On Sunday evening, the 35th government of Israel, which considers itself a national emergency government, will be sworn in. Though the government was purportedly formed in response to the socio-economic crisis created by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, it appears that formalizing Israel’s annexation of sizable areas of the West Bank is the most urgent item on its agenda. Residents of Gaza, it seems, will continue to live under Israel’s ongoing control, though Israel tries to refute its existence, as they have for the last 15 years, after decades of direct military rule.
When Israel implemented the Disengagement Plan in 2005, it maintained substantive control over Gaza’s pedestrian and commercial crossings. It continues to use this control to deny movement of people and goods, including between the parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza and the West Bank. Israel still wields exclusive control over Gaza’s airspace, sea space, and electromagnetic space. Through all this, it holds sway over almost every aspect of life in the Strip.
Israel’s moral and legal responsibility to protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza arises not only from how central it has been in creating the circumstances in which they live, but also from the fact that the control it maintains means it is still an occupying power, even if its military no longer sits permanently within the Strip. The governments of Israel have repeatedly chosen to disavow this responsibility, framing their decisions on Gaza as either humanitarian gestures or security prerequisites. Amid the coronavirus crisis, Israel found various ways to skirt its usual restrictions, and allow, for example, quick entrance of needed equipment and materials, showing on a small scale what is possible given the political will. A poll we conducted demonstrated support among the Israeli public for a more pragmatic approach to Gaza.
The incoming Israeli prime minister and his future replacement under the coalition rotation agreement have both already expressed support for formal annexation in areas of the West Bank. They have both taken part in Israel’s systematic attempts to sever the economic, social and cultural connections between Palestinians living in Gaza and those living in the West Bank. The political goals behind these actions, namely – the deliberate reshaping of facts on the ground so as to remove millions of Palestinians from the demographic equation – should elicit a far stronger response from countries around the world, who for years have invested both energy and money in the region. Now Israel is antagonizing the European countries whose aid has kept Palestinians’ heads just above water, while counting on the support of the United States administration to rubber stamp further dispossession and deprivation.
Israel has fragmented Palestinians into isolated groups devoid of fundamental human rights, and it has done so intentionally, to the detriment of us all. A broad government like the one being sworn in today could have had the authority to make different kinds of decisions, ones that offer a better future for residents of the region as a whole. We aren’t holding our breath for something different, but we are convinced that carrying on the cruel and injurious conduct of those that came before it by further formalizing oppression and destruction will similarly stain this government’s hand. If there is room for hope it would be because of what the global crisis created by the pandemic has taught us all, that caution, care and respect are the only things that save lives.