In discussions of Israel-Palestine, we Presbyterians hear frequently the call to “end the occupation”. Too often left out of the discussion, however, is the fact that for the 1.7 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip (about 40% of the Palestinian population), the occupation did in fact end almost 10 years ago. Israel voluntarily withdrew all security forces from Gaza in 2005. All Jewish residents left at the same time, and not a single Jew resides in Gaza today. There is no occupation in Gaza, and there are no Jewish settlements.
Hopes were high at the time of the Israeli withdrawal. International donors pledged billions for economic development in Gaza. If Gaza prospered peacefully alongside Israel, the next stage was expanding Palestinian sovereignty of the West Bank. The opportunity to end the occupation permanently, and establish a peaceful Palestinian state, seemed near.
Subsequent events dashed those hopes. In 2007 after a short period of fighting between Palestinian factions, the Palestinian Authority lost control of Gaza and the Islamist group Hamas took over. Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction and rejects peace. Under Hamas rule, over 8,000 rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians.
The Israeli city of Sderot sits just a mile or so from the border with Gaza and has taken the brunt of the rocket attacks. In March of this year alone, 70 rockets were fired at Sderot and surrounding areas. When alarms sound, Sderot residents have 15 seconds to get to bomb shelters. To understand what life has been like in Sderot since the end of the Gaza occupation, view the video below:
What happened in Gaza and Sderot brings home the concern of the average Israeli family. There is support for a Palestinian state committed to peace, but Israelis do not what to have to build bomb shelters on every playground in Israel. Ending the occupation is a goal, not a plan. Two states living side-by-side in peace is a plan, but such a peace can only be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, not through pressure campaigns directed at Israel alone.