Uri Avnery Gush Shalom 16 August 2014
THE TROUBLE with war is that it has two sides. Everything would be so much easier if war had only one side. Ours, of course. There you are, drawing up a wonderful plan for the next war, preparing it, training for it, until everything is perfect. And then the war starts, and to your utmost surprise it appears that there is another side, too, which also has a wonderful plan, and has prepared it and trained for it.
When the two plans meet, everything goes wrong. Both plans break down. You don't know what's going to happen. How to go on. You do things you have not planned for. And when you have had enough of it and want to get out, you don't know how. It's so much more difficult to end a war than to start a war, especially when both sides need to declare victory. That's where we are now.
HOW DID it all start? Depends where you want to begin. Like everywhere else, every event in Gaza is a reaction to another event. You do something because the other side did something. Which they did because you did something. One can unravel this until the beginning of history. Or at least until Samson the Hero.
Samson, it will be remembered, was captured by the Philistines, blinded and brought to Gaza. There he committed suicide by bringing the temple down on himself and all the leaders and people, crying out: "Let my soul die with the Philistines!" (Judges 16:30)
If that's too remote, let's start with the beginning of the present occupation, 1967. In February 1969, I warned: "(If we go on) we shall be faced with a terrible choice - to suffer from a wave of terrorism that will cover the entire country, or to engage in acts of revenge and oppression so brutal that they will corrupt our souls and cause the whole world to condemn us." I mention this not (only) to blow my own horn, but to show that any reasonable person could have foreseen what was going to happen.
IT TOOK a long time for Gaza to reach this point. Yasser Arafat, son of a Gaza Strip family, returned to Palestine and set up his HQ in Gaza. A new airport was built. Plans for a large new sea-port were circulating. If the port had been built, Gaza would have become a flourishing commercial hub. The standard of living would have risen steeply, the inclination of the people to vote for a radical Islamic party would have declined.
WHY DID this not happen? Israel refused to allow the port to be built. Contrary to a specific undertaking in the 1993 Oslo agreement, Israel cut off all passages between the Strip and the West Bank. The aim was to prevent any possibility of a viable Palestinian state being set up.
Gaza sank into misery. In the 2006 Palestinian elections, under the supervision of ex-President Jimmy Carter, the people of Gaza gave a relative majority to the Hamas party. When Hamas was denied power, it took the Gaza Strip by force, with the population applauding. The Israeli government reacted by imposing a blockade. Practically nothing was let out, which is incomprehensible from the “security” point of view of weapons “smuggling” but clear from the point of view of “strangling". Unemployment reached almost 60%.
The Strip is roughly 40 km long and 10 km wide. In the north and the east it borders Israel, in the west it borders the sea, which is controlled by the Israeli navy. In the south it borders Egypt, which is now ruled by a brutal anti-Islamic dictatorship, allied with Israel. As the slogan goes, it is "the world's largest open-air prison".
BOTH SIDES now proclaim that their aim is to put an end to this situation. But they mean two very different things. The Israeli side wants the blockade to remain in force, though in a more liberal form but under strict supervision. No airport. No sea-port. Hamas must be prevented from re-arming. The Palestinian side wants the blockade to be removed once and for all, even officially. They want their port and airport.
THERE CAN be no real solution for Gaza without a real solution for Palestine. The blockade must end, with serious security concerns of both sides properly addressed. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank (with East Jerusalem) must be reunited. The four "safe passages" between the two territories, promised in the Oslo agreement, must at last be opened.
There must be Palestinian elections, long overdue, for the presidency and the parliament, with a new government accepted by all Palestinian factions, recognized by the world community. Peace negotiations, based on the two-state solution, must start and be concluded within a reasonable time. Or do what Samson did: commit suicide.