Ceasefire tells the world: Gaza still under Israeli occupation

By agreeing to negotiate freedom of movement for Gazans, Israel has admitted – with the whole world watching – that 1.7 million Gazans are not free. A victory for truth in the ‘information war’.

One of the good things about the Israel-Gaza ceasefire is that it highlights a truth that Israel and its mouthpieces have pretty effectively obscured: that Gaza and its 1.7 million people are still not free because Israel doesn’t allow it.

Ever since the 2005 disengagement, Israel has been repeating over and over that “there is no occupation in Gaza,” and thus Hamas and the other armed groups are firing rockets not out of any grievance, because they have no grievance – they’re doing it out of pure, satanic desire to kill Jews.

But on Wednesday night, Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman effectively admitted that this was never true. They agreed to negotiate the easing of Israel’s restrictions on Gazans’ freedom of movement: in and out of the Strip, and also within it. This was a crucial element of the ceasefire, it was reported and discussed on Israeli TV and in news media around the world. After this awfully high-profile  agreement, it’s going to be harder for the hasbaratists to say there’s no occupation (though I’m confident they will try).

The occupation of Gaza works like this: Gazans cannot go in or out of the Strip by boat or plane because Israel blockades their seacoast and airspace. On the ground, Israel allows trucks to bring in goods through the Israel-Gaza border, but doesn’t let people go through except in extreme humanitarian cases, thereby cutting off the Palestinians in Gaza from those in the West Bank.

Finally, Israel has established a “security zone” on Gaza’s side of the border that Gazans enter at their peril. Israel says the zone extends 300-500 meters into the Strip. The Red Cross says it extends a full kilometer, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says it extends up to 1.5 kilometers – making one-sixth of Gaza’s land, including a third of its farmland, a closed Israeli military zone. (Defenders of this policy say it’s there to stop terror – which is what every foreign ruler in history has said to justify its post-invasion control over a weaker nation.)

The enduring Israeli occupation of Gaza results in Palestinian farmers and metal scavengers of all ages getting killed in the security zone; in massive, ongoing destruction of farmland and buildings in that zone; in fishermen getting shot at by the Israeli navy when they go beyond (or at times just approach) the three-nautical-mile limit that Israel has arbitrarily imposed, which has crippled Gaza’s fishing industry; in 90-95 percent of Gaza’s water supply being contaminated, forcing people to buy bottled water because the blockade stops or severely delays desalination equipment from arriving; in Gaza’s sea being swamped with sewage because the blockade stops or severely delays wastewater treatment equipment from arriving …

I could go on for days; read the 2012 annual OCHA report linked to above for a comprehensive picture of Israeli tyranny over the population of Gaza, even after removing its soldiers and settlers from the Strip’s interior.

In the drawing up of the cease-fire, Hamas at first demanded the lifting of the sea blockade, but Israel refused to discuss it. (Haaretz reported that Barak agreed to negotiate this issue, but was overruled by Netanyahu and Lieberman.) I didn’t see any reports about Hamas demanding an end to the air blockade, no doubt because without airplanes in Gaza, it’s a moot issue for now.

But Israel did agree that “the ground blockade will be reduced to a minimum, Hamas will receive a package of [economic] easements, and restrictions will be lifted substantially at the border crossings to Israel,” according to Yedioth Aharonoth (and other media).

Israel also agreed to negotiate over the no-go zone inside the Gaza border. Finally, quoting this time from Haaretz,  it has “undertaken not to launch any attacks on Gaza – by land, sea or air … and not invade any Palestinian-held land.” This would seem to protect fishermen from navy fire, and all Gazans from army fire into the no-go zone; actually, it would seem to declare the no-go zone out of bounds for Israel.

There’s no telling if any of this will be negotiated as promised; if I had to bet, I’d say the current restrictions will remain in force, or largely in force, until there’s a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which may or may not ever come.

But with the whole world watching, Israel’s leaders inadvertently acknowledged that Gaza is not free, that it is still under Israeli occupation, that its image as “the world’s largest open-air prison” still fits. That should neutralize a few billion tweets and memes from the information warriors of Operation Pillar of Defense.