Hussein Ibish
NOW Lebanon (Opinion)
January 10, 2012 - 1:00am

It never ceases to amaze how much leaders of Hamas and the Israeli far-right agree about. But the latest iteration of this bizarre de facto alliance is a real doozy: alone in the world, they both say the Gaza Strip is not occupied by Israel.

Part of the Israeli right has been trying to claim that the occupation of Gaza has been over since Ariel Sharon pulled Israeli forces out of the interior of Gaza in 2005. The then-prime minister accurately described this as a “unilateral redeployment,” not a “withdrawal.”

Moreover, Israel continues to regard Gaza as part of the territories subject to final-status negotiations. It has been such a source of political tension in Israel that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has suggested a real withdrawal from Gaza, to the deep chagrin of his colleagues. If Israel had, in fact, already done so, there wouldn’t be any argument about his extremely controversial suggestions.

Of course, the same Israeli rightists also say that none of the territories are occupied, merely “disputed.” But if there is any “dispute” about the legal status of the territories occupied in 1967, it’s not between Israel and the Palestinians; it’s between Israel and the international community, including the UN Security Council, which has been unanimous on the issue since the occupation began.

Now Gaza-based Hamas hardliner Mahmoud Zahhar has made the same claim: Gaza is no longer occupied by Israel. He’s saying this in order to try to promote the idea that it is Hamas’ “resistance,” which is now almost entirely rhetorical, as opposed to the negotiations carried out by the Palestine Liberation Organization, that has actually produced gains for Palestinian independence.

I can’t imagine that these ludicrous comments won’t harm him even further in the eyes of other Palestinians, including members of Hamas. I’m sure there isn’t a single person in Gaza who doesn’t know full well the extent to which they are still legally and politically occupied by Israel. And that is true even if Israeli forces are not permanently stationed in the territory’s population centers and even if settlements have been evacuated.

On some matters there are arbiters authorized to distinguish between opinions and established legal and political facts. When it comes the matter of belligerent occupation, there are three key international arbiters that determine the legal reality in such matters: the UN Security Council, the United Nations more broadly, and the consensus of the international community, all in that order of relevance.

Israel continues to control Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, the entry and exit of people and goods (with the exception of the Egypt crossing), its electromagnetic spectrum, a “buffer zone” in which unarmed Palestinians are routinely killed, and deploys into all parts of the territory and withdraws at will. As a consequence, no impartial observer can or does doubt that occupation continues.

Clearly the Security Council continues to consider Gaza under Israeli occupation. The UN Secretariat made its position clear in 2008, stating that “the UN defines Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.”

As for the international community, no country other than Israel has ever suggested that Gaza is not still under Israeli occupation. Even the websites of the United States government continue to list Gaza as part of the territories occupied by Israel. So does every edition of the State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, including the 2010 edition released on April 8, 2011.

Perhaps the weirdest argument made by some supporters of Israel is that Gaza is no longer occupied because the territory has been blockaded, and that these two things are somehow mutually exclusive. Obviously a territory may be blockaded without being occupied. But an occupied area may also be blockaded.

Some also complain that since UNESCO has admitted Palestine, implicitly including the Gaza Strip, as a full member, this somehow means the territories can no longer be considered occupied. But territories of member states of UN agencies or other multilateral institutions can indeed be occupied by other member states.

Some right-wing Israelis want to say that Gaza is no longer occupied because they don’t want any responsibility for the people who live there, while maintaining all the prerogatives of an occupying force. Some Hamas leaders, meanwhile, want to pretend that they have “liberated” an area that remains not only occupied but besieged.

However, their opinions are irrelevant. The Security Council, UN Secretariat, and the international community, including the United States, is absolutely unanimous: Gaza is still occupied by Israel. This judgment is based on the fundamental realities of the situation in the territory. It has the status of a legal and political fact, whatever dishonest politicians want to claim for their own purposes.


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