Thursday, April 30, 2009

"60 years of occupation"?

When people talk about "60 years of occupation," what do they mean? Occupation of what? Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Golan Heights since the 1967 war. Gaza is not now occupied by Israeli troops, nor are there any Israeli settlers living there - although I think one could fairly argue that Israel still controls Gaza because of how it limits entry in and out. The occupation of Gaza thus lasted from 1967 to 2005.

The only piece of territory that Israel has "occupied" for 60 years is the land within the armistice lines of 1949. A quote from a local "anti-occupation" organization says "This art installation [a fake checkpoint] aims to provide a glimpse into the daily lives of Palestinian civilians who have been living under a violent military occupation for the past 60 years."

Does this statement mean that the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been living under a violent military occupation for that period of time? It is true that until 1966 Arabs in Israel lived under military rule - but not since then. And while there is discrimination against Arab Israelis, and there have been some violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and the police, it is not true to say that they are living under a "violent military occupation." In fact, some Arab Israelis serve in the Israeli army - especially those from the Druse, Bedouin, and Circassian communities.

Thus, while the quoted statement is factually incorrect, it seems to me that it implies something else too - that the state of Israel itself, within the Green line (the armistice lines of 1949) is merely an illegitimate military occupation, with all that implies legally. Those who "occupy" land are supposed to leave it at some point and hand it back to its legitimate occupants. Thus a reference to "60 years of occupation" is actually a statement that the existence of the state of Israel is in itself illegitimate, and that those who live in Israel by virtue of the establishment of the state are also there illegitimately. The Jews who arrived in Israel in the wake of statehood therefore have no legitimate status - they are merely "settlers" who have illegally settled in an occupied territory. And, simply, they must now leave and return to their homes - which of course, do not exist any more... (at least, those Jews who came from Poland or Iraq or Tunisia or Ukraine).

Such is the possible meaning of a little phrase....


  1. Hi there,

    I think you have glossed over an incredibly important aspect of the current situation in the Middle East. Almost in passing you mention how Israel still controls the borders of Gaza as if it is a technicality.

    The near punitive conditions for those inside Gaza and the nature of their 'confinement' cannot be overstressed. I know Tzipi Livni announced that Israel no longer occupies the Strip. And it is Israeli government policy to downplay the contorl it has over the region. Regardless of whether you agree with those sentiments, you must see that a legitimate alternative view is held by many people. Even the UN, because Gaza falls under no other nation's control, declares the Strip as 'occupied'. This may have negative connotations but it merely describes how Israel continues to control the daily lives of people inside the region. The borders are controlled, trade has dwindled as the Israeli state began to strangled the borders in the past few years and the only change in the state of affairs there has been the pull-out of foot patrols and soldiers to the edges of the tiny land.

    I see many myths in the media regarding this issue. Firstly it is assumed wrongly that IDF pull-out equals self-determination for the Gazans. And then it is assumed that conditions deteriorated only when Hamas took power. Lastly, and this is the most significant since it justified the punitive assaults in December... that once Israel pull out of the region, terrorists used the breathing space to build up their power and launch rockets against Israeli civilians.

    I enjoy reading your other blog entries which I find quite insightful. So I hope you will provide a more in-depth analysis of this situation that doesn't simply reproduce the Israeli State and military line.

  2. I agree that Israel controls Gaza - I don't call it occupation because there are no Israeli troops or settlers in Gaza anymore. I don't insist on this distinction, however. I do think, however, that the situation in Gaza could have improved mightily once Israeli troops and settlers had left - if the PA had taken advantage of this fact and engaged in economic development of Gaza.

  3. I think the idea that it was solely the duty of th ePA to rebuild, or build from scratch, the economy of Gaza is unfair. There was never the resources nor the opportunity for any Palestinian power to create any sort of economic system within that tiny strip of land.

    According to the World Bank, the residents of Gaza and the West Bank are suffering the worst economic depression in modern history, caused primarily by the long-standing Israeli restrictions that have dramatically reduced Gaza's levels of trade and has effectively cut off its labour force from their jobs inside Israel. This has caused unprecedented levels of unemployment of around 40 per cent. Some 65 to 75 per cent of Gazans are impoverished compared to 30 per cent in 2000.

    And since 2000, the economy of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has lost a potential income of around $6.4 billion and suffered $3.5 billion worth of physical damage at the hands of the IDF. This means, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, that the 'occupied Palestinian territory has lost at least one fifth of its economic base over the last four years as a consequence of war and occupation.'

    Basically, the disengagement plan was much less a change in control as was claimed by the Israel government. Gaza moreso than the West Bank remains under the economic and political thumb of Israel.

    Sorry Rebecca if I am flooding your blog with overly long replies! I do enjoy chatting to people about such issues when I think they have an open mind. If you want to equally attack my blog postings with lenghty ramblings too, by all means go ahead!!

  4. I agree with you that it's not only the responsibility of the PA to rebuild the Gaza economy. But I would be more sympathetic to this argument if they had actually begun to do so once Israel had left Gaza - and had then said, look, we're doing our part, here's how you (Israel) can help us concretely, here's how other nations can help us.

    I think you're also leaving out an important factor on the Israeli side - Israelis don't want Gazans to work in Israel because they're afraid of suicide bombers coming in with Gaza workers. The change between 2000 and today encompasses the period of the second intifada, and the introduction of suicide bombing as a major tactic by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade. I have sympathy for Gazans who can't now work in Israel due to no act of their own (this is why there's a need to build up the Gaza economy), but I can also understand why Israelis don't want Gazan workers entering Israel.

  5. Hi Rebecca,

    I believe our main disagreement centres on who is to blame, or at least why the economy of Gaza is among the worst in the world. You claim it lays on the feet of the PA and Hamas who has choeen not to, or been incompetent enough not to undertake what was needed in the Strip. Can you explain why you think this is so? Besides anecdotal evidence that Hamas may exploit poverty, or that suicider bombers cause Israel to shut down the borders... is there quantifiable data to say that one; the resources were present to rebuild the economy and two; the barrier was native rather than external (Israeli) that kept the Strip in its present condition?

  6. Hi

    I just noticed that you teach on a subject matter somewhat connected to our issue at hand. This makes me appreciate the time you take to respond to my comments as your schedule must be quite busy. But the fact you are a lecturer ar a college means I am all the more interested in hearing your opinions.

    I hope I am correct in seeing the point of your comments as insisting that from 2005 onwards any subsequent economic retardation must lay primarily at the feet of the Gazan authorities(excluding the Gaza conflict escalation beginning late 2008). I hold a contrary view which I've supported with evidence from a number of sources includng the World Bank reports. Could you please explain what makes you believe that the disengagment of IDF forces from Gaza should have effected a significant change in the nature of the economy of Gaza?

    Thanks, and again if I'm commenting too much please tell me!

  7. I don't think that we're going to persuade one another. I agree that Israel bears a great deal of responsibility for the horrible economic situation of Gaza - but I'm unwilling to say that it bears all of the responsibility, which seems to be what you're saying. I would be interested in having Israel and Hamas work out some kind of arrangement that would allow a lot more goods in and out of Gaza than are currently possible - but this requires concessions on both sides.