The government hospital in Rafah last week received a donation from a Palestinian NGO - four mortuary refrigerators with room for 24 bodies, in addition to the old refrigerator, which catered for only six bodies. There won't be any need for the macabre photographs of the dead casualties, held a week or more in commercial refrigerators ordinarily used to hold food.
The new equipment is the quintessence of the Palestinian expectations for the coming year or two, at least: Sharon will try to advance his disengagement plan; the IDF will continue to strike in Gaza; Rafah will continue to be the focus of those attacks; many Palestinians will be killed and many will be rendered homeless. While in Israel there will be debate about formulas for disengagement, Palestinians will try to strike at the army, mine roads, develop the Qassam, and get weapons from whatever source they can.
In Israel the debate will be over the pain of evacuating settlements, Egypt will make its proposals, and the IDF will demolish more Palestinian homes and what remains of their fields, orchards and groves. But quietly. Just like overnight on Saturday, when another 23 homes of refugees were demolished in J block of the Rafah refugee camp. Who heard about it? Who protested?
These scenes of destruction, which have been part of life in Rafah and Khan Yunis since 2001, usually don't appear on our TV screens, in our consciousness or our consciences. Already, the number of Palestinians who have lost their homes in Gaza due to house demolitions - some 17,000, according to UNRWA - is more than double the number of Israeli settlers in the Strip. That's why the dragged-out talk in Israel about disengagement sounds, in Rafah in particular and in the Strip in general, like an Israeli trick to escape the daily and very contemporary reality of destruction.
The disengagement Sharon is talking about, they say in Gaza, is the disengagement of Gaza from the West Bank. In other words, disconnecting the Palestinians in Gaza from their brethren. In other words, driving another stake into the two-state solution, if by Palestinian state the intention was for a viable state and not a collection of disconnected enclaves. Therefore, the Israeli debates about disengagement are interpreted in the Gaza Strip as another, successful attempt by Israel to evade responsibility for the occupied territory.
And Sharon is improving on the way his predecessors did the same thing. Disconnecting Gaza's residents from the West Bankers began a long time ago - in 1991, when Israel began the policy of closures and reduced Palestinian freedom of movement to a minimum. The disconnection has worsened since 1994. In effect, it became one of the Oslo agreement's frameworks, as Oslo was implemented in the territories, even though the agreement recognizes that the West Bank and Gaza are one territorial unit. There are three main aspects to this disconnection:
Due to the agreements, Israel continued to rule the Palestinian population, meaning it determined the number of Palestinians who could settle in the Palestinian Authority territories, and the production of Palestinian identity cards required Israeli approval. Changing addresses inside the territories was declared a PA "right." But Israel, by virtue of it recording all the details in the ID cards, often prevented changes of address from Gaza to the West Bank, including cases of people who had long since moved to the West Bank as children, went to school there, and made families. Such Gazans have been living for years as "illegals" in the West Bank, living under constant threat of expulsion to Gaza.
Israeli control over Palestinian movement gradually resulted in a decline in the number of Palestinians attending school at institutions of higher education in the West Bank. Permits to be in the West Bank were not extended, students became illegals, or remained stuck in Gaza and lost entire semesters. Educational institutions stopped registering Gazans. Families refused to send their children to the West Bank for fear they would not be able to see them until they finished their degrees. A similar decline was recorded in the number of Palestinians traveling to the West Bank for the reasons that freedom of movement is a basic liberty, which should not be stripped: health, family, friends, culture, leisure. For any reason at all.
According to the "interim" agreements, the Gaza water infrastructure is "independent," meaning the Palestinian population is supposed to supply its needs from the water pumps inside the boundaries of the Gaza Strip. The limited permission Israel gave the PA to develop its water system in the West Bank did not take into account the needs of Gaza. That's like telling Eilat and Arava residents that they must make do only with the water in their narrow geographic area. Because of overpumping, it is impossible to drink water from a faucet. In ever-increasing numbers, Palestinian households are adding filters to their home water supply systems or buying bottled water.
Presumably there are people in Israel who reckon and hope that under pressure of the distress and the facts on the ground, the Palestinians will accept the disconnection and its severe ramifications for their society and economics. Maybe their hopes will come true, for a limited period of time. But it is not the way to peace and security.
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