Gaza Stripped

Although Israeli Forces withdrew settlers from Gaza the military occupation of Palestinians continues. Despite U.S. mainstream media reports that the 38-year-occupation of Palestinians within Gaza has “ended,” the Israeli military still controls water, the Palestinians’ passage through checkpoints and air space.

When the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs surveyed the West Bank in April 2005, OCHA counted over 600 closure barriers placed by Israeli Defense Forces. When Israeli soldiers create flying checkpoints, they block roads with cars or tanks so they can stop Palestinians instantly. These physical obstacles restrict Palestinians’ access to jobs, schools, health care, shopping, family gatherings, community events, and places of worship. When Palestinian farmers transport their goods across checkpoints their produce may perish because of the wait-time in checkpoint lines, or because Israeli soldiers deny them passage.

Israeli by-pass roads are not only on land confiscated from the Palestinians, but Israeli forces deny Palestinians access to them. Israeli license plates are yellow and Palestinian license plates are blue, so the color differentiation determines which roads are accessible to settlers only. The continued construction of by-pass roads and expanding, Israeli settlements in the West Bank not only forces Palestinians to use back roads, but physically alters their communities into geographical cantons or disconnected islands.

The three aquifers in the region are controlled by Israel. As a result, Palestinians need permits to dig and repair wells. It is not uncommon for Israeli forces to destroy Palestinian wells. Even if they are repaired Israeli forces have a track record of damaging them again. An example of this practice occurred in Rafah. Even though Israeli forces remove the settlers does not mean they disengaged from Israeli practices.

With the construction of Israel’s separation barrier or wall, Israeli forces restrict not only Palestinian movement, but the use of their wells for their villages and farmland. As a result, Palestinians absorb the cost of water trucks and their transport. As farmers try to sustain their olive and citrus groves through this forced, watering alternative it is time-consuming and expensive. Overall, Israelis use five times more water per capita than Palestinians, which means Israelis use 80 per cent of the water.

Palestinian cities and villages have curfews, so people who venture outside of curfew jeopardize lockout from the gatekeeper. However, the greater risk is their lives because Israeli soldiers may beat, shoot or spray tear gas at Palestinians.

Although some of the commentary in U.S. mainstream media focuses on whether Gaza will now be a “hotbed for terrorists and warlords” who will attack Israel, most of the U.S. mainstream media refuses to cover the basic facts on the ground. Yes, they agree the Palestinians suffer from unemployment and economic hardship, but they do not report the root-cause of the economic strangulation.

Even though OCHA’s report on Israel’s physical barriers states “the closures are the primary cause of poverty and the humanitarian crisis” for the Palestinians, I have read and heard American journalists turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into an issue about terrorism. However, they do not address Israel’s military occupation, continued land confiscation or expanding settlements. These issues are the major causes behind the oppression of Palestinians, who lead resilient lives amid desperate, living conditions. With no end to the occupation in sight the idea that two states ­ Israel and Palestine – living side-by-side in peace is not only geographically impossible, but it misinforms the public. As long as Israel controls the Palestinians, a Palestinian state is not viable because they do not have their independence.

While the removal of settlers from Gaza was a step in the right direction, it is only the beginning. Some American journalists see Gaza as the beginning of a Palestinian state, yet they do not focus on the occupation, East Jerusalem or the West Bank because talking about all of the issues means criticism of Israel. Although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a controversial withdrawal of settlers from Gaza, his decision does not address the 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, or the Israeli Army occupying the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

At this juncture the international community needs to intervene in the peace process. The Fourth Geneva Convention contains over 100 provisions concerning human rights, to which Israel agreed for entry into the United Nations. Now, Israel must be held accountable to these humanitarian laws, some of which specifically prohibit colonization, along with the degradation and humiliation of a civilian population. Two examples are: UN Security Council Resolution 465, which affirms the Fourth Geneva Convention and addresses Israel’s settlement policy in the OT and Jerusalem; and UN Security Council 242, which requires the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the OT.

The dynamic implementation of international law is the beginning of peace and safety for both Israelis and Palestinians. Hope may keep the people going, but a fair and just peace out of the siphon of occupation will bring the reality Palestinians have a right to and are hoping for.

SONIA NETTNIN is a journalist who writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.