectively controlled the Strip through the continued presence of the settlements.
The Disconnection plan means pulling out the settlers and the Army from the Strip. It will happen around July, the settlers had to be given 6 months notice under the Israeli law (Palestinians are given two hours usually). They are promised compensation and housing. They are promised compensation and housing. In another euphemism, the organization dealing with their evacuation is called "the Committee for Supporting the Gaza Settlers". Newspeak can go in many ways. The illusion of the word 'disconnection' also promises easy eviction of the settlers. But it's not been easy so far - they really tried their best to stop it, and there's huge campaigns against Sharon. Yet Sharon is patient and obstinate. It's very difficult to stop him once he starts something. This time his ruthless brutality is set against his own creation: the settlers. And most Israelis support him. It's really not clear what his motives are, why he initiated the whole thing. The most likely guess is that he wanted to win precious time, and avoid international and internal pressure by 'doing something', but still keeping the occupation over most parts of the West Bank. Who knows. It doesn't really matter what his aims are.
Will the settlers' campaign end in armed resistance to the eviction? In Israel, the media is obsessed with this possilbility. Special elite units are reported to be preparing for this scenario - as well as for the difficult task of transporting the settlers' cemetery to inside Israel. There's a heated debate whether the houses should be demolished or not. I personally think that when the day comes, there's a good chance it will go through without much or any violence. But a clash with the settlers is not a bad thing: it has the potential of radicalizing Israeli public opinion against them. As long as they don't win the day.
As I've written here before, the real problem is that the obsession with the Gaza pullout means nothing is much likely to change in the West Bank in the next 4 months, and this is really bad news for Palestinians, and whatever hopes people have for negotiations. And the other thing is that the pull-out will be a great relief for the people of Gaza, but it will not solve their problems: the unemployment, the poverty, the inability to travel outside the Strip: Israel will retain control on the borders, and in this sense, even in Gaza, the occupation will continue, albeit in remote-control mode.


Post a Comment

<< Home