[Editor's note: The following are excerpts. To read all the responses, click here.]
One Question is a monthly series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.
This month, we ask:
What is the future of Gaza?
With responses from: Ramzy Baroud; Richard Falk; Sara Roy; Abdalhadi Alijla; Norman Finkelstein; Huwaida Arraf; Toufic Haddad; Atef Alshaer; Helga Tawil-Souri; Hagar Kotef; Joel Beinin; Magid Shihade; Ran Greenstein; Richard Hardigan; Salman Abu Sitta.
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Professor Emeritus in International Law, Princeton University; between 2008-2014 he served as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council; his most recent books are Power Shift: On the New Global Order (University of Chicago, 2016) and Revisiting the Vietnam War (University of Cambridge, 2017).
It is important to understand some essential features of the distinctive place of Gaza in the wider context of the Palestinian struggle for elemental rights. Perhaps most fundamentally, unlike the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza is not considered part of the 'promised land' that forms the substance of the Zionist Project to form a Jewish State that corresponds with its understanding of the scope of biblical entitlement. At the same time, Gaza has a long history of centrality in the Palestinian national experience that stretches back before the time of Mohammed, and thus the inclusion of Gaza in Palestine's vision of self-determination is vital. This collides with Israel's desire to maintain a Jewish majority state, which would make it desirable for Gaza to be absorbed or at least administered separately by either Jordan or Egypt.
Gaza, more than the West Bank, has also been the center of Palestinian resistance, being the site where the First Intifada was launched in 1987 and where Hamas came to govern after it prevailed in internationally supervised elections of 2006 and in a struggle for governing authority the following year. The intense hostility between Hamas and the PLO has fractured Palestinian political unity, weakening Palestinian diplomatic leverage, and making it more plausible for Israel to claim it has no Palestinian 'partner' in the search for a peaceful solution.
Such a background helps us understand why Gaza has experienced massively destructive attacks by Israel in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, as well as the recent border massacre in response to the Great Return March that is the latest example of Israeli reliance on excessive violence and cruel tactics to crush Palestinian resistance.
Gaza also partakes of the wider fate of the Palestinian people, which in the time of Netanyahu and Trump seems extremely unfavorable, with respect to relief from the ordeal of a suffocating blockade that has lasted more than a decade and control policies designed to achieve de-development of the Gazan economy. In this regard, the safest prediction is a continuation of the cycle of repression and resistance with no change of basic circumstances. Even the Israeli expansionists do not seek to absorb Gaza, although its offshore deposits of natural gas might create a future temptation.
The longer vision of a Gazan future is clouded at present. Ideally, Gaza would participate in a single secular state embracing the whole of historic Palestine. Increasingly, the impracticality of the two-state solution has focused Gazan hopes either on a long-term ceasefire or a genuine peace process that establishes a single democratic state.
Senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, specialising in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is also co-chair of the Middle East Seminar, jointly sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and co-chair of the Middle East Forum at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Her books include: The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1995, 2001, third edition 2016 with a new introduction and afterword and Arabic edition forthcoming in 2018); Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Pluto Press, 2007); and Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector (Princeton University Press, 2011, 2014 with a new afterword).
The question itself reflects the problem. It speaks to Gaza as separate and apart – severed from Israel, the West Bank, and the world. In this regard, Israel has been stunningly successful; it has not only removed and contained Gaza geographically, economically and legally; it has convinced us to understand and accept Gaza as something distinct and awful, unenduring, and therefore undeserving of a normal, worthwhile existence.
Gaza's temporality has always defined Israel's approach to the territory because Israel has never really known what to do with Gaza. Gaza has always been unruly, guilty of what for Israel is indefensible and unforgiveable: defiance. This accounts in part for Israel's brutal treatment of the territory including a blockade now in its 12th year, which has destroyed the local economy. Gaza was – and remains – the center of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and the injustice that sustains it.
The recent protests along the fence isolating Gaza from Israel, which at times exceeded 30,000 people, were a nightmare for Israel, a harbinger of things to come. No doubt one issue plaguing the Israeli government right now is how better to control Gaza. This question, I am told, is at the heart of the American peace plan (especially since the West Bank has effectively succumbed to Israeli rule). Controlling Gaza in the future, however, will be no different from the past. Gaza will continue to be treated as a humanitarian problem requiring nothing more than subsistence relief. Defining the parameters of Israel's policy toward the territory, an Israeli defense official was clear and succinct: 'No development, no prosperity, no humanitarian crisis.'
Gaza's future must be informed by its past; yet, its lived reality has no connection to a past or a future. The majority of Gazans have no memory of Gaza before the destruction. History – both recent and far – is not so much absent as it is vacant, and without that history to navigate a way forward, there are no prospects worth thinking about or expectations worth having. People are so consumed by the present that mundane needs have become aspirational. The future is beyond conceptualisation.
If Gaza has a future outside incarceration, it lies in ending its liminality and present state of exception. It lies in admittance and inclusion. And it lies in returning to Gazans what they want most – a predictable, unexceptional life.
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Received his PhD from the Princeton University Politics Department. He has written many books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso, 2000), and most recently, Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom (University of California, 2018).
The modern history of Gaza begins in 1948 with the massive influx of expellees from the newborn state of Israel. In 1967, Gaza came under a brutal Israeli occupation. Israel alleges that it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but the consensus among legal specialists – including top Israeli authority Yoram Dinstein – is that Israel remains the occupying power. In 2006, after Hamas won 'completely honest and fair elections' (Jimmy Carter), Israel imposed a medieval-like blockade on Gaza. In the meantime, Israel has visited not fewer than eight 'operations' on Gaza since 2004. After the last massacre, Operation Protective Edge (2014), President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, went to Gaza and observed, 'I've never seen such massive destruction ever before.'
UN agencies have now pronounced Gaza 'unlivable.' 'I see this extraordinarily inhuman and unjust process of strangling gradually two million civilians that really pose a threat to nobody,' UN humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, Robert Piper, observed last year. Echoing him, UN Human Rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, recently deplored the fact that Gazans have been 'caged in a toxic slum from birth to death.'
On March 30, the people of Gaza initiated weekly mass demonstrations to break the illegal siege. Human rights groups report that the marches have been overwhelmingly peaceful. But more than 110 Gazans have been killed and more than 3,700 injured (many permanently) with live ammunition by Israeli snipers. 'Israeli forces' repeated use of lethal force in the Gaza Strip since March 30, 2018, against Palestinian demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life,' Human Rights Watch concluded in a major investigation, 'may amount to war crimes.'
What is the future of Gaza?
Sara Roy of Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies has observed that 'innocent human beings, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink, and likely by the soil in which they plant.' Experts say that before long Gaza will be overrun by typhoid and cholera epidemics. It is impossible to predict the future except to say, if the international community doesn't act, Gaza won't have one.
A 2015 UN report by New York State judge Mary McGowan Davis called on Israel to lift the blockade 'immediately and unconditionally,' while the European Parliament in 2018 called for an 'immediate and unconditional end to the blockade.' If Israel isn't compelled to end the illegal and inhuman siege, the judgment of History will not be kind. Will it one day be asked, why was the world silent when Gaza was crucified?
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Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University where she is also the Director of the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. She co-edited Gaza as Metaphor with Dina Matar (Hurst, 2016), and teaches and writes on technology, media, territory and politics in the Middle East, with a focus on Palestine-Israel.
That the question of a future of Gaza separate from Palestine makes sense already foretells a destination. Gaza has been severed: from Palestine, and from the world; while that world either supports Israel's leading role in Gaza's undoing, or, at best, throws up its arms in despair or in disregard, and lets Gaza sink into an abyss.
There is no doubt – looking at the past five, then, twenty, fifty, seventy years – that Gaza gets progressively worse. Based on that calculation, the future is grim: dispossession, destitution, misery, abjection; more of the past seven decades, for a growing population whose age is younger, who has never known anything outside of the man-made disaster called Gaza.
In the immediate future, Israel is hell-bent on making Gazans disappear… How, I'm not sure. The coming years and decades are too painful for me to ponder.
So my thoughts move along the measure of centuries instead. I think of the Maya (or the Mycenaeans): disappeared civilisations about whom we rely mostly on archaeologists to reconstruct an understanding, while we treat their ruins as playgrounds on which to take holidays along pretty seasides. Gaza might become a tourist destination with beautiful beaches in three or four-hundred years. But unlike with the fate of the Maya, or the Mycenaeans, our task today is to document – so that centuries from now, Gaza's fate is not sealed as yet another disappeared culture.
There should be records, notes, reports; recipes, stories, biographies, pictures. Accounts and illustrations about life with constant military machines flying overhead and life forcefully severed from outside contact except virtually. Recordings, compilations, archives of sub-local dialects, idioms, performances, prayers, songs, architectural details, engravings, memories (of those who remember ten, twenty, seventy years ago). Details of weddings and burials and surgeries performed in the dark and the din of generators; figures, measurements and reports of babies orphaned, footsteps taken, high school graduation ceremonies held, regardless of physical and psychological scars wreaked.
Centuries from now, the disappearance of Gaza will be a permanent stain on humanity's conscience, a moment of failure when society allowed a mighty victim to do away with a group of individuals because of the circumstances they were born in. There will be records that this disappearance wasn't a miracle, a freak series of natural causes (as what presumably befell the Maya), or an inexplicable migration of millions of people. No, in Gaza, it was a protracted, painful, relentless sociocide, and the world clapped along or shed a tear, but not more. And we would have the records.
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Donald J McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History at Stanford University. From 2006 to 2008 he served as Director of Middle East Studies and Professor of History at the American University in Cairo. In 2002 he served as president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. He has written or edited eleven books, most recently, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2016).
The Palestinian Great March of Return exposed both the diplomatic impasse over Israel/Palestine and the emergence of a new political alignment in the Middle East. The campaign, which began on March 30, was initiated by politically unaligned young men and women of the Gaza Strip as a protest against their miserable futures. They did so independently of both Hamas and Fatah, which have become increasingly corrupt while failing to improve their lives or to advance Palestinian political and human rights. Demonstrators demanded that the decade-long siege by Israel and Egypt be lifted and called for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes – highlighting the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, rather than its post-1967 consequences.
On May 14, as President Donald Trump's coterie of hardline Zionist funders and supporters, represented by Sheldon Adelson and anti-Semitic evangelical Protestant preachers John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, celebrated the inauguration of the future US Embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli forces shot dead over 60 Palestinians and injured over 2000. Beyond verbal denunciations, the only practical response by any Arab state was Egypt opening its border with the Gaza Strip for the month of Ramadan, allowing a limited number of Palestinians to exit. The reason for the measured response of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt is that they have been forging an alliance with Israel directed against Iran.
While several secret meetings between Israelis and Emiratis have been reported, Saudi Arabia is reluctant to openly acknowledge its alignment with Israel. Israel is pursuing a more public relationship. Before Saudi Arabia and Russia kicked off in the opening game of World Cup 2018, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's official Arabic Twitter account wished Saudi Arabia 'best of luck!'
By withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, President Trump signalled willingness to follow Israel's lead in pursuing realignment of the Middle East around an anti-Iranian front. Palestinians may become collateral damage of this agenda, first and foremost the 1.9 million residents of the Gaza Strip, which may become 'unliveable' by 2020 according to a UN report. However, the Saudis and Emiratis, who have recently bailed out Egypt to the tune of $8 billion, could easily become the lead funders for the rehabilitation of Gaza if they became convinced that their anti-Iranian project requires it.