January 27, 2008
The Observer (UK)

Gaza's Falling Wall Changes Middle East Map

by Peter Beaumont

They came and went in lorries and gas tankers, in flatbed trucks loaded with cattle and sheep, in coaches and mini-buses, loaded by the dozen in the backs of trucks, all shuttling across Gaza's southern border. Four days ago they went on foot like refugees, but yesterday for the first time the trucks drove through and it felt like an unstoppable momentum had been reached. . . .

The four short days since Hamas blew down the six-metre metal border wall built by Israeli soldiers before the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and troops has forged a confusing new reality on the ground. What first was being treated as a holiday from the oppressive conditions of Gaza under Israeli siege, by yesterday was taking on the attributes of an entitlement - one for long refused.

. . . Gaza's problems are the consequence of a longer-lasting pattern of behaviour whose wounds and deformities are beyond transformation overnight. 'Since September 2000 and the beginning of the second intifada the Israelis stopped using Palestinian labour. Those going to the "other side" could earn between three and five times as much as labourers in Gaza. It was hugely important to Gaza.

'It had a huge economic impact. The figures now show that we now have unemployment running at in excess of 55 per cent, and 80 per cent of the population lives below the World Bank's poverty level.'

But it is only part of a history of Gaza's decline. In truth that began with the al-Nakba - 'the Catastrophe' - as Palestinians call the Arab-Jewish war of 1948 that saw the establishment of the state of Israel. Then, Gaza's population of 80,000 was swollen by the influx of 200,000 refugees, whose descendants occupy Gaza's UN-run string of camps.

Occupied by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967, which seized it from Egyptian rule, the long years of direct Israeli rule ended with the Oslo peace accords that failed to see the end of Israeli settlement within the Gaza Strip. That only ended with Israeli's unilateral 'withdrawal' in September 2005 that left Israel still largely in charge of access to Gaza, its airspace and access to the sea. Israel provided two-thirds of Gaza's electricity, policed the land routes into which fuel, medicines and raw materials must pass, and controlled access of Palestinians to labour markets - Gaza's population was in effect imprisoned.

Never wealthy, Gaza's economic collapse was rapidly accelerated following the election in 2006 of the militant Hamas in the Palestinian elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Amid factional fighting between Hamas and the previously dominant Fatah, and a widespread breakdown in law and order, Hamas finally assumed power from Fatah in a few days of violence seven months ago. Israel's response was to declare a Hamas-led Gaza a 'hostile entity', further strangling a sealed off Gaza Strip and leading to severe shortages of cement, cigarettes and other basic goods, in a move that further deepened poverty.

That noose was tightened even harder this month after a rise in rocket attacks led Israel to impose a complete closure on the Gaza Strip - relenting later to allow in some fuel and humanitarian supplies amid international horror at what was being done to Gaza as a whole. But deep and lasting damage had been inflicted, long before the events of the last week. . . .


Donald Macintyre, "Israeli Missiles Pound Gaza Into New Dark Age," Independent, June 29, 2006

Ibrahim Barzak, "Israel Says It Won't Work With Coalition," Associated Press, March 15, 2007

Stephen Lendman, "Forty Years Of Israeli Occupation,", May 23, 2007

Israel Shamir, "Breakout from Ghetto Gaza,", January 26, 2008

[It has been proven that through popular disobedience, the Palestinians manage to break the Israeli rules of the game and bring their concerns back to the center of global attention - as well as intensifying criticism of Israel. The "armed struggle," especially when it is aimed at civilians, achieves the opposite: It presents the Palestinians as the aggressor, not as the occupied party under attack, thereby weakening their global standing. --Amira Hass, "Finally, a popular uprising," Haaretz, January 30, 2008]

Kathleen and Bill Christision, "Talking to a Wall - Palestine in the Mind of America," CounterPunch, February 14, 2008

John Pilger, "Bringing Down the New Berlin Walls,", February 14, 2008

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