Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gaza: Breakout, Occupation: What's in a word?

By Ami Isseroff

Three words have been characteristically associated with the Gaza strip: Occupation, "siege," and more recently,"breakout." Hamas leaders, having scored a big public relations victory with the "breakout" into Egypt, are now contemplating another coup: they intend, or so they claim, to "break out" into Israel with half a million Gazans.

The "breakout" into Egypt aroused the enthusiasm of the gormless ones around the world.

Hamas's audacity in forcibly opening the wall was matched by the bravery of the people who flowed through the breach. Perhaps half of Gaza's population crossed the border during the 12 days it was open. Many travelled on foot, others by car, truck or donkey cart, and they came back with fuel, food, medicines, household items, sheep, goats, cows, concrete, flour, blankets and cigarettes. Perhaps more important in the long run, they came back with a belief that all was not hopeless.

So gushed Mike Marqusee. (Look for it in The Hindu if you're curious- they don't deserve a link).

Let's look at this breakout a bit more carefully. For one thing, it turns out that many Palestinians paid for the goods they bought in Egypt with counterfeit money and that many thousands of Gazans stayed behind in Egypt, presumably intent on mayhem. What is it usually called when a group of people enter another country without permission and steal and break the law? What would the United States do if say, two million Mexicans crossed into Texas, bought a lot of things with fake money and left behind thousands of armed bandits?

This sort of "breakout" is generally called by another name. It has a very long history. In his commentaries on the Gallic wars, Julius Caesar noted that the narrow confines of the land of the Helvetii were considered too constraining for such a brave people, and that frequently they "broke out" into the land of their neighbors. The Mongols likewise considered that their lands were too restraining and "broke out" into the lands of Asia and the Middle East. In the twentieth century, our German friends twice found that their boundaries were too constraining, and that they needed "Lebensraum" in France and to the east. Such "breakouts" are usually greeted by the world with less enthusiasm than the Hamas "breakout." No doubt an enthusiast of Hulagu the Mongol or Attila the Hun could have written that their "breakout" gave hope to their people.

Gaza is not under "siege" either, because the purpose of a siege is to conquer a territory or city. Neither Israel nor anyone else want to conquer Gaza. Certainly not Egypt. Gaza is blockaded, just as Germany was blockaded in World War II, because the government, such as it is, has declared war against Israel in every way possible, and is waging war against Israel.

Gaza is not "occupied" either, despite the contention of Marqusee. Marqusee and others like him need to look up the definition of "occupation" in the Hague convention of 1907.:

Art. 42. Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.

The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.

Art. 53. An army of occupation can only take possession of cash, funds, and realizable securities which are strictly the property of the State, depots of arms, means of transport, stores and supplies, and, generally, all movable property belonging to the State which may be used for military operations.
All appliances, whether on land, at sea, or in the air, adapted for the transmission of news, or for the transport of persons or things, exclusive of cases governed by naval law, depots of arms, and, generally, all kinds of munitions of war, may be seized, even if they belong to private individuals, but must be restored and compensation fixed when peace is made.

Art. 55. The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.

No sections of Gaza are under the control of the IDF. Israel doesn't administer any property belonging to Gazans. Israel doesn't control any means of transportation or arms in Gaza. There is in fact, no hostile "State." The Hague convention implies that occupation is a condition applying between states. When the Israeli army left Gaza, an international anomaly was created.

Yet many organizations, including HRW and the UN, continue to regard Gaza as "occupied." Why? Here is the astute legal explanation offered by the UN. Mind you, this is a real UN document, and is posted at the UN Web site, not in "The Onion." It is a "more or less verbatim" transcript of a press briefing held in January of 2007:

Question: ...A year and half after the last Israeli withdrew from Gaza, the UN system still refers to Gaza as an Occupied Palestinian Territory. The only people who are not Palestinian in Gaza currently are UN people. Do you mean that Gaza is occupied by the UN?

Spokesperson: Definitely not.

Question: So who is it occupied by?

Spokesperson: Well…

Correspondent: I think there are some Israeli soldiers on the border…

Question: Not borders, who is Gaza occupied by?

Spokesperson: Traditionally, this is the terminology we have used. Yes?

Question: But the situation on the ground changed since Israel withdrew from Gaza.

Spokesperson: I will look into this.

Correspondent: Thank you.

Perhaps he is still looking into it, as the UN has never issued a statement clarifying that Gaza is not occupied, or justifying use of the term based on international law.

Ami Isseroff

Original content copyright by the author

1 comment:

Kåre bomben said...

The reason some say that Israel is still occupying Gaza is that Israel controls the borders (except for the one between Egypt and Gaza) and because Israel controlls the airspace and sealanes. They say that because of this israel is still occupying Gaza. I think this is a load of horseshit. But what do the experts say?

Post a Comment