Mindless in Gaza

An editor at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz bemoans how the Israeli media covers violence in and from Gaza as “two unrelated chronicles.” Oded Even Or writes: ” The overall ‘hostilities match’ is divided into separate narratives – one is devoted to listing incidents of violence directed at Israel, and receives page one placement, and the other tracks Israeli violence directed at Gaza – which, if reported at all, is buried somewhere deep in the newspaper and far from public attention.” This distorts the public’s views about Gaza and leaves Israelis unable to make much sense of violence originating from the territory, which Or accurately characterizes as “blowback.” The Israeli public ends up thinking “the Palestinian militant factions in Gaza are the embodiment of primal evil, and that their actions are motivated by hatred of Israelis and are unrelated to Israel’s actions.”

Or is right of course but it’s obvious that even he doesn’t know just how right he is. Israelis are, for the most part, oblivious to what happens in Gaza and Or is no exception.

To argue that violence from both sides must be considered as part of the same story is to argue for a parity between the two sides which simply doesn’t exist. Gaza is occupied and Israel maintains a brutal siege on the territory which escapes Or’s narrative entirely. The story is not one of two sides shooting at each other–but rather of one side, namely Israel, occupying a land whose denizens are resisting that occupation.

Occupation, as Lisa Hajjar pointed out in 2012, “is a legal designation of an international nature. Israel’s occupation of Gaza continues to the present day because (a) Israel continues to exercise ‘effective control’ over this area, (b) the conflict that produced the occupation has not ended, and (c) an occupying state cannot unilaterally (and without international/diplomatic agreement) transform the international status of occupied territory except, perhaps, if that unilateral action terminates all manner of effective control.”

The so-called disengagement of Israel from Gaza did not end the occupation of the territory, nor was it meant to. As Dov Weisglass, senior advisor of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Haaretz in 2004, “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

It is important to remember this because Israel’s status as an occupying power in Gaza does have legal consequences. Notably, Israeli claims of self-defense against rocket fire in Gaza have no legal basis. As Noura Erakat explained a few years ago, “A state cannot simultaneously exercise control over territory it occupies and militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is ‘foreign’ and poses an exogenous national security threat. In doing precisely that, Israel is asserting rights that may be consistent with colonial domination but simply do not exist under international law.”

To understand violence from Gaza it is not only crucial to consider cases of Israeli use of force against the occupied territory but also the daily suffering of Gazans as a result of Israel’s occupation and siege. Gazans are not mindlessly firing rockets into Israel nor are they simply reacting to Israel’s frequent use of force against them. Israeli violence against Gazans is a quotidian reality, which fundamentally shapes the life of Gazans. One can hardly expect them to acquiesce.