Friday, August 26, 2005

Pull-out and Pile-up

Israel's recent pull-out from the Gaza strip must not result in the consolidation of its settlements in the West Bank.

After nearly 38 years, Israel reluctantly moved out of Gaza this August. The Jewish settlers, who were made to inhabit the Gaza strip -- and West bank plus parts of Jerusalem -- under a well-thought out policy for close to four decades were finally asked to pack up and leave. There were tears and sighs. International media units flew into Gaza to capture history in the making-- the anguish and drama unfolding, live. CNN, BBC World and a host of media crews carried live feeds from the bleached shores of the Holy land. In February 2005, the Israeli government had voted to implement Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip beginning August 15, 2005.

The plan required the dismantling of all Israeli settlements there, and the removal of all Israeli settlers and military bases from the Strip, a process that is to be completed by October, 2005. Isreal went ahead with its plan on August 15, 2005. Days before the D-day, Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon's finance minister -- and ex-prime minister -- considered a hawk and Sharon's doppelganger resigned from the cabinet, opposing the disengagement plan. Following withdrawal, Israel will retain offshore maritime control and a small strip of land -- Philadelphi Corridor -- alongside the Egypt-Gaza Strip border, although Israel's defense minister has said that Israel will eventually leave this corridor as well.

The settlers played tough ding-dong battles with the Israeli troops before being safely ferried away to their make-shift homes. The relative ease with which the abusive ultra-orthodox Jews were evacuated was a marked shift from the dismantling of Palestinian homes in Raffa some years back. The poor palestinians were not even given a minutes time to lay hands on their bare essentials by the Isreali monster bull-dozers. Back in Gaza, the settlers threw acid and stones on the police. Insults and profanities were heaped on Sharon's men. God was invoked. "Jews don't expel Jews"...the placards read. Right so, Jews expel Arabs only. Stupid! The foul-mouthed settlers can't be blamed for their fate. The settler movement has been Sharon gang's ultimate dream. It is hard to envisage a Sharon ordering his flock out, unless the shrewd war-horse has other plans up his scheming head. Isreal captured Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War. Till 1967 Gaza was under Egyptian control. Israel blitzed, during 6 days in early June 1967 with Arabs, and seized all of the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

At that moment the whole of historical Palestine came under the military control of Israel. Israel's policy of building colonial settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza meant confiscation of Palestinian lands, annexation of Jerusalem, the annexation of the Golan Heights, and the settling of over 100,000 Jews within annexed Jerusalem. Israel confiscated precious water resources of the West Bank for its settlements, while prohibiting Palestinians from seeking desperately needed new water sources. The repression required to successfully occupy the Palestinian people in their indigenous country was nothing short of a comprehensive and systematic effort to destroy the Palestinian people.

Isreal has historically been a bully. Patronaged by US and Great Britian and emboldened by years of a militarist attitute. Only this time, things look good. The only problem is that Isreali's intentions have always been suspect. Not that they cannot do any thing good but sincerity has never been Israel's high-point. The population of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has grown this year by more than the 9,000 settlers evacuated under the plan to cede some occupied land, an Israeli government said recently. Thousands of Israelis have streamed into larger West Bank settlements since the start of the year, increasing the number of Jews living on occupied land to 246,000.

After factoring in Israel's evacuation of 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank this week, the overall number now living in the occupied West Bank has grown by about 10,000 Jews. West-bank is predominantly Palestinian (86%). Israel's insistence on expanding settlements represents a declaration of war against the Palestinians because it aims to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by reinforcing and prolonging occupation," Palestinian cabinet minister Ghassan al-Khatib said recently. "The Gaza step will not be worthy unless the international community compels Israel to match it with a stop to settlement expansion in the West Bank," he told Reuters today.

The World Court brands all settlements illegal. Israel disputes this. Some 116 settlements are scattered among the 2.4 million Palestinians of the West Bank, captured by Israel along with the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. An additional 200,000 Jews live in Arab East Jerusalem, also captured in 1967. Palestinians, numbering 240,000 in East Jerusalem, want it for the capital of a future state. Israel annexed it in a move not recognised internationally.

The only fear is that Israel must not be allowed to walk away from a highly-publicised exit in Gaza only to legitimise and barricade its illegitimate occupation eslewhere.

Sameer Bhat

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