This post was originally written several days ago. In light of the current escalation in violence, we thought we should not publish it or at least postpone publication. Gaza may be in the headlines, but people are naturally busy discussing the rockets, providing more security for communities and the air force strikes on the Gaza Strip. It’s hard to talk about policy in the midst of violence, casualties and fear, but unfortunately, violence is present in one way or another, even in between “escalations”. It shouldn’t block our ability to engage in public debate about the policy toward Gaza, especially when there are new reasons for concern that there actually isn’t any clear policy on this issue. So we’ve decided to go ahead and publish the post. We hope that the current crisis ends quickly and without any more casualties.
It was just this week that we discovered that the National Security Council’s plan for easing the closure was never raised for discussion by the cabinet, and we now learn of another instance where an important policy has never came up for public debate. An officer involved in coordination with the Palestinian Authority told the Jewish Chronicle that the purpose of the separation policy is to “stop Hamas from infiltrating the West Bank”. The officer added that, “The two ways of preventing Hamas personnel and ideology from entering [the West Bank] are not allowing commercial ties or movement of civilians”.
How does banning the sale of strawberries prevent Hamas from infiltrating the West Bank or how does separating families and forbidding students from travelling stop ideology from being disseminated, especially given this is the age of the internet? This is the third explanation we have heard so far justifying the separation policy and yet still, there has been no public debate about this policy and the impact it has on the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis.
How can this argument be reconciled with a previous statement made by the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) that the decision to ban Gaza-made goods for sale in the West Bank was made at the political level, not the army? The head of COGAT, Major General Eitan Dangot, said that the purpose of the separation policy is to “pressure Hamas and support the Palestinian Authority”. On the other hand, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that it is the firing of rockets from Gaza that is the reason for the separation policy. He did not explain if the policy is meant to stop rockets from being fired or exactly how it might do so.
So, in short, we’ve now heard three different explanations from different officials, but no one, official reason. In testimony before the Turkel Commission on August 31, 2010, Major General Dangot said (Hebrew) that: “The separation of Gaza from the West Bank is a very important concept from a security perspective. This is for established, proven reasons and I will gladly provide more details about it later on”. He did not provide more details later in his testimony. We are still waiting.