In 2005, Israel officially withdrew from the Gaza Strip. But the withdrawal did not end Israel's effective control of the Palestinian territory in all vital regards, thus inflaming Palestinian resentment rather than diffusing it.
What Israel Did Not Give Up in Gaza
In August 2005, the last Israeli settlers left Gaza, followed by the last Israeli soldiers in September, as Israel pulled out of the Palestinian territory it had occupied since 1967. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza gave the general impression, at least in the Western press, that Israel was effectively turning over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. That was not, and still is not, the case. As B’Tselem, the Israeli information and human rights organization, documents:
- Israel continues to maintain complete control over the air and sea space of the Gaza Strip. No Palestinian may operate a seaport or an airport without Israeli approval, which limits Palestinians’ freedom of trade and travel.
- Israel continues to control the joint Gaza Strip-West Bank population registry, which means Israel gets to decide who is a “Palestinian resident” and who is a “foreigner.” Palestinians must seek Israeli approval for every individual who wants to move to the West Bank.
- The Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt was supposedly turned over to the Palestinian Authority. In fact, Israel continues to control the crossing to the extent that it may bar entry to “foreigners”—that is, Palestinians who are not residents of the Occupied Territories—or anyone it deems a security risk.
- Israel continues to maintain complete control of the movement of people and goods between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which Israel considers a “closed military area” off limits to anyone without a permit. West Bank residents are also forbidden from traveling aborad, including to the Gaza Striop, without a difficult-to-obtain Israeli permit.
- As far as trade is concerned, Israel controls the three crossing points in and out of Gaza (Karni, Sufa, and Kerem Shalom). Israel routinely closes the crossings to any exchange of goods, causing severe food and other shortages in Gaza.
- Israel still controls taxation and other levies in Gaza.
Why Palestinians Didn’t Buy Into Israel’s “Withdrawal”
To Palestinians, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza with only a matter of military retrenchment. It was not a turn-over of authority. The long list of powers and restrictions still wielded by Israel over Gazans shows to what extent that was the case.
In January 2006, Hamas sweept parliamentary elections, winning a majority. Soon after, the two dominant Palestinian factions in the territory — Hamas and Fatah — begin to clash. Israeli incursions in the territory continue. On June 8, 2006, for example, according to CBS News, “Israeli helicopters fired four missiles at a training camp in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, killing Jamal Abu Samhadana, the Palestinian government’s top security chief, and three other militants. Ten other people are wounded.”
A day later, CBS reported, “an explosion on a beach in Gaza kills eight Palestinians, including a family with three children having a picnic. The Palestinian government accuses Israel of firing the shell that caused the explosion. The Israeli defense minister would later deny that the military caused the explosion, blaming it on an explosive buried in the sand.” He was right to the extent that an inquiry put the blame on a 155mm shell that had been buried in the sand. But it was an Israeli shell. Either way, tensions mounted between Israel and Hamas.
On June 25, Hamas stages a raid on an Israeli outpost just outside Gaza and captures Gilad Shalit, a corporal in the Israeli Army Corps who holds French citizenship. Israel launches massive military raides in response, ostensibly to free Shalit. Hostilities quickly escalate. Israel imposes a blockade on Gaza, triggering a vicious cicle of slaughters and reducing Gaza to a humanitarian disaster unparalleled since 1967.
Hamas fired homemade missiles at Israel for almost two years. Half the rockets, crude and inaccurate, fell in Gaza itself. Few of the remaining rockets claimed lives, but some did, causing terror and property damage in southern Israel. Israeli retaliations have been much heavier. In the single week of June 5-11, 2008, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 11 Palestinians, including two children and an elderly man, were killed by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and 25, including nine children and five women, were wounded, the result of 32 Israeli incursions.