Gaza cannot be a mere holding pen. A new ghetto

Dec 22, 2023
The Israeli separation or security wall. Image: iStock / Hans Verburg

“Gaza can only succeed as an entity as part of a genuine Palestinian state. It cannot be allowed to be a mere holding pen, a new ghetto. The whole of the West Bank must be combined with Gaza as the Palestinian state. It must be a state with real sovereignty, with free and open borders with all neighbouring states, and with real security. Real security means freedom from incursions by Israel, whether by land, sea or air.” – Paul Heywood-Smith, 2004.

It is approaching twenty years since the author penned these words on Gaza.

The edition of Australian Options wherein they appeared has been buried in old papers for all that time and hence I was interested to see if what I wrote all that time ago had any relevance for today.

I was pleased to see that it did. I should summarise the only significant developments since 2004. In 2006 elections were held in the Occupied Territories. These elections had been promoted by the U.S. An unexpected result occurred; Hamas, an Islamic party, was elected. The West moved quickly to shut down the result. In Gaza itself measures were taken by Israel to isolate the inhabitants and bring them to heel.

Those measures centered around cutting off contact, economic, social, and political, with the outside World. Israel controls who and what goes in and out. Israel controls energy, communications, water, fishing rights, etc. So much for the right to self-determination and freedom, much vaunted when the US and its media discusses Ukraine.

I note that the Allon Plan (1967) “envisaged the ultimate annexation of most of the Gaza Strip”. Yigal Allon was a former general and then Minister of Labor, who proposed what land Isael might ultimately end up with following the 1967 war. It is obvious today, 56 years after the Allon Plan – that the land is still coveted by Israel.

I note, too, the accuracy of my description of Gaza’s people as “traumatized by oppression, dispossession and humiliation”. I wonder if such feelings may have resulted in October 7.

I should add that I didn’t wonder for too long.

Finally, I can only agree with myself that “Gaza can only succeed as an entity as part of a genuine Palestinian state. It cannot be allowed to be a mere holding pen, a new ghetto”.
But whilst agreeing with myself, I wouldn’t claim any great perception or foresight. It seems to me to be a case of ‘the same old same old’.

GAZA

(Republished from Australian Option, 2004)
P.A. Heywood-Smith, QC

In recent months since the announcement by Sharon in May of the so-called “disengagement plan” much of the interest in the Middle East has focused on Gaza, or the Gaza Strip, a small piece of land in southern Palestine on the edge of the Sinai desert and bordering Egypt.

Historically Gaza City has always been a Palestinian centre. It was built by the Philistines (from whom the name of Palestine derives) in biblical times and was the site of Dagon’s temple allegedly destroyed by Samson.

Under the UN Partition Plan the Gaza district was a part of the Arab state but during the 1948 war much of the province was captured by the Israelis. Gaza City, however, together with some surrounding lands was occupied by Egypt and became known as the Gaza Strip. It was taken by Israel in 1967 along with the Sinai. When Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 Gaza remained under Israeli occupation and has thereafter been regarded by the World community as part of a future Palestinian state.

Before the 1967 war few Israelis coveted Gaza since it lacked the religious significance, economic potential, or the strategic value of the West Bank. From the 1967 war however Israel encouraged Arabs to leave Gaza and go to the East Bank (Jordan). The Allon Plan (1967) envisaged the ultimate annexation of most of the Gaza Strip. The failure to de-populate the area of Arabs prevented such annexation as Israel struggled with the demographic problem of an Arab population having a higher birth rate than Jewish citizens.

However, despite having no sentimental value to the Israeli national ethos successive governments, Labor and Likud, established settlements in the Strip. Today, some 7,500 Israeli settlers live in spacious settlements while 1.3 million Palestinians live in extremely deprived conditions. Those conditions have been described by the World Bank as “dangerous” and flowing from a “deep economic crisis” evidenced by an unemployment rate of 70 percent.

The World Bank has reported on Gaza in a paper entitled Disengagement, the Palestinian Economy and the Settlements”, dated 23 June 2004. The summary to the report highlights inter
alia the following matters:

  • the economic crisis “threatens to impoverish and alienate a generation of young Palestinians”;
  • nearly a half of Palestinians live below the poverty line;
  • the economic crisis “has been caused by restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods, or ‘closures’ (within Gaza, between Gaza and Israel, and between Gaza and the rest of the            World) which … Israel regards as essential” for security;
  • of itself Sharon’s disengagement plan “will have very little impact on the Palestinian economy … since it only proposes a limited easing of closures”; and
    settlement assets that Israel will leave behind in Gaza have considerable economic value and could make a significant contribution to an economic recovery.

What the World Bank report does not do, however, is attribute blame or advance the event of Israeli withdrawal. Nor does it envisage a future for Gaza bereft of Israeli dominance, economically and militarily. It speaks of partnerships with Israeli industry and contemplates economic ties through a captive market and labour force. Such outcomes are totally unrealistic for a people traumatised by oppression, dispossession and humiliation; for a people trying to come to terms with Israel’s horrifying brutality in May and June in Rafah.
Disengagement from Gaza cannot be allowed to justify further dispossession in the West Bank. The only announced disengagement in the West Bank is from four small settlements in the northern West Bank. These settlements house only some 550 people and are described by the World Bank as “dormitory communities”. Their removal is window dressing. The sleight of hand in their removal (and in the removal of the Gaza settlements as well) is evident from the fact that Israel plans to allow the settlers concerned to go to expanded settlements elsewhere in the West Bank.

Gaza can only succeed as an entity as part of a genuine Palestinian state. It cannot be allowed to be a mere holding pen, a new ghetto. The whole of the West Bank must be combined with Gaza as the Palestinian state. It must be a state with real sovereignty, with free and open borders with all neighbouring states, and with real security. Real security means freedom from incursions by Israel, whether by land, sea or air.

First published in Australian Options, Quarterly No 38, Spring 2004

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