‘Gaza is a prison; and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.’
John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights
In 2004, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced to the world his plan to unilaterally ‘disengage’ from the 37 year occupation of the Gaza Strip.
According to Sharon, protecting the small number of Israeli settlers within one of the world’s most densely populated and hostile environments was becoming far more trouble than it was worth.
Underneath this seemingly pragmatic discourse though was the growing belief/fear inside of Israel over the explosion of the ‘demographic bomb’ in historical Palestine – in which Palestinians would soon outnumber their Jewish counterparts leading to charges of Apartheid. By ‘disengaging’ or supposedly ‘de-occupying’ the Gaza Strip, Israel was able to cleanly shave off nearly 1.4 million Palestinians from under its perceived control.
Sharon’s decision led to the breakdown of Likud’s coalition and eventually the Likud party itself. Sharon forged on by picking up rare support from the Israeli left and forming the more centrist Kadima party to carry out his unilateral plan under a new governing coalition.
On June 6th, the Government of Israel adopted the ‘Disengagement Plan’ and in August 2005 it began. The deadline for voluntary and compensated removal of 21 Settlements, 9,100 settlers and dozens of military installations was set at August 15th, 2005, but was not completed until September 12th of that year.
Despite the chain of events described above, Israel’s claim to have withdrawn from Gaza has proven to be nothing more than a myth and one would only have to ask the simplest of questions to see through the lie:
If the disengagement from Gaza was wholeheartedly supported by Palestinians, then why would the decision have to be made unilaterally by the Israelis, rather than through negotiations which would ensure the durability of any such agreement?
The answer is equally simplistic. Palestinians would never have agreed to the terms of the Israeli disengagement because they know that settlements are only a part of the occupation of Palestine. International Human Rights organizations felt the same way.
Prior to the Disengagement, the International Committee of the Red Cross made it clear in a position paper that removal of settlers did not mean an end to the occupation, and that ‘Israel (would) maintain significant control over the Gaza Strip (…) Thus it seems that Gaza will remain occupied under International Humanitarian Law.’
This position was reinforced by Harvard’s Programme on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research which stated, ‘The partial redeployment of Israel’s military presence in and around the territory is not the controlling factor in international law to determine the end of occupation ... The end of occupation rests essentially on the termination of the military control of the Occupying Power over the Government affairs of the occupied population that limits the people’s right to self determination’.
Israel was trying to unilaterally shed the responsibilities of ‘Occupier’ over nearly 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza while maintaining full control over the borders, air space, sea access, economy, currency and even the diets of the Gazan people.
Even while Israel was claiming to have left Gaza by removing their settlements, military raids, targeted assassinations, air strikes, arrests and house demolitions continued on a regular basis. In other words, nothing had changed – except now Israel’s military could take an even freer hand in an area cleared of its own citizens.
The ‘Myth of Disengagement’ has been one of the most repeated lies of Israeli spokespeople before, during and since their vicious assault on the Gaza Strip.
They have stood before the cameras and said:
What occupation? We left Gaza completely in 2005 and gave them a chance for peace and development. All we got in return though was a wave of inexplicable terror in the form of rockets on our citizens in the south.
If you swallow the Myth – and many around the world have – you lose sight of the bigger picture that is unable to be captured in the 30 second sound bytes of Israeli spokespeople. Israel was shedding its responsibility over Gaza, but instead of doing so as a means of furthering the Road Map, they were simply doing so as a means of slowing down any real, negotiated peace process.
Nearly one year before the proposed Disengagement, Ariel Sharon’s Chief of Staff Dov Weissglass illustrated this point to the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz,
‘The significance of Disengagement is the freezing of the peace process (…) When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Disengagement supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians’ (my emphasis).
Israel never ‘left’ Gaza. Instead they isolated it from the West Bank and walled it off from the rest of the world. According to Paul McCann, former spokesmen of UNRWA in Gaza between 2000 and 2005, writing on August 16th – only one day after the deadline for voluntary withdrawal of settlers,
‘(…) just because the most visible and oppressive signs of the Israeli occupation will be gone, no one should be under the illusion that Gaza will cease to be the world’s largest prison camp’.