Surprise surprise: having said for almost four decades that no Jewish settlement should ever be dismantled, Sharon’s plan to dismantle Jewish settlements in Gaza was rejected by his own Likud party members. You can fool all the people all the time but don’t sell them a new folly every week. Sharon was defeated by an effective campaign launched by settlers, and generously sponsored by fundamentalist Jewish anti-peace magnates abroad the Gutniks, the Moskowitzs, the Kleins.
As Meron Benvenisti writes in an excellent analysis (Ha’aretz, 6.5.04), “The state has given a small group of skilled and fanatic activists immense bureaucratic might and economic resources, which have been invested in a sophisticated manner and transformed the settlements into one of the strongest power bases in Israel” in spite of being less than 4% of the Israeli population.
Sharon should thank President Bush as well for his humiliating defeat: Likud members understood very well that Israel had nothing to lose by rejecting the Plan. A long list of extremist Jewish-American organizations (ZOA and their ilk) published huge ads in the Israeli press, explaining that the US would not change its Pavlovian pro-Israel anti-Palestinian policy, no matter the results.
In return for the Disengagement Plan, President Bush endorsed the route of the Apartheid Wall, recognized Israel’s bigger illegal settlements as irreversible “demographic facts,” and dismissed the Palestinian Right of Return. The Disengagement Plan was rejected but don’t hold your breath to hear President Bush renouncing the Apartheid Wall, condemning the “demographic facts” of the settlements, or suddenly supporting the Right of Return. When Sharon and Bush make colonialist deals over Palestinian land and freedom, the name of the game is “heads we win, tails they lose.”
A.B. Yehoshua Has a Dream
The Disengagement Plan was no peace plan. There was very little to support in a redeployment of the Israeli occupation forces from the heart of Gaza to a strangulating siege on its borders. Especially not when done in order to strengthen Israel’s hold on the Palestinian West Bank, and when prominent figures in the Israeli “Peace Camp” already air their genocidal fantasies for the day after listen to the “peacenik” writer AB Yehoshua:
“After we take out the settlements … all the rules of war would change. We would exercise our full power We won’t have to run after this or that terrorist: we would use force against an entire population, use force in a total manner We would cut off the electricity in Gaza. We would cut off communications in Gaza. We would stop fuel supply to Gaza It won’t be a desirable war, but definitely a purifying one.” (Ha’aretz, 19.3.04)
Engage in Order to Disengage
So now that it is dead what was the Disengagement Plan good for? Let’s see its actual functions, on the ground and in the Israeli public discourse (all quotes from Ha’aretz).
The Plan was announced on February the 3rd. Just a week later, Israel killed 15 Palestinians in Gaza. Analyst Ze’ev Schiff set the tone by making the connection (12.2): “Precisely because of the PM’s decision on a future eviction of most of the settlements in Gaza, Israel will probably try to show its ‘military muscles’ in the near future as a preparation for the future.” So now that we “disengage,” expect even more killing in Gaza. This is precisely what was going to happen.
Two weeks later, Israel assassinated three Jihad activists in Gaza: Sharon “decided to boost the assassinations policy towards the realization of the Disengagement Plan” (29.2).
So February, when the “Disengagement Plan” was announced, ended with 43 Palestinians killed, compared to 29 casualties in January.
One week later, 15 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, 4 of them children, and 80 injured (8.3). The offensive of “Israel’s Defense Forces” was described as “stimulus-response”: incursions aimed at provoking Palestinians to use their ineffective weapons and expose themselves to Israel’s lethal fire. Military reporter Amos Harel wondered: “Why does the Israeli army continue its operations, when the withdrawal is apparently near?” The operation, he concluded, was either simply part of a long-term policy of “a big offensive operation in Gaza about once a month,” or reflected the resolution of the Israeli army not to let the political echelon portray the withdrawal from Gaza as a result of military failure, like the withdrawal from Lebanon. The latter option blames the Israeli army for the escalation. Don’t worry: the army will shake off the accusation in no time (guess who it would blame instead). At any rate, Hamas and Jihad called the operation “a massacre,” and promised revenge.
A week later, the Palestinians kept their promise. 10 Israeli workers were killed in an attack on Ashdod’s sea port. But the Israeli army gave a more useful explanation for the bombing: “As soon as the Disengagement Plan and the unilateral withdrawal were announced, the Palestinian organizations have been making great efforts to prove that Israel is withdrawing under military pressure” (15.3). So, first, forget the bloodbath in Gaza a week before: the Palestinians kill us not because we kill them, but because we want to withdraw and make peace. And, second, the escalation is not Israel’s fault: expectedly, the blame is given to the Palestinians.
The next day, the cabinet ordered a series of large-scale operations against Hamas in Gaza. Echoing the army’s position, Defense Minister Mofaz explained that Hamas wished to capitalize on the Israeli withdrawal and was planning a big wave of terror, so the escalation initiated by Israel was the Palestinians’ fault. As for its scale, military sources were outspoken: “We return to the days before the Hudna (cease-fire truce)” of July 2003 (17.3).
The atrocities reached a peak on 22.3, when Israel assassinated Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza. 7 other Palestinians were killed with him along with 5 Palestinians killed on separate occasions the same day, and 7 killed in Gaza the day before. At this stage, no matter what war crimes were going on, everything was overshadowed by the “Disengagement” festival:
“We’ll weaken Hamas towards the Disengagement” (Defense Minister Mofaz, 22.3).
“Israel hopes to stop the Hamas attack, which started with the announcement of the Disengagement Plan” (Ze’ev Schiff, 23.2).
“The assassination might make the Disengagement more difficult” (Amos Harel, 23.2).
“While Sharon is coordinating with President Bush the withdrawal from Gaza and the eviction of all its settlements is this the right time to drown Gaza in a wave of hatred?” (Yoel Marcus, 26.3)
The idea that escalation and killing could to be seen as War, rather than as Peace, was off limits.
And so, March ended with a record of 79 Palestinians killed.
The next prominent victim of the premeditated Israeli escalation was Yassin’s successor Dr Rantissi, killed just three days after the Bush-Sharon “Disengagement Summit.” Amir Oren automatically echoed: “The main context of the continued targeting of the Hamas leadership is Sharon’s plan to evacuate Gaza, now with American backing” (18.4).
April ended with 55 Palestinians killed. In just three months, while Israel was busy making peace by “Disengagement,” 177 Palestinians were killed. And 25 Israelis. An excellent ratio of 7 to 1.
Not Just Killing
Killing may be the better recorded part of the Israeli occupation, but occupation is much more than just killing. Thus, less than two weeks after the Disengagement Plan was announced, Gaza settlers launched a plan for 3 new settlements and absorbing 500 new families within a year; they had an excellent argument: “The plans were boosted as a reaction to the Disengagement Plan” (15.2). Indeed, one of the new settlements has been established by now a day after the settlers’ victory in the referendum.
Furthermore, making an old dream come true, the Israeli army used the occasion to announce a long trench to be dug along the route separating Gaza from Egypt “towards the implementation of the Disengagement Plan,” of course:
“The distance from the route to the houses of Rafah is now about 150 metres, since the army has demolished the first blocks of houses during the past 3,5 years of fighting [ ] The army has been trying for long to expand the open area east of the route [ ] Within the various operations in the area, hundreds of Palestinian houses have been destroyed” (Ha’aretz, 28.4).
Lessons for the Next “Plan”
On May the 2nd, the Disengagement Plan was rejected by 60% of the Likud members. The next day, Sharon said he would prepare a new plan. His copyrighters already toy with names: “Reduced Disengagement”? “Gradual Disengagement”? Once a name is found, we can start the dupery all over again.
Indeed, Israel is willing to consider every Peace Plan as long as it is unacceptable to the Palestinians (therefore NOT the Saudi/Arab Peace Plan); as long as it gives it more time to entrench the occupation; and as long as it can serve as pretext to kill hundreds of Palestinians. That’s what Sharon’s “Plans” are for.