Dismantle Refugee Camps, not Jewish Settlements
Dismantle Refugee Camps, not Jewish Settlements

Now that the Israeli Knesset has approved it, the Sharon disengagement plan will ostensibly move forward. According to the revised plan, all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, with their houses, schools, and farms will be evacuated by the summer of 2005. The 8000 residents will be involuntarily resettled, with compensation, in other areas of Israel. The Israeli military will withdraw, and the territory will be turned over to the Palestinian Authority to become a nascent Islamic state. Judging from comments by world leaders, 99.99% of the world is in favor of this plan. President Bush supports it. Collin Powell is excited about it. Kofi Anan is already planning for the next evacuation from the West Bank. European leaders are eager to recognize a Palestinian state and establish diplomatic relations. None of the humanitarian rights organizations have said one word in opposition to the forced evacuation. The pollsters claim that most Israelis favor disengagement from Gaza. It appears that the only opposition to this plan comes from the 8000 Jewish settlers who will be evicted from their homes, and a handful of Israeli "right-wing extremists." Yet, with all this support for the disengagement plan, one key question remains unanswered: What justification is there, under international law, for evicting the Jewish settlers and establishing another Islamic state in the region? Or to phrase it differently, what legal justification is there for hanging a big neon sign on the Gaza Strip that says "No Jews Allowed?" This question can best be answered by asking a number of other questions.

1) What are these Jewish settlements? Most of these settlements consist of about 300 individuals who have lived in the area for the last 20 to 30 years. They are composed mostly of 1500 idealistic, young families, struggling to make a living. They live quietly and peacefully. They haven't smuggled any weapons, blown up any buses or hotels, launched rocket attacks against their neighbors, or decapitated anyone. Why should their homes businesses be dismantled while their families are forced to relocate? Why should the children have to adapt to new schools and find new friends? There are about an equal number of Christians living in the Gaza Strip as Jews. Why are the Christians allowed to live there, but the Jews have to be evicted? What if a group of families from Kenya moved to the Gaza Strip and started an agricultural settlement. Would Kofi Anan say that they have to leave because they are not Arab, or could they stay because they are not Jews? What if a group of New York Hasidim wanted to start an isolated community in Montana and the local ranchers decided that they didn't want "their kind" living there? Would President Bush support the ranchers? Would the liberal American Jews say that the Hasidim have no right to live in Montana? What would happen if a European country voted to designate an area in Europe where Jews are forbidden to live? Would that plan also have international support?

2) What legal rights do the Palestinian Arabs have to the Gaza Strip? Contrary to popular belief, the Gaza Strip is not "Palestinian land." Most of the Arabs living there are not indigenous, but fled there during the 1948 war. For the last 37 years, the area has been under Israeli control. Prior to that, from 1948-1967, the area was illegally occupied by Egypt which used it to stage terrorist attacks against Israel. Those 19 years were the only period in the history of the region that Jews were completely barred from living there. Prior to that, it was under British control, and before that it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Jews have a long and turbulent history associated with Gaza. The Palestinian Arabs have no more right to control that land than the Jews have. Both Jews and Arabs have equal rights to live there in harmonious coexistence.

3) What will happen to Gaza after the Jews are evicted and the Israeli army withdraws? According to Muhammed Dahlan of the PA, as soon as the "Israeli occupation" ends, Gaza will become a peaceful, secure rudiment of a democratic Palestinian state. Is there any evidence to support that assumption? There isn't a single, democratic Islamic state in the whole world, why would this be different? The Palestinian Authority does not have a good record for maintaining peace and stability. Since the disengagement vote, have the Palestinians made any effort to effect a smooth transition? Rocket attacks have only increased. What happened when the Israeli military withdrew from Bethlehem and Hebron? They immediately became hotbeds of crime, violence, corruption, and terrorism. Why would anyone expect Gaza to become any different? What happened when the Israeli military withdrew from southern Lebanon? Hizbollah immediately moved in to fill the vacuum and expand its terrorist operations. Today, southern Lebanon has 11,000 missiles aiming at Israel. Hizbollah is already extending its tentacles into Gaza.


So what is the solution to resolving the conflict and turbulence in the Gaza Strip?

The Gaza Strip is a valuable piece of real estate that presents a golden opportunity for becoming a model for peaceful coexistence. Now that the concept of population transfer and resettlement has become accepted by the international community, it can be applied to the Arabs living in the Gaza strip. The population density in the Gaza Strip is among the highest in the world. A secret referendum among the Gaza Arabs would probably indicate that at least 50% would accept voluntary resettlement in another country if it would provide better living conditions. Instead of dismantling peaceful, harmless Jewish communities, the "refugee"camps which foment hatred and violence should be dismantled. The UNWRA should not be supporting refugee camps for over 50 years. After a half-million Arabs are voluntarily resettled in other countries, the hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid going to the Palestinians can go towards building modern residential and commercial centers. Gaza has a long coastline which can be used to develop a shipping port and recreational areas. Unlike the Judean Hills, Gaza has flat land that can be used for an airport. Over 20% of the land is arable and can be used to grow crops with water from experimental water reclamation projects. The Arabs, Jews, and Christians living there could form an autonomous, democratic, representative government. Only security would be under Israeli control. The benefits of harmonious existence and mutual cooperation would serve as a model for other areas in the region.

The answer to the first question now becomes obvious: There is no justification for evicting the Jews in Gaza in order to establish another racist, intolerant, autocratic, violent Islamic state. That would only validate and encourage more terrorism. Instead of labeling the peaceful Jewish settlers as right-wing extremists and blaming them for the turbulence in Gaza, the international community should be directing its efforts and resources towards developing Gaza into a modern residential, commercial, and recreational center. Arabs, Christians, and Jews will experience the benefits of harmonious coexistence and mutual cooperation. In time, these benefits will become infectious throughout the Middle East. If the Arabs can't accept this arrangement, then their true intentions to destroy the State of Israel will become readily apparent to all their supporters that are so concerned about their humanitarian rights.


(c) 2004, I. Zwick, NYC

Israel Zwick is a commentator on the Middle East based in New York.

Reprinted by permission.