At Rosh HaShana dinner with a side of Gaza – hold the politics, please

By: Sari Bashi, Executive Director of Gisha

“Do you want to know what I can’t forgive?” my cousin’s mother-in-law asks me, “What they did in Gaza after we left”.
“Grandma! No politics, please”, says my cousin’s son, the family peacemaker. “It’s Rosh HaShana.”
“No, I want you to listen”, she says, directing her comments to me. “We gave them every possible opportunity. We cleared out of the whole place. They could have made a great life for themselves there. And what did they do? They destroyed everything and fired rockets at us”.

My cousin’s wife invites us to the table, covered with dishes of food and decorated with bowls of pomegranates and flowers. The flowers are from my cousin’s nursery; the pomegranates are a traditional symbol of the Jewish New Year. Hold the politics, please.

My cousin’s mother-in-law is not the only person from whom I hear that “we left Gaza, and in return they fired missiles at us”. We hear that message from newspaper columnists, military commentators and others, as well as at the holiday dinner table. This narrative is based on an almost intuitive principle that control equals responsibility. According to this approach, since Israel has left the Gaza Strip, it no longer bears any responsibility toward Gaza or its residents – particularly if they fire rockets at civilian communities inside Israel. A state of combat exists between the State of Israel and armed groups in Gaza, and you don’t have to be an expert in international law to know that, in wartime, obligations toward civilians are minimal. They must not be harmed intentionally or disproportionately, and they must be provided with humanitarian supplies – but not much more than that.

Attorney Tamar Feldman and I wrote “Scale of Control; Israel’s Continued Responsibility in the Gaza Strip”,a new position paper by Gisha, in response to this argument. Our legal analysis is based on the same basic principle: control equals responsibility. However, we argue that even after the disengagement, and although the extent of Israel’s control over the Gaza Strip has been reduced, it continues to control key aspects of life in Gaza.We cannot say, therefore, that the occupation has ended, even if there are signs of its gradual retreat. Accordingly, the extent of Israel’s responsibility toward the population in Gaza is also far above the humanitarian minimum mentioned above. Israel’s control of the passage of people and goods to and from Gaza effectively determines whether residents of the Strip can thrive and prosper. In our opinion, Israel is not only obliged to enable such prosperity, but it is actually in Israel’s interest to do so.

The framework proposed in Scale of Control is a logical division of the responsibility for the Strip between the various actors that exercise control over Gaza. We believe that an understanding of the complex situation in Gaza is essential to promotinga balanced discussion. Such an understanding can help decision-makers formulate policies which protect the rights of Gaza residents while meeting Israel’s security needs. Gaza is not going anywhere. Israel’s policy toward the Strip remains high on the political agenda, and discussion of the subject creeps onto the newspaper pages and into discussions around the holiday table. After years of closure, we believe that the time has come to consider a new policy.

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