Look Gaza in the eyes

Gaza has no connection to biblical Azazel, but in the Israeli narrative, the terms merged.

May 29, 2018 23:03
4 minute read.
Look Gaza in the eyes

Palestinians gather in front of the gate of Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza during a protest against the blockade, in the southern Gaza Strip July 3, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

Look Gaza in the eyes. Look the people of Gaza in the eyes. Look yourselves in the eyes and tell yourselves that what is going on in Gaza does not concern you, does not concern us, the Jews in Israel. Say that since we built a wall, evacuated our settlers, and withdrew our military from there, it is not our problem.

Gaza has no connection to biblical Azazel, but in the Israeli narrative, the terms merged. Gaza is a condemned place, a cursed land, a place “we hope will sink in the sea,” as Yitzhak Rabin said in his time. But Gaza is part of us. Not only because geographically it has been part of Eretz Israel/Palestine, and not because there has been a considerable Jewish settlement there, but because it has been an inseparable part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Everything that has taken place in this conflict reflects itself in Gaza. It is its black mirror.

First of all, the refugees. Close to 70% of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are refugees. Most of them ran away, or were kicked out from villages, small towns and cities that are part of the State of Israel today. In 1954, Moshe Dayan was brave enough to say that they have never forgotten the places they left behind. Since then, many Israelis believed, or wanted to believe, that this problem would disappear by itself, would evaporate. Well, it has not. Young Palestinians who are demonstrating at the border are the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the original refugees, and they are willing to die for the right to return. They are the proof that this problem is still with us. Gaza reminds us that 1948 is still with us, waiting for an answer.

Gaza reflects one more central issue in the Israeli narrative. The narrative of separation. For over 25 years, separation from the Palestinians has been considered to be a milestone in every plan or proposed solution. We are here and they are there. In Gaza this separation has been implemented to its fullest. The wall around Gaza was built by Israel in 1994, during the “merry” days of the Oslo agreement. Prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan was a direct result of this line of thinking. Dissemble the settlements, withdraw the military, disconnect from the Palestinians, and throw away the keys, so that they “can drive their Ferraris from end to end,” as Dov Weissglas, one of the disengagement architects, said. No friction, no conflict.

The reality has proven the opposite. Since the withdrawal from Gaza, three large-scale military conflicts between Hamas and Israel have occurred. The last one, Operation Protective Edge, was close to a small war. Nearly 50 days of battle, 74 Israelis killed, and 2,200 Palestinians. The wall did not stop the Kassams from Gaza, or the tunnels. And now tens of thousands of Palestinians are marching to the fence, sending burning kites over it, setting fields on fire. Separation created a poorer, more desperate and therefore more violent Gaza. The bottom line is that separation has empowered the conflict, rather than reduced it.

These events stand out especially considering the relative calm in the West Bank. The “security barrier” shouldn’t fool you; there is no real buffering between the State of Israel and the West Bank. Fifty thousand licensed Palestinian workers, and 50,000 without permits, cross the checkpoints every day. The military stayed in the West Bank, and so have the settlers, and all this without taking Jerusalem into account, where 300,000 Palestinians live inside the Jewish city, and can move freely throughout Israel. The non-separation zone is quieter than the separation zone.

Gaza demands of us Israelis to look her in the eyes and to tell ourselves: until we resolve Gaza’s  distress, we shall not live peacefully. Resolution will come only after we understand and accept that the Palestinian refugees are an integral part of this land, just as are the Israeli Jews living here. To solve the problem, we need to open borders, not close them.

This conclusion applies not only to Gaza, it applies to the entire conflict. Separation is not the solution, and Gaza shows it. Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, we are all part of this land, of this common homeland, whether we like it or not. In order for the two-state solution to be stable, in order for it to be reached, it must be based on partnership, on freedom of movement, on mutual interdependence, and equality. This is not only a just and moral solution, it also reflects the situation of both nations. We live, one next to the other, and one intertwined with the other.

Two sovereign states, Israel and Palestine, in a confederation. It is a dream. It is also a reality.

The author is a journalist and co-founder of “A Land for All,” an Israeli-Palestinian movement advocating two states with open borders as a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

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