Settlement through ‘Gazafication’

By Yousef Munayyer

The Gaza Strip is the world’s most densely populated spot. With a million and a half people living under occupation in the tiny 15 mile strip, Gaza is the world’s largest prison. Israeli colonies have been established in Gaza and the colonists who live there total nearly 8,000.

Many commonly refer to the colonies as “settlements” and the colonists as “settlers,” but that is a fundamental falsity which perpetuates myths and misconceptions about the land and its people. Gaza and the West Bank, which Israel occupied illegally in 1967, were not wild frontiers. Yet this has been the myth that Zionism created and the remnants of that policy exists today in the language of the conflict. “Settler” is a perfect example of this.

At the heart of the foundation of the Zionist movement was the need for the Jewish people to have a national home, and they considered Palestine the solution. They referred to it as “a Land without a people, for a people without a land.” Of course this is also not true and on the eve of the creation of the state of Israel the Jews in Palestine were not nearly a majority. The native inhabitants however, were ignored at the beginning of the Zionist movement and we still see this today.

Palestine was not unsettled and it was not just some desert land roaming with Bedouins. Still “settler”, the euphemism, is chosen by speakers in the dialogue to white-wash the colonialist reality. There are also plenty of other places to settle down outside of the occupied territories, but those are not the locations of choice for the religious zealots.

The 8,000 colonists in the Gaza Strip are a gigantic headache for the State of Israel. To look benevolent, the Israeli Prime Minister decided he would work to dismantle the colonies. At least that is what he is saying. He faced extreme resistance, much of which came from inside his own party. In my last trip to Israel I was struck when I noticed that the only political advertisements in sight read “Sharon is wrong.”

From a realist’s perspective it does not make sense to tie up military forces and police for the sake of protecting 8,000 religious fundamentalists among 1.5 million Palestinians. Still, this presents a bigger problem.

The colonists that are in Gaza are few in number; however the bigger issue are the hundreds of thousands of colonists in the West Bank. Is Ariel Sharon willing to tell the colonists in the West Bank that they have to leave? Will he be able to dismantle the colonies of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, which each have populations four times the amount of the all colonists in Gaza?

With the amount of pressure Sharon has been facing from the religious extremists in Israel it is unlikely that he could even consider such a move. While the colonies in Gaza only cause headaches and serve little if any political purpose beyond a minor bargaining chip, the colonies in the West Bank are crucial to Israel’s interests.

The Jerusalem enclave, which is now grown greatly to the point where it is its own region, effectively splits the West Bank in two. The colonies in the Jordan River valley, though smaller, still allow Israel territorial control of whatever comes into the West Bank from Jordan and it is not likely to give that up. Also, the colonies in the northwest of the West Bank further divide the Palestinian population and give Israel control of a very valuable resource in the area: water.

Considering all of this, it is safe to say that Israel has no realistic reason to give up the colonies. Attempting to dismantle them would cause a tremendous rift in Israeli politics and keeping them only serves a variety of purposes which Israel can use to squeeze the life out of the Palestinians.

In the Middle East, particularly in regards to the conflict in Palestine, policy is easier to identify by actions than by words. Though disengagement is the word of the day, the policies of decades have been occupation and acquisition.

What Israel seems to be saying, or aggressively hinting at, is that a contiguous, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state is not an option. Instead the plan is “Gazafication”; that is the creation of tiny, isolated, and controlled Palestinian territories defined by realities on the ground like colonies, guns, and walls.

This process can only lead to a one-state final solution. Whether Israel, the controlling party, decides to make this one state for Jews by gradually isolating the Palestinian population or one state for everyone by respecting the rights of individuals on a human and non-religious level is yet to be seen.

Yousef Munayyer is a Collegian columnist.