Sep 10 2005

So, Gaza was occupied

Published by at 3:49 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

For 37 years, Israel has consistently rejected Palestinians’ and the world view that the status of the areas its military took in 1967 was occupied. When Israel was not using the biblical terms of Judea and Samaria (to refer to the West Bank) they used the terms “administered territories” or “disputed territories”. That is until now.
After the evacuation of the illegal Jewish settlers and before the resolution of the international crossings, the Israelis want Palestinians to say the “O” word.  Despite Israel’s refusal to allow the reopening of Yasser Arafat International Airport in Gaza and the Rafah crossing point between Palestinian Gaza and Egypt, the Israelis want Palestinians to publicly proclaim that the occupation of Gaza is over. Well, to be exact, some in the Israeli government (mostly those in the National Security Council) want this statement, while Israeli officials in the foreign ministry are simply interested in a Palestinian statement saying that the Palestinian Authority and not Israel will (after the Israeli army leaves most of Gaza) be the party overall responsible for the strip.

Israeli officials and columnists are surprised that Palestinians are not too enthusiastic about rushing to make a declaration which they have been hoping to make for some time.  The official Palestinian reluctance is understandable as long as the airport and the land crossings (with all that means in security, customs and administrative responsibility) are not fully and permanently in Palestinian hands. Partial control means partial sovereignty and therefore partial end of occupation. Ending occupation is like pregnancy. You can’t be half pregnant.

But if these two sovereign crossings are fully placed in Palestinian hands, Israel would have a stronger case in making the claim that the PA needs to declare an end to occupation.  I personally think that the Palestinian leadership should not make any one-sided declaration about the full or partial end of the occupation until the Israelis are willing to make a much simpler declaration. By asking Palestinians to declare an end to occupation, they need to admit themselves that there was an occupation in Gaza and that there still is an occupation in the West Bank.

While such an Israeli acknowledgement would be nothing more than a recognition of the reality that it has been literally occupying Palestinians since 1967, such an admission would have far-reaching consequences.  The Fourth Geneva Convention, which was devised specifically to deal with cases of prolonged occupation (following the German occupation of most of Europe), deals specifically with the rights of persons (and property) in occupied territories. The Israeli government has consistently refused to recognise the Palestinian (as well as the Syrian) areas as occupied and therefore has not felt obliged to fulfil the mandate that such a recognition would entitle people under occupation.

International humanitarian law (of which the Fourth Geneva Convention is part) specifies, for example, that the occupying power is not allowed to take citizens from occupied territories into its country and is not allowed to bring its own citizens to live in occupied areas. So, now that the Israeli violation of bringing settlers illegally to the occupied areas has been rectified, it is natural to demand that Palestinians imprisoned in jails in Israel (also denied family visits since the Intifada) should be released into the areas that Israel is demanding Palestinians to say is no longer occupied.

Impeding movement of local citizens within occupied areas is also illegal, according to international law. Not only does this make the Israeli closures between West Bank cities and between these cities and occupied East Jerusalem illegal, it also makes illegal closure between freed Gaza and still occupied West Bank.

Declaring the end of occupation in Gaza should be equated with the recognition of the continuation of the occupation and, thus, all the Israeli violations still taking place in the West Bank, the latest of which was the illegal decision to build yet another 117 illegal houses in the Nablus-area exclusive settlement of Ariel for citizens of the occupying power.

Once Palestinians take full control and sovereignty over all of Gaza, including the borders with Egypt, they should begin rebuilding and using the international airport and simultaneously declare the end of the occupation in Gaza and demand the same for all remaining occupied territories that were forcefully taken in June 1967.

Printed in the The Jordan Times  Friday-Saturday, September 9-10, 2005

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