Middle East Eye / July 6, 2020
For years, the Gaza Strip has been in political limbo; no one wants to talk about its past, present or future.
Why has the Gaza Strip been excluded from the conversation on annexation? This question has haunted me for months, and upon the deadline for Israel’s bid to annex parts of the West Bank, it begs more attention.
For Palestinians, the act of annexation itself is not what is shocking; their land has been seized and colonised for decades. This annexation will be added to a history saturated with deadlines that marked further erasure of Palestinian existence.
Limiting the discussion
While it is important to fight annexation legally, politically and diplomatically – for it is a crime and a violation of international law – the conversation around annexation has had its share of problems. A major tendency has been to limit the discussion about annexation and its potential repercussions to the West Bank, excluding other Palestinian communities in the diaspora or in the Gaza Strip.
In recent maps published by the Israeli government, the post-annexation landscape includes Israel proper, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, but not Gaza.
The Israel Policy Forum has said that a binational state will result from annexation, as “Israel reluctantly grants West Bank Palestinians Israeli citizenship”, while a recent academic article explored the “right of West Bank Palestinians to Israeli citizenship”.
This tendency to view Gaza and the West Bank as separate entities is not a new phenomenon. For years, the Gaza Strip has been in political limbo; no one wants to talk about its past, present or future.
One would assume that even for those who promote a “two-state” framework, there is an understanding that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank constitute a single territorial unit – a major principle of the 1993 Oslo accord. Yet, even for those who claim to support the “two-state” framework, there’s a tendency to exclude Gaza as a way of avoiding the need to deal with its problems.
Annexation is mostly condemned in abstract legal and moral terms; missing in the conversation is how it will affect the lives of Palestinians on the ground. In addition to subjugating entire Palestinian communities in Area C to a reality of apartheid, annexation also means losing more Palestinian land. And in Palestine, land is a precious commodity.
Palestinians are already experiencing high population density. In Gaza, there are more than 5,400 people per square kilometre, similar to the reality in many parts of the West Bank, especially in refugee camps.
According to the logic of the “two-state” solution, Palestinians would be able to move across Gaza and the West Bank – what would be a Palestinian state – and build new communities, with enough land for industry, agriculture and leisure, the minimum requirements for a functional society.
Yet, Israel’s creeping annexation removes even this possibility. And while Israel cites its own population growth as a justification for further settlement expansion and annexation of the West Bank, few are paying attention to the population growth and territorial needs of Palestinian communities in densely populated neighbourhoods and refugee camps.
Many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are refugees from cities and villages conquered by Israel in 1948. Annexation will prevent them from returning to their homes and lands taken by force during the Nakba.
With Gaza’s population projected to double within the next three decades, its severe territorial and demographic crisis is on track to deepen. Its crisis dates back to 1948, when the Gaza District was slashed by at least a third to the tiny “strip” that now exists.
Most of the refugees trapped in the Gaza Strip today come from former Gaza District territories conquered by Israel in 1948. This shows that annexation is not an unusual event, but a continuous process.
This is why many avoid talking about Gaza. Solving Gaza’s problems can only happen beyond the Gaza Strip. Palestinians in Gaza often express their wish to return to their lands beyond Israel’s fence, where population density is far lower. They dream of travelling freely to the West Bank and other parts of their homeland, of going to college and working.
Yet, the mainstream discourse on annexation dismisses these yearnings, focusing primarily on whether annexation will be bad for Israel if it grants Palestinians equal rights – portrayed as some sort of nightmare scenario, even by liberals.
Palestinians’ wish for a normal life with full rights is not an abstract fantasy, but a genuine quest, rooted in the humanity of Palestinians and their love for their land, whether in Gaza, the West Bank or the diaspora. If this isn’t the time to recognise Palestinian equality and dignity, when is?
Jehad Abusalim is a scholar and policy analyst from Gaza currently studying at New York University