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gaza stripped
remembering the historical context of sharon's proposal
by rachel smith

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed a plan for pulling out of the Gaza Strip, an historically Palestinian-occupied area that the Israeli Defense Force captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. The Jerusalem Post reported today that Sharon offered to relocate Gaza settlers into nearby communities with the Israeli government footing the bill for moving day. The Knesset has yet to approve Sharon’s proposal and the Israeli people have responded to the proposal with lukewarm sentiment.

Sharon’s plan is also receiving harsh criticism from around the world, specifically due to unilateral, targeted military strikes against terrorist leaders in Gaza. At a time when the world has supposedly declared war on terrorism, it is surprising that targeted strikes against leaders of Hamas and other known terrorists are being lambasted as illegal uses of force. Besides, the Palestinians aren't willing partners in the peaceful evacuation of Israelis from disputed territories. A simple Google search for the Arab-Israeli Conflict is more enlightening than a week of commentary from supposed international experts.

Sometimes I wonder if politicians and news analysts are simply ignorant or purposely choose to look at the Arab-Israeli conflict in no historical context.

First of all, we must remember why the Conservative Likud party is the ruling party in Israel rather than the moderate Labour party. Yitzhak Rabin and current opposition party leader Shimon Peres were desperate to negotiate peace with the Arabs in the 1990’s. Rabin sent delegations to Syria in an attempt to give back the Golan Heights, to Jordan to establish peace with the late King Hussein, and to Oslo to establish common ground with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Hussein, who warmed up to Israel after the PLO attempted a coup in Jordan in 1985, was the only Arab leader who delivered a legitimate offer of peace.

In 1993, PLO leader Yasser Arafat agreed to the Oslo Accords, in which Israel made significant territorial and political concessions to the Palestinians, including relinquishing Jericho, Gaza and the West Bank to Palestinian control and the establishment of a legitimate Palestinian state. What resulted was not peace but a Palestinian intifada, terrorism, civilian casualties, and negative backlash from the Israeli people.

An Israeli extremist assassinated Rabin in 1995. Israelis voted in the conservative Likud party in 1996.

Although Israel attempted to honor the Oslo agreement, it was forced to abandon the peace process in 2000. Plans to evacuate Gaza and the West Bank have been on hold until now, and rather than supporting Israel in this difficult endeavor the international community continues to berate Sharon for taking necessary security precautions.

Palestinian and Arab extremists consistently meet acts of peace with violence. When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat negotiated peace with Israel and the return of territory that the IDF captured during the 1967 war, the Arab community erupted in violence culminating with the assassination of Sadat in 1981. The same story played out after the Oslo negotiations and there is no reason to presume that Israel will be free of terrorism after evacuating the Gaza Strip. Sharon is simply taking precautions so that the violent backlash will be minimized as much as possible.

It is very difficult to negotiate peace without the Palestinians as willing partners. It is unreasonable to expect Sharon to unilaterally evacuate Gaza with no promise of peace and no hope of ceasefire from the Palestinians, Hamas or other Arab extremists. Sharon should be applauded for taking steps toward peace even as there are continuous threats to his life and angry outcries from the Israeli people.

Pulling out of Gaza is an act of good faith in an attempt to finally get back on the path to peace that the Palestinians abandoned after the Oslo agreements. However, good faith doesn't protect against suicide bombers and Israel has a right to protect itself as it unilaterally takes steps toward peace.


Rachel was born in Florida, joined the military, moved to freezing Massachusetts for some dumb reason and is now returning to Florida. She enjoys reading, writing and bad 1970's television.

more about rachel smith


matt morin
6.14.04 @ 10:37p

I'd hardly say the Israelis are making a good faith attempt at peace either.

Just last month Israeli tanks and helicopters fired into a peaceful protest, killing women, children and other non-violent protesters.

Assassinating opposing leaders isn't exactly being Mother Theresa.

And basically sayin "Fuck you - I'm building a wall" is just crying out for "Oh yeah, watch how much good your fucking wall does to protect you."

Admittedly, I don't know a ton about this subject, but I know there are two sides to every story.

rachel smith
6.14.04 @ 10:52p

Assasinating opposition leaders is one thing. Targeting known terrorists is another. Nobody said anything about Mother Teresa, but Hamas is not a legitimate organization. Freedom fighters don't strap bombs to little boys or gun down mothers and their children in broad daylight.

As far as the "wall," it's about 5% cement and is planned to be around 95% wire fence. How much do you know about the artificially constructed barriers between Mexico and the United States? Mexicans aren't strapping explosives to themselves and charging through Texas with the intent to murder civilians, either.

Perhaps if you don't know too much about the subject it might not be totally outrageous to learn a little bit about it before jumping to conclusions.

dan gonzalez
6.14.04 @ 11:31p

Israel's wall does not force terrorism. Those assholes were blowing up innocent people long before there was a wall. The Palestinains do not have a reliable, stable government, nor do they have control over anything. Negotiating with them is a farce.

On the other hand, targeting known terrorists would be fine, but launching missiles into apartment complexes to kill one Hamas leader, 3 women and 7 kids isn't buying Israel anything. It's batshit. And the fact that Israel has no intention to ever pull out of the illegally settled West Bank is their most dishonest position.

I'm afraid the Palestinians blew the best deal they might ever get in the nineties, and Israel may just have to fight it out. They're paying $300K to incent people to move from Gaza. We'll see how that little acid test works out.


matt morin
6.15.04 @ 12:06a

Rachel, I did do a little research. It took me about 2 minutes on Google to find an opposing viewpoint that you didn't even bother to address.

It just took me another 2 minutes on the BBC Website to read about how, in 1967, Israel used force to grab land from Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The UN issued Security Council Resolution 242, stressing "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and calling for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict".

I also read about how, in 1982, Israeli forces killed hundreds of defenseless Palestinean refugees in what the BBC called "one of the worst atrocities of nearly a century of conflict in the Middle East."

And making a differentiation between a cement wall and a fence is ridiculous. It's still a method for keeping people out of land they consider rightfully theirs.

I'm not saying that getting on a bus and blowing up a few dozen people is right. What I'm saying is, your article basically blames the Palestinians for everything while acknowledging almost zero fault for Israelis.

I don't think it's totally outrageous to recognize that there are two sides to every story and that the Israelis may be just as much at fault as the Palestinians.

dan gonzalez
6.15.04 @ 12:33a

As I understand it, the Arabs sold Israel proper back in '48 or some such, and decided to take it back after the Isreali's made it arable. The land seizures in '67 (again, as I recall, I'm rusty on this) were partially defensive since terrorists were using strategic pieces of them to lob mortars and such into the civilian populace. It is true that every nation (besides Israel) in the UN considers the settlement (by civilians) of the seized lands to be illegal, few argue the necessity for security forces to be there. Correct me if I'm wrong, Rachel. (I know Matt will!)

rachel smith
6.15.04 @ 12:42a

Matt, first of all are you referring to Lebanon in 1982? If that's what you're referring to, Israeli forces didn't murder the Palestinians but Shamir gave military aid to the Christian government during the civil war. This was a huge mistake that the Israeli government acknowledged and apologized for. The Israeli people were also outraged and expressed their disgust with massive protests and a change in the ruling government.

Secondly, the 1967 war was a LEGAL use of force according to the U.N. and, well, common sense. The Straights of Tiran was the only trade route for Israel and the surrounding Arab countries literally had arms loaded and pointed at Israel.

Third of all, Israel has attempted to withdraw from the occupied territories again and again yet peace propositions are rejected.

No, Israel isn't just as at fault as the Palestinians for the Arab-Israeli conflict and I don't have to make an argument that I don't agree with. I don't "bother" to address an opposing viewpoint if I find it meritless. The point of what I wrote was to give historical context to current events based on information from a variety of sources, not just the BBC, which is notoriously anti-Israel anyway.

The security barrier that Sharon is constructing in Israel would NOT prevent Palestinians from entering land that's "theirs." That's not even what the controversy's about. The loony left, which I'm usually a member of I guess, charges that the barrier will keep Palestinians IN, creating ghetto type communities and an apartheid state. This is not a legitimate claim as there will be plenty of checkpoints, and Arab citizens enjoy full and equal civil rights in Israel anyway. The only people who will not be able to pass in and out of the barrier are people who are carrying weapons. If you look at a map of the proposed barrier, you'll see it's being constructed on land that belongs to Israel and as a sovereign state Israel may constuct any kind of artificial barriers it wants. Like I said, look at the borders between the U.S. and Mexico.

matt morin
6.15.04 @ 12:53a

If you want to give your opinion on how Palestine has ruined chances for peace, that's one thing. To write a "historical context" article while leaving out 50% of the historical context is another thing all together.

Here's a good journalistic overview of the conflict and where I just got a bunch of my info.

rachel smith
6.15.04 @ 1:17a

Dan, the civilian settlements in the occupied territories are very controversial and were pushed by people like Begin who were hardliners. I think the civilian settlements are a mistake and clearly relocating people is a huge problem. I would have thought the Knesset would have learned this after pulling out of the Sinai territory.

Matt presents a flawed and obtuse interpretation of Resolution 242. The 1967 War was legal, the U.N. decided that Israel waged a pre-emptive war, so the prenouncement about territory seized through force does not apply to territory acquired during acts of self defense or legal uses of force. This is a deliberate clarification, designed to set the stage for a land-for-peace framework for negotiations. In other words, hey globe, you can't wage an offensive war and acquire territory, then expect the U.N. to facilitate negotions. However, the 1967 War was a legal use of force so here's how we're going to proceed with peace negotiations.

This was not designed to be a call for Israel's unilateral withdrawl from the territories. In fact, the wording is such that Israel has great latitude in the way that it negotiates control of borders in occupied territories. "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." This could mean anything. There are no specifics about which territories Israel must withdraw from, in what time frame, etc. This resolution was deliberately open-ended and as I said, designed only to be a framework for the peace process.

By the way, the PLO rejected Resolution 242 and aren't mentioned in the document save for an ambiguous line about "refugees."

rachel smith
6.15.04 @ 1:34a

Matt wrote: "I also read about how, in 1982, Israeli forces killed hundreds of defenseless Palestinean refugees in what the BBC called "one of the worst atrocities of nearly a century of conflict in the Middle East"

From the BBC website:

"From 16 to 18 September, the Phalangists - who were allied to Israel - killed hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps as they were encircled by Israeli troops in one of the worst atrocities of nearly a century of conflict in the Middle East. Mr Sharon resigned from his post as defence minister after a 1983 Israeli inquiry concluded that he had failed to act to prevent the massacre."

I didn't realize presenting the "other side" of a story meant blatantly lying. As I posted above, it wasn't Israeli forces who committed the atrocities, but the Israeli government was held accountable for supporting the Phalangists.

this is a good historical overview, although there just aren't enough declassified documents to give a truly thorough account of Israeli foreign policy, and the Palestinians don't really keep reliable or consistent records. I wouldn't go to a news service for good history.

As far as U.N. docs go, the best way to understand them in context is to look up the transcripts of the debates surrounding the drafting of a resolution. Either that or find somebody reliable who has done that and read the summary. Just a hint, journalists aren't the best sources for good legal analysis. Boring foreign policy journals are usually the places to look along with the U.N. website.


matt morin
6.15.04 @ 1:51a

Sorry for the misread. I thought the Phalangists were the Israeli troops.

dan gonzalez
6.15.04 @ 9:01a

Off topic, thanks for writing this Rachel. It's very informative. Matt, thanks for doing your thing. You're a pain in the duff, but you keep things going by challenging them, in this case taking the harder road. Very instructive.

Back on topic, it looks like Israel helped the Phalangists close off the Sabra and Chatila quarters which is where the 3 day atrocities occurred. Also, the Phalangists were "Founded by Pierre Gemayel, inspired by the Nazi Youth Movement that he had seen in Hitler's Germany." Curious allies, indeed. Thoughts?

rachel smith
6.15.04 @ 12:03p

I agree, Matt's comments are very useful and constructive debate is great.

First of all, Israeli action in Lebanon was an outrage, and I don't think even Sharon disputes that since he apologized and resigned his post at the time. Israel was allies with the Christian government in Lebanon during the civil war because the Muslim leadership allied themselves with the PLO, who were staging raids into Israel through Lebanon. It was a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. There were no other shared interests between the Christian leadership and the Israelis.

Considering the U.S. has allied itself with some brutal governments in the past, like Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and has not issued public apologies nor officially acknowledged such action as a moral outrage, I think Israel deserves a little credit for taking responsibility for its mistakes.

As it turned out, the Muslim leadership got sick of the PLO's involvement and they ultimately expelled the Palestinians from Lebanon. Many Israelis look at the IDF's involvement in Lebanon as their Vietnam, even though it was a much, much shorter intervention with fewer lives lost. You can see this parallel in Israeli film and literature.

The Israeli people were so disgusted with Lebanon and desperate for peace that they voted in the moderate Labour party in 1983 or 1984 after nearly a decade of Likud party control. Here's a nifty website with all the Israeli PM's. The Likud didn't come back into power until after Rabin was assasinated, some ten years later.

The hardline approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that we see today with Ariel Sharon is a response to the failed Oslo accords, the intifada, and escalating acts of terrorism within Israel's borders in places like Tel Aviv. That's the context in which people need to look at current events. The mere fact that Sharon could be elected prime minister after what happened in Lebanon speaks volumes about shifts in Israeli politics, and those changes didn't just spring up overnight or without cause.

matt morin
6.15.04 @ 12:20p

Ah...you know me. Always up for a good debate.

dan gonzalez
6.15.04 @ 12:57p

One question: I can grasp seizing the Golan heights because it was a complete security threat. But I can't quite see seizing Shebaa farms, which is beyond the heights and farther into Lebanon and Syria, and then sending Ethiopian Jews there to settle it. I've heard Shebaa provides a lot of water to Israel. Any thoughts on that?

rachel smith
6.22.04 @ 2:36a

Honestly, I'm not sure about the Shebaa farms. It's possible it was settled for the water. I'm not saying Israel is 100% in the right 100% of the time; it's my position that the Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries are more to blame for the failure of the peace process than Israel.

Just to be clear, I have examined both sides of this debate and I know there are good arguments all around. In fact, bleeding heart liberal that I am, I used to be adamantly anti-Israeli government and far more sympathetic to the Palestinian refugees. There's something counterintuitive about a group of people forced to live in camps without a central government and something that's offensive to my American sensibilities. However, upon closer examination the situation is not that clear cut.

dan gonzalez
6.22.04 @ 5:20p

bleeding heart liberal that I am

I'll have to work on that. ;-)

Did you know that many great disenfranchised individualists started out as bleeding hearts?

But seriously, I was just curious on that Shebaa bit. The whole thing is a pretty complex situation, as you mentioned. I know they didn't conquer it only for water-Syria and Lebanon refused to agree on exactly where the border between them really was, so Israel needed to secure the area. But maybe the water is why they can't easily pull out.

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