Disengagement From Justice

(A Palestinian Family Waits To Cross The Abu Holi Checkpoint In Gaza Yesterday./by Karel Prinsloo -- Associated Press)
By Laila El-Haddad
Thursday, July 28, 2005

I spent eight hours at Gaza's Erez border crossing with Israel last month, waiting for Israeli approval to attend a reception in the West Bank, only to be denied entry based on dubious "security reasons."

I'm a Palestinian mother of a stir-crazy 16-month-old boy, a journalist and a Harvard graduate. I'm not sure exactly what's threatening about me, though my son might disagree, if he could sit still long enough to do so.

Being Palestinian is enough, an Israeli army spokesperson told me.

"As a Palestinian from Gaza, you are considered a security threat first, a journalist second."

And that equation is not set to change anytime soon, not even after disengagement.

Under the plan, Israel will start evacuating the 21 Gaza settlements and four small settlements in the northern West Bank next month. But it will also maintain control of Gaza's air, sea and borders, and will reserve the right to reenter the Strip at any time, effectively making Gaza the world's largest open-air prison, with 1.5 million Palestinian inmates.

The Gaza disengagement will simply restructure Israel's occupation. Instead of controlling our lives from within, Israel will control Gaza from without.

Ariel Sharon's plan, in his own words, is strategic in nature. It is a politico-strategic maneuver intended to stop a negotiated peace in its tracks.

In withdrawing from Gaza, Sharon intends to consolidate his grip on the West Bank by holding on to the four main West Bank settlement blocs, a move that has been publicly endorsed by President Bush in a reversal of the U.S. position since 1967. That position had labeled the settlements "an obstacle to peace."

The withdrawal aims to minimize military casualties in Gaza, ensuring Israel's security according to a shortsighted equation that will render a contiguous Palestinian state impossible, derailing the negotiated peace deal envisioned in the "road map."

Palestinians in the West Bank are reminded of this reality every day. Israel's barrier, whose route was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice last year, continues to snake its way around their villages and towns, annexing their land and livelihoods in the process.

In the West Bank village of Bil'in, where nonviolent demonstrations are held weekly to protest the wall's encroachment, 60 percent of the village farmland is being annexed to make room for settlement expansion.

And earlier this month, the Israeli cabinet approved a new route for its West Bank barrier that will isolate 55,000 Palestinians, more than a quarter of the Palestinian population of occupied East Jerusalem, from the rest of the city. They will be forced to endure the uncertainty of checkpoints on a daily basis to attend schools or work or receive medical care. The barrier will also complete the isolation of East Jerusalem, the Palestinian capital, from 3.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

So, while disengagement will bring some relief for Gazans, it is by no means the end of the Israeli occupation. In June, my son and I spent 10 hours at Rafah Crossing -- Gaza's only route to the outside world -- waiting for Israeli approval to return home from Egypt. We waited, crammed with 80 others like sardines in a tin, in a bus without air conditioning in the scorching June heat, as the air thinned and my son nearly fainted.

During those long hours waiting at borders, with all that entails -- uncertainty, arbitrariness and humiliation -- it becomes painfully clear how little Sharon's much-lauded Gaza disengagement plan will change the lives of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Like the much-maligned Oslo peace process before it, which for 10 years was just that, a process and nothing more, this disengagement cannot yield a lasting peace unless it brings justice for the Palestinian people. So long as the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye to illegal settlements in the West Bank and Israel maintains its control of Gaza's borders -- including its sea and air space and land crossings -- the disengagement will suffer a fate similar to that of Oslo.

And another generation of young Palestinians, including my son, Yousuf, will grow up prisoners in their own land, with only their imaginations left free to wander.

The writer reports from Gaza for English Aljazeera.net.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company