It’s easy to forget Gaza. The strip is sealed from all directions, and only few can enter or leave it. Since the raid on the flotilla, more food is allowed in—at least that’s what Israel claims—but for all other purposes, the closure persists.
There are no reports in the mainstream media on life in Gaza. Very few journalists travel there. The only exceptions occur during military escalations, or when an event like the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni takes place. When you only hear of people in the context of war and murder, it’s very hard to think of them as human beings.
In modern Hebrew, “go to Azazel” (“לך לעזאזל”) means “go to hell.” Azazel is a biblical name that represents either a real place near Jerusalem or a demon. But the first part of the name, “Aza”, sounds and is written exactly like the Hebrew name for Gaza (עזה). So you could sometimes hear people say “go to Aza” (“go to Gaza”) as an abbreviation for “go to hell.”
Sometimes this use is intentional: It is not uncommon to read comments on the internet calling for a lefty or an Arab to “go to Aza,” and when Palestinian MK Hanin Zuabi was attacked by other Knesset Members for her support of the flottila, she was told by several MKs to go to Aza—one of them even telling her this in Arabic. It’s interesting that Zuabi wasn’t “sent” to Ramallah or even Jenin, but to Aza. Those MK’s clearly wanted Zuabi to leave the Israeli Parliament, but they also wanted her simply to go to hell.
In short, for many Gaza is hell, a demonic place which represents your deepest fears and to which you send—at least in your mind—your worse enemies. In a way, the rise of Hamas to power in Gaza made it easier to maintain this mythical view of the strip. Gaza is hell, and it is governed by the devil. Building walls around it and shooting anyone who comes near them actually makes sense this way. You don’t want to devil to spread its evil doings.
We’re told that the aim of the blockade on Gaza is to “contain” the problem and ultimately, bring Hamas down. Even Israeli leftists sometimes think that this is the only way to have peace: You should negotiate with the Palestinian Authority and fight Hamas. It all sounds so very logical. I’m no fan of Hamas, as I don’t care for any religious ideology, but there is something about this theory which feels too self-centered and rooted in this mythical view of Gaza and its people. In short, I am not convinced. I don’t have a solution for the immediate political and diplomatic problems, but I there are a few questions which nobody seems to be asking.
Looking back, wasn’t it better to let Hamas enjoy its victory in the 2006 elections? People argue that Hamas is not ready to abandon the armed struggle and become a political movement – but when it actually did, the election results were canceled and the political leaders of Hamas put under Israeli arrest. So instead of political confrontation, the fight between Hamas and Fatah became a civil war. Shouldn’t we encourage the politicization of Hamas, as oppose to its militarization, as we do now?
Second thought: Isn’t isolating the strip just making Hamas stay in power? This is pretty obvious—when Gaza is disconnected from the world, and no elections take place, who is there to challenge Hamas? And how exactly could one do so? It seems to me that by isolating Gaza, we are actually making it much easier for Hamas to exercise complete control.
If we break Hamas (I’m not sure how this can be done, but still)–are we going to like those who will replace them? What if it is a group like the Salafi who killed Vitorrio?
What is there to be lost from talking to Hamas? This is something I really don’t get. Even if Hamas is all about destroying Israel, who says that by talking to it we are excepting its views or even aiding it in any way. Some might think we shouldn’t “legitimize” Hamas – yet to me it seems that Hamas, having won the general elections, is seen by Palestinians as a legitimate political force, and does not need Israel’s approval. More over, it seems that currently, talking to Israel is a way to delegitimize a Palestinian leader, and not the other way around.
As for the rockets, nothing prevents Israel from retaliating against them, even if it’s in the process of negotiating with Hamas or with a united Palestinian government (which I think is the best option). More than anything, the rockets seems like a desperate attempt to get attention – and such attempts are likely to go on, even if Israel develops more high-tech defensive systems or retaliates with more force. You cannot lock up more than a million people and expect nothing to happen. What positive incentive do you leave them with? Needless to say, I don’t support Hamas’ goals or its tactics of targeting civilians. I just wonder, what other options do the people have right now if they want the world to hear their voice and take them seriously?
The blockade is not just a stupid policy, it’s simply morally wrong. Locking up 1.5 million people in an open air prison in order to bring a political change of their leadership cannot be justified. It does not advance peace, but rather convinces people that Israel is exercising forms of control over the Palestinians even after leaving some of the territory intended for their state. It actually makes people wonder how independent will a Palestinian state be, and quite rightly so.
I think we should begin by remembering the real people living in Gaza. When I was a kid, we used to see the day workers from Gaza in the street corners, waiting to be picked up by their employees. It was a form of exploitation and economic control, yet there was contact between Palestinians and Israelis that made it harder to dehumanize the people of Gaza the way we do now.
More than anything, I get the feeling that people simply want Gaza to disappear—not very different from those who want the Jews to disappear from the Middle East—and until it does, we prefer to communicate with its people by ways of bombs and rockets. After all, it’s a form of dialogue we think we have the upper hand in.
But Gaza won’t disappear. Quite the opposite. As one Fatah member I once met told me, Gaza might even be the center of everything. It is populated mostly with refugees, who carry the memory of the 48′ Nakba. It’s the place where the first Intifada started. It is the largest urban center in the land, after Tel Aviv. Gaza is not hell, nor it is heaven. It’s a place with real people, who deserve to be free from oppression and fear.
Lift the blockade now. It’s the right thing to do.