News Analysis

The Israeli occupation of Gaza Strip didn’t end — it merely changed its form.

With the completion of the Israeli army withdrawal from Gaza Strip and the eviction of the settlers, the occupation has seemingly ended. And indeed, if by “occupation” we mean a direct military presence, then sure enough, Gaza Strip is no longer occupied by Israel. But is this truly the situation?

Ariel Sharon’s government tries to instill, both in Israel and abroad, the impression that the occupation of Gaza has ended, and now the Palestinians must “prove themselves worthy.” This serves the purpose of allowing the occupation to continue behind the smokescreen of “ending the occupation.”

The occupation is a far more intricate project than mere direct military presence. The occupation is a project on which the fingerprints of class interests can be clearly seen. It can be carried out in numerous ways, colonial as well as neocolonial.

Peace activists in Israel identified for many years the fight against the occupation with the fight for human rights and self-determination for the Palestinian people. This is an important and central struggle that remains to be completed.

Yet it seems that those in Israel who benefited the most from the occupation feel that, even with the withdrawals and evictions, they can still maintain a state of economic occupation by keeping the Palestinian territories as colonies bounded by and integrated with Israeli capitalism.

In the 40 years that have passed since Israel occupied Gaza Strip (as well as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights), a pattern of socioeconomic relations between the Palestinians and Israel has evolved — a colonial pattern. The Gaza Strip, just like the rest of the occupied territories, became a captive market for Israeli goods.

The Israeli occupier, relying on its military might, prevented the Palestinians from developing their economy. The Palestinians were prevented from developing industries like cement, which might have competed with Israeli firms. At the same time, Gaza was being kept as a huge pool of cheap labor force for the Israeli economy. The winning colonial formula was established: Costly Israeli goods for cheap Palestinian labor.

The two intifadas (Palestinian uprisings) badly damaged this colonial project and severely weakened the Israeli occupation. As a result of this weakening, the Oslo accords were signed after the first intifada in 1993 with the PLO (previously regarded a dreaded foe), and this year the Israeli army and settlers withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and several West Bank settlements were dismantled.

Following in the footsteps of earlier advocates of a colonial scheme, Shimon Peres, veteran Labor Party leader and Sharon’s right-hand man, often displays his eagerness to put neocolonialism into practice. This is evident in the ways he talks about “turning Gaza into the Hong Kong of the Middle East,” “setting up joint industrial zones,” “a market-oriented peace agreement,” etc.

The actions taken by the Sharon-Peres government after the Gaza withdrawal suit Peres’s vision: closing the Gaza strip to Egyptian import/export of goods, and leaving it open only for Israeli import/export; continuing to prohibit the Palestinians from rebuilding their airport (destroyed by Israeli air force) or their maritime port (whose infrastructure was bombed by Israeli air force as an “act of retaliation”); and allowing low-paid Palestinian workers into Israel, where they’ll compete with migrant workers.

As of now, the Palestinian Authority is not taking any significant steps towards ending its economic dependency on Israel. The PA’s economic policies have been, for many years, monitored closely by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the tentacles of capitalist globalization. The representatives of these international (i.e. American) bodies, together with their Palestinian colleagues whose worldview is based on neoliberal economic theory, contribute their part to implementing the Israeli neocolonial formula. As it turns out, there are also Palestinians who make a profit from, and therefore have interest in, this arrangement.

The Israeli neocolonial dream can quickly turn into a Palestinian nightmare, including a weak and dependent Palestinian economy, very low wages (for the workers employed in the international trade zones), and high unemployment rate to keep those wages low. In fact, Israel’s plans for the Palestinian economy are exactly what the U.S. is already implementing in Israel: An economy run by representatives of the World Bank and IMF, with a thin layer which profits greatly from its services to corporate globalization, and alongside it — mass unemployment and wage erosion.

Efraim Davidi is member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and member of the Histadrut (Israeli trade union federation) leadership. This article has been excerpted from Zo Haderech, the CPI’s Hebrew-language weekly.