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The Lebanonization of Gaza

Sunday 4 January 2009, by Corey Balsam

If it seems like Israel is treating Gaza much like it has treated Lebanon in the past, that’s because it is. Over 400 killed, over 2000 injured in only a couple of days—these are proportions that Israel has historically reserved for foreign entities. But now that Israel claims that Gaza is “no longer occupied,” a “foreign entity,” and a “hostile” or “enemy entity” there is little stopping Israel from treating Gaza as it has historically treated Lebanon—as a shooting range.

In his 2003 book, Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence is Serbia and Israel, James Ron, a former IDF soldier turned sociologist and one-stater, explains that the way in which nationalist state violence is manifested in adjacent territories depends largely on the “institutional setting.” His point, basically, is that the more linked and connected adjacent territories are to the dominant state, the less likely that they will face brutal assaults and wholesale killings.

In this sense, Gaza has gone from being what Ron would call a “ghetto,” “an ethnic or national enclave securely trapped within the dominant state” where the people benefit from some “basic protections,” to more and more of a frontier, “an outlying territory […] where formal rules don’t apply, and states maintain their power through despotic methods.”

For the most part, Gaza has become “Lebanonized,” to again borrow a term from Ron’s book. The first major steps in accomplishing this came with the First Intifada, when Gazans began to be cut off as opposed to integrated into the Israeli system. The next steps came with Oslo, followed by the construction of the Gazan apartheid Wall, the more inteqnse closure policies during and after the al-Aqsa Intifada, the Disengagement in 2003, and finally the beginning of the Siege in June 2007. As a result of these developments, the institutional setting of Gaza in relation to Israel changed dramatically, allowing patterns of state violence to intensify.

Gaza, following the Disengagement in particular, was no longer perceived as the responsibility of Israel and Israelis, even though the Israeli government indeed remained responsible for Gaza as the occupying power according to international law. Moving toward frontier status, Gaza and its residents have been deemed much more disposable than ever. Consequently, the common Israeli came to see Gazans in a similar manner to the way they have historically seen the Lebanese. As Ron explains with reference to a report by B’Tselem, “The Israeli public debate almost completely ignored the suffering and injustice inflicted on Lebanese civilians, suggesting that unlike the Palestinians in the OPT, Lebanese civilians were not part of the collective Israeli consciousness,” even though many were Palestinian refugees just the same as those in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Institutional settings and the idea of borders facilitate the delineation of emotions and the sense of responsibility that one population feels for another. Those on the inside of the lines in the sand deserve at least some sympathy, while those on the outside much less so. Add threatening characteristics (i.e., declaring Gaza a “hostile territory”) and those on the “other” side become even more disposable and dehumanized. As Israeli commentator Yitzhak Laor has said with regards to the Lebanese, “We think of them much as we think of chickens or cats. We turn away without much trouble and consider the real issue: the enemy.”

Now that Gazans too have become chickens and cats as opposed to real people, there is good reason to fear for the fate of the remaining 1.5 million people trapped in the open air prison that is Gaza. As such, it’s imperative that people and governments around the world continue to demand a ceasefire, before it’s too late and another 400 people are killed.

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