Gaza City—“I’ll go visit Auntie Lina in Ramallah after I obtain a tasreeh (an Israeli permit) and when Erez checkpoint is open, OK mama?”
This is what my son, who is almost three years old, told me the other day after having a chat with his cousin Laila who lives in Ramallah, in the West Bank. The problem is that during the last five years I have received permission to go to the West Bank only four or five times. Although I have a West Bank identity card from Nablus, I live and work with my husband and son in Gaza City. My son already knows the world: tasreeh , tukh (shoot) and Erez checkpoint is closed.
But now, as implementation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan approaches, I fear that Gaza will become even more of a prison than it is already. While some may think of disengagement as setting Gaza free, in reality there is to be no sovereignty for Gazans. This is not a “withdrawal” from Palestinian land—but actually a redeployment of forces. Israel will still control the sea, air and borders while reserving the right to invade. The only thing the government is relinquishing direct control over is the people. This is not the end of the occupation.
Of course we are happy to see Israeli soldiers and illegal settlers leave Gaza, but no Palestinian believes Israel is going to now turn to the “road map” sponsored by the US, EU, Russia and the UN to negotiate a final status agreement. We are having trouble even imagining an independent state these days as the Israeli “security barrier” marches through West Bank Palestinian villages and Jerusalem itself. Hundreds of checkpoints and road blocks tightly constrict our movements within the West Bank and Gaza. Land is still being confiscated for the wall, settlements and settler-only roads, eroding any hope of a viable contiguous state. The legitimate need for Israeli security cannot justify these practices.
Our internal problems are not helped either by this unilateral redeployment, disconnected as it is from a strong, hopeful peace process. The chaos from the power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority hurts us all, Israelis and Palestinians. The easiest way to deflate Hamas is to truly end the occupation. This can be achieved by implementing UN resolutions leading to a Palestinian state on the land occupied in 1967 including East Jerusalem with a just solution for the refugee problem.
People who voted for Hamas in recent municipal elections did not vote for their political program but against the corruption and mismanagement of the PA. Our presidential elections in January demonstrated that about 80% of Palestinians support leaders who back peaceful solutions and negotiations. We want the PA to move forward with steps to improve our laws, security and governance.
As I raise my young son I teach him about Israelis, that they are people like us. I teach him that we must reach out and connect. But all my words and the example of my friendships with Israelis evaporate when he sees neighbors denied access to the hospital due to Israeli curfews and his school damaged by Israeli missiles.
Despite our feeling that redeployment is meant to divide Gazans from West Bankers—who knows how we will visit and work with each other after August 17—we continue to hold on to our common identity as Palestinians. Our unity is strong—this is not fanaticism or some anti-Israel sentiment, it’s just who we are.
Despite the hardships of the occupation, Palestinians do recognize the Israeli state. Even refugees from what is now Israel accept that they would become Israeli citizens if allowed to return. Why can’t Israel accept our equally valid right to a state of our own?