January 8, 2009
What You Don’t Know About Gaza By RASHID KHALIDI
NEARLY everything you’ve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are
a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much
of which has taken place in the press, about Israel’s attack on the Gaza
THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The
majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles
of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages
outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the
Israeli Army in 1948.
THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the
Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying
power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in
2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the
movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and
sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power,
Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to
the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
THE BLOCKADE Israel’s blockade of the strip, with the support of the United
States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas
won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel,
electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the
Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of
sanitation, health, water supply and transportation.
The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition.
This amounts to the collective punishment — with the tacit support of the
United States — of a civilian population for exercising its democratic
THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire,
was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in
May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months
(according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when
Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six
Hamas operatives were reported killed.
WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is
potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak
for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been
killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast,
there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers.
Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other
forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled
the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about
“restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you
believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli
Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to
understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a
Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia, is the author of
the forthcoming “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the