Gershon Baskin

Gaza – now and forever


Gershon Baskin. Photo: Otmar Steinbicker

March 30 will mark the 43rd Land Day (since the first Land Day in 1976) and will be one full year since the outburst of the weekly “March of Return” on the Gaza-Israel border. According to Israeli Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan (and despite Diaspora Affairs and Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s statement that soldiers are afraid to shoot), Israel has killed some 250 Palestinians along the border this past year, and injured some 25,000.

Despite its name, the protests and violence have nothing to do the right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their original homes now in the State of Israel. The violence and protests launched by Gaza civil society activists, and quickly taken over by Hamas, are meant to be a constant reminder that Palestinians are not going anywhere, and that the situation in which they live is totally unacceptable.

Israel does not hold sole responsibility for the horrible situation of Gaza. Hamas is perhaps the main party responsible for the demise of Gaza and the unlivable conditions there. But Israel, and later Egypt, have enforced a siege and closure on Gaza since 2005, when Israel disengaged from the coastal enclave. In 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza by force from the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s isolation policy – later supported by Egypt, and in the past year by the Palestinian Authority as well – has squeezed Gaza dry and made life there intolerable.

Three wars have taken place in the recent years, as well uncountable numbers of “cycles” of hit-and-retaliation between Hamas and the “Palestinian factions” in Gaza and Israel. The last cycle took place this week. Normally, Egypt comes to the rescue and enables the sides to pull back from the brink of another war. Hamas declares a ceasefire and Israel declares that quiet will be answered by quiet. Israel never agrees to announce that a ceasefire understanding has been reached. But the quiet does not last for long.

Along with the ceasefire non-agreements, understandings have been put on the table that include easing the siege, planning for an internationally secured seaport, allowing Palestinian goods from Gaza to leave Gaza, allowing students from Gaza to get to universities outside of Gaza, enabling Palestinian workers in Gaza to work in Israel, enabling normal Gazans to travel to the West Bank and beyond, enabling peace activists from Gaza (yes they do exist) to attend peace activities in Israel, increasing Gaza’s ability to produce electricity, increasing supplies of healthy fresh water, and allowing Gaza to be a normal territory which is allowed to trade with the world.

Generally what happens is that Israel increases the size of the area for Palestinian fishermen to bring in their daily catch (fish is one of the main sources of protein in Gaza), which usually lasts only for a few days or a few weeks at best. Israel also recently allowed Qatar to send money to Gaza and to allow fuel to get in to power up the only electricity plant there. Basically, the payments were seen by Israel as buying additional quiet time.

THIS WEEK’S round was actually not started because of something new or changed in Gaza. It seems that the current round actually began from pressure created by a change of policy in the Hamas wing of the Rimonim Prison, where the Israel Prison Service (IPS) applied a technology which blocks the ability of the prisoners to use cellphones that are smuggled into the prisons. The IPS claims that Palestinian prisoners use their cellphones to direct terrorist operations from their prison cells to their activists in the West Bank. Prisoners and prisoner advocacy organizations claim that while some calls might be used for that purpose, the illegal phones are mainly used by prisoners to be in contact with their families. The “security” wings of Israeli prisons where Palestinian prisoners are held – as opposed to the criminal wings where both Israeli and Palestinian normal thieves, rapists and non-political murderers are held – have no public pay phones available for the prisoners. They and their support groups claim that if there were such phones available, the IPS could easily monitor all of the calls made, and the need for prisoners to have illegal cellphones would be reduced by a huge percentage.

The adaption of the blocking system against cellphones was too much for the prisoners to accept, and protests began in the prison accompanied by unprecedented violence. In a society where there have been more than one million people in Israeli prisons since 1967, every family in Palestine – in the West Bank and Gaza – has personal experience with prisons.

In addition to the prison situation, the unilateral deductions made by Israel in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority because of its payments to the families of Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists, have led the PA to refuse to accept any transfers at all from Israel in protest. This has created an enormous burden on the Palestinian budget which cannot be met, and on PA employees, including security service personnel, who are not receiving even half of their salaries.

Add to that the PA decision not to transfer any money to Gaza, and we have the outburst of protests in Gaza against Hamas that were then crushed by Hamas with a heavy hand, all of which plays in the background to what we are witnessing this week. And we don’t know how the March 30 events will pass – how much violence and how many additional casualties there will be.

On top of all of this, we have Israeli elections on April 9. I can’t help but think that the current round, whatever happens, has already served the electoral interests of our prime minister. When under attack, the Israeli people rally in solidarity with each other, with the army, around the flag and around their leader.

The flare-up in Gaza serves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interests. It has already turned attention away from submarines, shares and profits in his cousin’s companies, and three indictments waiting to be issued for corruption. Netanyahu is once again Mr. Security – weighing decisions carefully, consulting with his advisers and the military commanders, and making careful, cautious decisions. Yet the situation over the past 10 years has not changed. The people of the south of Israel continue to be hit with rockets, incendiary balloons and kites – with red alerts sending them to shelters, as poverty and despair continue to fester in Gaza.

When will we all finally learn that there is no military solution for Gaza? None. Even reconquering Gaza and killing all of the current leaders of Hamas will only produce, more quickly, the next generation of young Palestinian leaders with hatred in their hearts and a willingness to fight and die for Palestine with their actions.

Palestinians are not going anywhere. Gaza will not disappear. Gaza will not sink into the sea. And the notion that deterrence can be created – which will make the two million people in Gaza accept their lot – is a lot of hot air produced by a lot of Mr. Securities and retired generals.

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