Gaza: One Year After Disengagement

On 15 August 2005, Israel began removing 8,500 Israeli settlers from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip. The move, although unilateral and came with warning from Palestinians that the disengagement would maintain Israeli control over Gaza, gave some Palestinians hope for a better economic future and hope they would no longer be subjected to harassment from the Israeli army and settlers.

A year later, Gaza and its 1.4 million residents are neither secure nor economically prosperous. Israel’s control over Gaza was felt well before the election of Hamas and was painfully clear since 27 June 2006.

With international media and diplomacy focused on Lebanon, the Israeli military offensive in Gaza continued unabated and practically unmonitored. With the exception of the United Nations registering grave concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian conditions and the continued violence against Palestinian civilians and infrastructure, it seems that the so-called “first-front” in the latest cycle of violence has been forgotten.

Gaza in Numbers

According to a 9 August 2006 report by the Palestinian Monitoring Group (PMG), 170 Palestinians including, 138 civilians, 14 security officers and 15 militants, were killed in Israeli attacks from 27 June-8 August 2006. During that same period, 506 Palestinians were injured.

PMG, which collects information documented by Palestinian ministries, including the Ministry of Health, Public Works and Infrastructure, the Palestinian security agencies and PMG field workers, reported that since 27 June 2006 Israel has carried out 768 military strikes against Gaza. According to PMG, Israeli F-16s and helicopters launched “190 air strikes, the Israeli military fired over 3,500 artillery shells, and the Israeli Air Force carried out 380 air patrols.”

According to PMG’s figures, between 8 July-8 August, 131 Palestinians, including 108 civilians-among them 26 children-were killed and 395 Palestinians were injured. July was the deadliest month in Gaza with 151 Palestinians killed, making it the “single largest monthly death toll in the Gaza Strip since October 2004,” PMG said.

As in Lebanon, Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has caused widespread destruction of public and private property. Public infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, water and wastewater systems, power plants, telephone and electricity networks and civilian institutions, has been targeted by Israel. Homes, vehicles, greenhouses and agricultural land have also been damaged.

According to the Palestinian Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), a 14 July 2006 Israeli incursion into Wadi al Salaq in the Gaza Strip caused damaged to some 850 meters of the water network system and damaged the connection systems to 35 homes. A 15-19 July incursion into Beit Hanoun destroyed over 180 rooftop water tanks.

In a similar tactic used in Lebanon, the Israeli army has dropped flyers ordering civilians to leave their homes because of an impending air strike. Israel’s argument for shelling civilian homes in Gaza, just as in Lebanon, has been that rockets are fired on Israel from the vicinity of the homes or that the homes serve as a weapons cache.

There are several articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention that protect civilians from such actions, including Article 32, which prohibits the causing of physical suffering, murder or other measures of brutality against civilians and Article 33, which prohibits collective punishment and intimidation of a civilian population.

Failures of Disengagement

In addition to the introduction of unilateralism into Middle East diplomacy, which has proven to be a failed policy, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza failed to produce a political horizon, it failed to bring about promised economic revival and it failed to ensure implementation of third-party brokered agreements. For instance, Israel still has not fulfilled its commitments on the Movement and Access Agreement that was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2005. In essence, the Agreement stresses the need to remove closures to pave the way for economic revival. Today, the most prominent aspect of that Agreement is the absence of its implementation by Israel.

For its part, the international community was unable to create mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement because the disengagement was not conceived of or followed in the context of a political framework. Ultimately, this created a crisis of implementation. Now Gaza is in disarray, and this has been exacerbated by the withdrawal of aid after the election of Hamas to power.

Many issues crucial to Palestinians’ livelihood remain unresolved. For example, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip face a number of challenges to economic development because of limited Palestinian access to the Israeli labor market and the restricted movement of goods. Development plans in areas evacuated by the settlers remain on hold because the wreckage left behind has not been moved as agreed. Agriculture exports from the evacuated greenhouses have not materialized due to Israel’s closure of the border.

Israel continues to control the entry and exit of all people and goods into the Gaza Strip, to patrol its coast and airspace, to provide its water, fuel, electric utilities, and sewage, and to enter Gaza with military forces at will. Under international law, “effective control” is the measure of whether a territory is occupied. So, according to this definition, the Gaza Strip, one year after disengagement, remains under occupation.

SAMAR ASSAD is the Executive Director of The Palestine Center.