Never mind ending the siege, what about the occupation?
The Gaza Strip is a mere 40 kilometres from the West Bank. To put into perspective how close they are to each other, that is less than a third of the distance that separates Abu Dhabi and Dubai. However, the Palestinian territories are so hermetically sealed by Israel that they seem worlds apart.
According to Israeli NGO Gisha, “whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians”, more than a quarter of the 1.8 million people living in Gaza have relatives in the West Bank. Israel’s restrictions mean they are unable to visit each other.
This violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that an individual has the right to “liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence”. It is also a violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords, in which Israel agreed to recognise Gaza and the West Bank as “a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved”.
This geographical separation was created by Israel’s establishment in 1948, entrenched since its occupation of these territories in 1967, and greatly intensified in recent years. This is being done as a matter of policy, to enhance Israel’s ability to divide and rule the Palestinians. As tragic as this is, it is expected behaviour from an occupying power.
More troubling is the Palestinian factions’ own culpability in this regard.
And amid Israel’s ongoing onslaught against Gaza, even sympathisers of the Palestinian cause are inadvertently succumbing and contributing to this separation.
Open combat in 2007 between the dominant Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, resulted in the former governing Gaza and the latter governing the West Bank. Since then, both have focused on consolidating their rule over their respective territories.
In often engaging in one-upmanship, and physical and verbal attacks against each other, Fatah and Hamas have placed party interests above those of the nation. While seeing themselves as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, they have contributed to its division.
Hopes raised by the national reconciliation deal earlier this year were quickly dashed. No sooner had a unity government been sworn in than Israel ran rampage in the West Bank and then Gaza, with the aim of destroying the reconciliation process.
Both Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority have danced to Israel’s tune. They have traded accusations, acted independently rather than in unison, and threatened to scrap the reconciliation deal, which now exists in name only.
Gaza and the West Bank seem further apart than ever.
“At this point we’re giving solidarity with each other as separate entities in Palestine,” wrote Ramallah-based blogger Mariam Barghouti. “The fractions act as sovereign states.”
A worrying development in recent weeks has been expressions of solidarity with Gaza specifically, rather than with Palestine as a whole. Demonstrators worldwide hold banners such as “Hands off Gaza”. What about the rest of the occupied territories? Israel’s blockade of Gaza has created a discourse whereby even supporters of the Palestinian cause are starting to view it as a distinct entity, even if they do not mean to.
Many call for the lifting of the siege, without mentioning the wider necessity of ending the occupation and colonisation of Palestine. As if simply lifting the blockade would fulfil Gaza’s aspirations and rights, and as if Gazans would be happy to leave their compatriots in the West Bank and in refugee camps to their own fate.
This is what Israel may want or expect the world to think if it ever does lift its blockade, in an attempt to portray itself as making a painful concession and to draw the line there. It may also hope that given enough time, the international community – and even the Palestinians – will come to accept this separation as a fait accompli. This kind of propaganda and strategy should be proactively opposed.
Undoubtedly, the vast majority of Palestine’s supporters view the territories as indivisible. However, a new generation of sympathisers, particularly in the West – galvanised by the current destruction of Gaza, but perhaps lacking knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – might not necessarily.
This may be even more likely among those who do not have a stance. Opinion polls in the West reveal that one should never underestimate the level of public ignorance over the fundamentals of the conflict.
Amid Israel’s constant and various attempts to divide Palestinians along geographic, political and religious lines, there must be a clear and consistent message about our collective national identity. We are not Gazans, West Bankers, Jerusalemites, Israeli-Arabs, Bedouin, diaspora, Muslim or Christian – we are Palestinian.
Sharif Nashashibi is a journalist and analyst on Arab affairs
Updated: August 25, 2014 04:00 AM