Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Eyeless in Gaza

Thousands of insurgen...er, "hard-line activists" (these are Jews, after all, not Muslims) have poured into...er, "slipped illegally into" Gaza in the past few weeks to do their bit for Eretz Israel. Media reports are mostly content to record the surface of things: angry militant settlers confronting the soldiers that used to protect them and who are now serving eviction notices. A lot of tears and heartbreak. Americans showing up to demonstrate their opposition to the "expulsion." The fear of violence from the "hard-line activists."

The media are seeing little but a human-interest story here, a tough decision made in the name of Israeli-Palestinian peace. They are, like the "fat white woman whom nobody loves," missing so much and so much. Perhaps the framing of the story has caused this blindness. Let's review.

Gaza was taken by Israel in the 1967 "6-Day War." A total of 8,500 or so settlers ended up there, among an indigenous population of 1.3 million Palestinians. The settlers, with IDF backup, eventually took up to 40% of the land, including the obligatory roads, military installations and temporary security zones. This has been an enormous drain on Israeli resources, with very little to show for it over time.

Settlements have always been an element of Israeli state policy. Ariel Sharon, the hard-line Likud Prime Minister of Israel, a former military man implicated in civilian massacres, has been using them like pieces in a chess game, Risk pieces or poker chips--there’s some confusion on this point--as some of the religious supporters of the settlements are beginning now to understand. His withdrawal from Gaza, where the sheer numbers of Palestinians make continued occupation untenable, is being made to look like a peace offering, but it's nothing of the kind: it's a case of making virtue out of necessity.

And don't worry about the displaced settlers, by the way--they're getting handsome compensation packages of up to $400,000 US. Most of them weren't there for religious reasons in the first place, but because of freely available government subsidies. Talk of compensation for displaced Palestinians, of course, is still a long way off.

The Gaza pullout also takes our eyes off the West Bank, even with the strategic withdrawal of a few hundred settlers from four tiny settlements in its difficult-to-defend northern part. Sharon, a shrewd politician, is getting his citizens out of Gaza because he has to, while the colonization of the West Bank continues apace. Settlers are 10% of the population in the West Bank, but use up 80% of the water, some for swimming pools, while starving Palestinian villages of it. The "security fence" now being built does not follow the historic 1949 Green Line, but penetrates deeply into Palestinian territory.

Israel under Ariel Sharon has no intention of giving up its 1967 gains holus-bolus. For the foreseeable future, YESHA will remain almost entirely under Israel's control. But wasn't that the plan?

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