Home CommentaryOpinions Tragedy and hope in the Holy Land

Tragedy and hope in the Holy Land

by Archives January 29, 2008

The Israeli blockade and embargo on the Gaza Strip has brought its one-and-a-half-million residents to the brink of catastrophe. Electricity was shut off for a few days but Israel has recently restored a small supply to the territory. Gaza’s beleaguered infrastructure, already crippled from months of inter-factional conflict and Israeli air raids, is in danger of collapsing. Food shortages lead to a group of desperate Gazans tearing down the barrier separating the Strip from Egypt. The spectre of a humanitarian crisis looms over the tiny area. How have things in the region gotten so awful when only a few months ago there was renewed talk of peace at Annapolis?
Let’s start with a little background. Israel pulled out unilaterally from the Gaza Strip two years ago. The move was initiated by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and seen by most international observers as progress on the road to peace. However, for those living in Gaza and Israel, the withdrawal was met with suspicion and, in some cases, fierce resistance. Israeli settlers, some of whom had been living there for decades, believed that Israel was essentially abandoning them and their interests. They maintained that any land handed over would inevitably be used by the Palestinians to launch further rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli cities like Ashkelon and Sderot.
Palestinians on the other hand had mixed reactions. Some saw any return of land and disengagement on the part of Israel as a good thing and an important step towards the greater objective of complete withdrawal from all Palestinian land. It was also seen as an admission that even well-established settlements on Palestinian land were not wholly legitimate nor viable. Others believed however that because the withdrawal had been initiated by Sharon, one of the Palestinians’ most reviled and mistrusted opponents, that there had to be some sinister motivation to it all. As the old proverb goes: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”
Ironically, skeptics on both sides were proven partially right. Qassam rocket attacks from Gazan militants did not stop, despite promises of ceasefires by the PLO. Hamas, the political party designated a terrorist organization by several Western countries including Canada, won parliamentary elections in January 2006. This lead to terrible clashes with Fatah almost immediately, the losing party.
The impression given to outside observers was that the whole of Palestine was in chaos. For their part though, Israeli military activity against targets in Gaza continued as well, including numerous aerial strikes and even tank sorties.
In any case, the developments over the course of the last several weeks have shown that even full military disengagement by the Israelis cannot disentangle the two neighbours from each other so easily. Perhaps the biggest factor leading to the current gloomy state has been the absence of US pressure on the two sides to come together and work out an agreement. The closest the region has ever gotten to peace was towards the end of Bill Clinton’s term as President. For his successor, a single high-profile trip and summit is just not enough to build consensus.
The real tragedy though is that observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do not even see this development as anything surprising. Extreme hardship, human suffering and conflict of the most savage degree are all ordinary facets of this struggle. If this is, as President Bush and others refer to it, the Holy Land, I ask: What’s so damned holy about it?

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