Ilan Pappe, London Review ofBooks
14 January 2009
In 2004, the Israeli army began building a dummy Arab city in the Negevdesert. It's the size of a real city, with streets (all of them givennames), mosques, public buildings and cars. Built at a cost of $45million, this phantom city became a dummy Gaza in the winter of 2006,after Hizbullah fought Israel to a draw in the north, so that the IDFcould prepare to fight a 'better war' against Hamas in the south.When the Israeli Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz visited the site afterthe Lebanon war, he told the press that soldiers 'were preparing for thescenario that will unfold in the dense neighbourhood of Gaza City'. A weekinto the bombardment of Gaza, Ehud Barak attended a rehearsal for theground war. Foreign television crews filmed him as he watched groundtroops conquer the dummy city, storming the empty houses and no doubtkilling the 'terrorists' hiding in them.'Gaza is the problem,' Levy Eshkol, then prime minister of Israel, said inJune 1967. 'I was there in 1956 and saw venomous snakes walking in thestreet. We should settle some of them in the Sinai, and hopefully theothers will immigrate.' Eshkol was discussing the fate of the newlyoccupied territories: he and his cabinet wanted the Gaza Strip, but notthe people living in it.Israelis often refer to Gaza as 'Me'arat Nachashim', a snake pit. Beforethe first intifada, when the Strip provided Tel Aviv with people to washtheir dishes and clean their streets, Gazans were depicted more humanely.The 'honeymoon' ended during their first intifada, after a series ofincidents in which a few of these employees stabbed their employers. Thereligious fervour that was said to have inspired these isolated attacksgenerated a wave of Islamophobic feeling in Israel, which led to the firstenclosure of Gaza and the construction of an electric fence around it.Even after the 1993 Oslo Accords, Gaza remained sealed off from Israel,and was used merely as a pool of cheap labour; throughout the 1990s,'peace' for Gaza meant its gradual transformation into a ghetto.In 2000, Doron Almog, then the chief of the southern command, beganpolicing the boundaries of Gaza: 'We established observation pointsequipped with the best technology and our troops were allowed to fire atanyone reaching the fence at a distance of six kilometres,' he boasted,suggesting that a similar policy be adopted for the West Bank. In the lasttwo years alone, a hundred Palestinians have been killed by soldiersmerely for getting too close to the fences. From 2000 until the currentwar broke out, Israeli forces killed three thousand Palestinians (634children among them) in Gaza.Between 1967 and 2005, Gaza's land and water were plundered by Jewishsettlers in Gush Katif at the expense of the local population. The priceof peace and security for the Palestinians there was to give themselves upto imprisonment and colonisation. Since 2000, Gazans have chosen insteadto resist in greater numbers and with greater force. It was not the kindof resistance the West approves of: it was Islamic and military. Itshallmark was the use of primitive Qassam rockets, which at first werefired mainly at the settlers in Katif. The presence of the settlers,however, made it hard for the Israeli army to retaliate with the brutalityit uses against purely Palestinian targets. So the settlers were removed,not as part of a unilateral peace process as many argued at the time (tothe point of suggesting that Ariel Sharon be awarded the Nobel peaceprize), but rather to facilitate any subsequent military action againstthe Gaza Strip and to consolidate control of the West Bank.After the disengagement from Gaza, Hamas took over, first in democraticelections, then in a pre-emptive coup staged to avert an American-backedtakeover by Fatah. Meanwhile, Israeli border guards continued to killanyone who came too close, and an economic blockade was imposed on theStrip. Hamas retaliated by firing missiles at Sderot, giving Israel apretext to use its air force, artillery and gunships. Israel claimed to beshooting at 'the launching areas of the missiles', but in practice thismeant anywhere and everywhere in Gaza. The casualties were high: in 2007alone three hundred people were killed in Gaza, dozens of them children.Israel justifies its conduct in Gaza as a part of the fight againstterrorism, although it has itself violated every international law of war.Palestinians, it seems, can have no place inside historical Palestineunless they are willing to live without basic civil and human rights. Theycan be either second-class citizens inside the state of Israel, or inmatesin the mega-prisons of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If they resistthey are likely to be imprisoned without trial, or killed. This isIsrael's message.Resistance in Palestine has always been based in villages and towns; whereelse could it come from? That is why Palestinian cities, towns andvillages, dummy or real, have been depicted ever since the 1936 Arabrevolt as 'enemy bases' in military plans and orders. Any retaliation orpunitive action is bound to target civilians, among whom there may be ahandful of people who are involved in active resistance against Israel.Haifa was treated as an enemy base in 1948, as was Jenin in 2002; now BeitHanoun, Rafah and Gaza are regarded that way. When you have the firepower,and no moral inhibitions against massacring civilians, you get thesituation we are now witnessing in Gaza.But it is not only in military discourse that Palestinians aredehumanised. A similar process is at work in Jewish civil society inIsrael, and it explains the massive support there for the carnage in Gaza.Palestinians have been so dehumanised by Israeli Jews ? whetherpoliticians, soldiers or ordinary citizens ? that killing them comesnaturally, as did expelling them in 1948, or imprisoning them in theOccupied Territories. The current Western response indicates that itspolitical leaders fail to see the direct connection between the Zionistdehumanisation of the Palestinians and Israel's barbarous policies inGaza. There is a grave danger that, at the conclusion of 'Operation CastLead', Gaza itself will resemble the ghost town in the Negev.
Ilan Pappe is chair of the history department at the University of Exeter and co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine came out in 2007.