A Conversation with Justin Podur in Gaza: Tell me about Gaza.
During my first few hours here in Gaza, just after I crossed the Erez
checkpoint, I passed an orange grove being knocked down by Israeli
armored bulldozers. We started to take pictures of what was going on,
but nearby tanks fired into the air warning us to stop. We went back the
next day to survey the damage and talk to the caretakers of the grove --
a family living in a nearby house. The Israeli army had shot up their
house and their water tank. For three days, the whole family was afraid
to leave the house.
The Erez checkpoint is close to the Erez settlement. Perhaps the Israeli
thinking is that the orange grove could provide cover for some sort of
Palestinian operation against the settlement.
Checkpoints are often near settlements. They are sites of tragedies as
well as mundane hardship. A few days ago, on the June 28th a couple by
the last name of Lalooh were shot. Their house was near a checkpoint.
The man had gone out to hang up laundry. He was shot by Israeli
soldiers. His wife went outside to see what was happening and she was
shot as well. She died, and the man is in intensive care.
Another thing you notice at checkpoints is which cars pass through
easily and which ones don't. Israelis have orange license plates.
Palestinians have green. At just about any checkpoint, you see a long
line of green license plates waiting for hours while the orange ones zip
Gaza is completely fenced in. It's like the world's largest prison. To
the west is the sea. To the north, south and east are electric fences.
Palestinians are not allowed to leave. You know that famous quote that
says, "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent
suffer"? Well, here, they've locked up more than a million innocent
Gaza is a land mass of 360 square kilometers. Of that, 58% is in hands
of Palestinians; 42% is in hands of the Israeli military and
settlements. In Palestinian-controlled areas there are 1.25 million
people. In the Israeli controlled area, only 4000. That works out to be
something like 6000 Palestinians per square kilometer in their areas,
and 27 Israelis per square kilometer in their areas. Each settler has
226 times as much space as each Palestinian (leaving aside land
The economy of Gaza is a disaster. Most Israelis commute elsewhere to
work. But the Palestinians can't move around. Their unemployment rate is
67%. People have been living off of mutual aid, hospitality, donations
and savings, and there is some agriculture, but that can only go on for
so long. It's been two years now since Gazans have had to function in
How do people cope?
People spend a lot of time just trying to get around. The central road
between Gaza City and the north has a checkpoint -- making the road
almost unusable to Palestinians. People tend to take the long way around
on the western road. But the other day, the Israelis set up an impromptu
checkpoint on this western road, which meant people had to turn around,
leave their cars somewhere and then try to make their way on foot on the
beach. The next step, no doubt, will be that the army starts patrolling
Even the simplest daily practices are a gamble.
Amazingly, people keep finding ways to live their lives. I had a chance
recently to visit an art college, where I saw people making sculpture,
furniture, and paintings. They have few supplies, the graduates will
have no where to work, and travel to and from the college is arduous,
but they persevere. Israel claims that if they relax security, they'll
risk more suicide bombers. But, as many military experts acknowledge,
these security measures do very little to prevent bombings. What we do
know about these security measures, however, is that they prevent people
from creating art, from going to school, from living their lives.
I visited a technical college where it's the same story. It offers a
high level of education, but there are so few prospects for the students
who earn their degrees. They have to sleep over in the school in order
to attend class with any predictability.
Have international volunteers been active in Gaza as well?
Yes. I'll give you an example of a recent action, which I was not at but
which others told me about. In Raffa in southern Gaza, an Israeli
bulldozing operation left a broken, open sewer that was becoming a
serious public health concern. When workers tried to fix it, they were
fired upon by Israelis. They asked internationals to protect them while
they fixed it -- so about 20 internationals came, formed a ring around
the workers, and the workers fixed the sewer. A small victory, but a
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has ordered the
dismantling of 10 "rogue" settlements. Is this a meaningful gesture in
The problem is not these rogue settlements -- unapproved enclaves of a
few people in mobile homes. The problem is the Israeli-approved
settlements, which operate under an entirely separate parallel
infrastructure. Settlers don't worry about having their electricity or
water turned off. Their needs and their freedoms are protected by the
Israeli military. They get to walk through walls -- or what are
effectively walls for Palestinians. The problem is this systemic
protection and nurturing of sanctioned settlements, which represent
daily theft from the Palestinians, and provide the military's
justification for being there.
Beginning to dismantle this parallel infrastructure would be a
What would a two-state solution mean for Gaza?
The question is, how would it work? What happens to Gaza? Are Gazans
going to be able to go back and forth to the West Bank? Would there be
some sort of bridge or tunnel? Who will control access? From what I've
seen, people not being able to move around is the root of so many
problems. Without open passage between the two land areas that would
make up Palestine, daily life would still be pretty miserable. You can't
construct two of the world's largest prisons and then call it a state,
and expect that it has anything to do with peace or justice for
This two-state solution is not a peace plan, if peace means peace of
mind and a modicum of control over your destiny.
What is the direction of this intifadah?
The problem is there is no goal -- no offensive goal, no defensive goal.
The point is to be defiant, to maintain dignity. I've heard many young
men and even children give voice to the idea that they have nothing left
to choose but how they die.
People sometimes use the argument that maintaining the occupation is a
security risk for Israel, but I'm not sure that's true. Israeli
civilians are at risk due to suicide bombers, but Israel as a nation is
not. The tragedy is what's happening to the Palestinians. And in a way,
that's Israel's tragedy as well. What Israelis have to worry about is
not what's being done to them, but what they're doing.
Israeli peace activist Neta Golan asked a soldier, "Haven't you learned
from the suffering our people have been through?" He answered that he
was working to make sure Jews never suffered again. The problem is that
in the process of protecting Jews, Israelis are inflicting terrible
suffering on the Palestinians. It is a suffering that is within Israel's
control to stop.
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