Unilateral action by Israel spawns
violence in Gaza
By George Bisharat
Originally published August 17, 2006 [republished with permission]
SAN FRANCISCO // With the spotlight on Lebanon, another Middle East
milestone is passing largely unnoticed. However, its lessons are just as
important. A year ago this week, Israel began implementing its
unilateral Gaza disengagement plan -- yet the region is beset by
violence. Why did withdrawal of 8,500 Jewish settlers from Gaza lead to
more conflict? Can Israel withdraw from Arab territories without
Last August, Gaza Palestinians greeted disengagement with both cautious
hope and cynicism. They relished freedom from the daily humiliations of
military occupation. Students longed to study, children to frolic on the
beach, and entrepreneurs to build businesses. Yet many also saw
disengagement as an expression of racial preference for Jews. Israel
could not annex the Gaza Strip without absorbing 1.4 million
Palestinians, thus jeopardizing its status as a Jewish state.
Israel marketed disengagement to Americans as a step toward peace, but
Palestinians remembered the October 2004 comment of Dov Weisglass,
adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: "The
disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of
formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political
process with the Palestinians."
Why would Israeli politicians subvert negotiations with Palestinians?
Perhaps because no Palestinian leader could agree to Israel's planned
takeover of Jerusalem and much of the West Bank.
Thus, the Gaza "disengagement" plan is also the Jerusalem and West Bank
"expansion" plan. The number of Israelis settling in the West Bank this
year exceeds the number withdrawn from Gaza.
Further conflict, therefore, was inevitable.
Moreover, while Israel decolonized Gaza, its military occupation
continues. Israel still controls the entry and exit of people and goods
into the region, patrols its coast and airspace, oversees its water,
fuel, electric utilities, and sewage, and enters it with military forces
at will. Under international law, "effective control" determines whether
a territory is occupied.
Since the January Palestinian elections, hailed as the fairest in the
Arab world, Israel has strived to undermine the Hamas-led Palestinian
Authority, withholding $50 million to $60 million monthly in tax
revenues owed to the authority. The U.S. and European Union have
followed, halting aid to the Palestinians until the Hamas government
renounces violence, recognizes Israel and pledges to honor prior
agreements of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has not yet bowed but has
repeatedly signaled willingness to negotiate.
Of course Hamas should not just halt violence -- it had suspended
military operations for 17 months, until June -- it should also renounce
it. But shouldn't the same standard apply to both parties? Shouldn't
recognition and respect for prior agreements be reciprocally required of
Israel, which denies Palestinian national rights and regularly violates
the Oslo accords?
Palestinian civil servants have gone without salaries since January.
Gazans have suffered serious deterioration in nutrition and health. The
special U.N. rapporteur on conditions in the occupied Palestinian
territories warned in June of an impending humanitarian crisis, saying,
"In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic
sanctions -- the first time that an occupied people have been so treated."
On June 24, Israeli troops entered Gaza and abducted Dr. Osama Muantar
and his brother, Mustafa, alleging they were members of Hamas. The two
joined some 9,000 Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.
Many have not been charged with a crime and more than 100 are minors.
The following day, Palestinian groups attacked an Israeli army post,
killing two soldiers and capturing a third.
Since then, Israel has laid siege to the Gaza Strip, closing it to
travel and trade and abducting 64 Hamas officials, including Cabinet
ministers and parliamentary representatives. Its jets have bombed roads,
bridges, government buildings, Gaza's main electrical generating plant,
homes, fields, orchards, workshops, and offices. To date, 184
Palestinians have been killed, including 42 children, while another 650
have been wounded.
In 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula as part of a
comprehensive peace agreement with Egypt. Twenty-four years of peace on
that border followed. But unilateral redeployments that only shift the
character of Israeli control over Palestinian lives will never yield
such results. Unilateralism -- wherein the legitimate interests of the
other party are ignored -- is the flaw, not withdrawal.
Would Americans remain quiescent if a neighboring power sealed our
borders and airspace, suffocated our economy, expanded into our most
desirable lands and attempted to throttle our democratically elected
We should counsel Israel to abandon unilateralism and unremitting
violence against civilians. Negotiations based on respect for
international law and equal rights offer the only way to lasting peace.
George Bisharat, a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in
San Francisco, writes frequently on the Middle East. His e-mail is