One down, many to go
Ending the occupation of Gaza is but one of a list of legal and legitimate Palestinian demands that the international community must support.
Mustafa Barghouthi - Al-Ahram
October 1, 2005

It was a unique, moving moment when, as day broke on 12 September, following the pullout of the last occupation soldier from Gaza, thousands of men, women and children from Rafah and Khan Younis flocked to the beaches of the Mediterranean from which they had been barred for years. It could seem almost for the first time that the people of Al-Mawasi and the village of Al-Sweidiya emerged from confinement behind the walls of an Israeli settlement.

In the same moment, in a spontaneous display of jubilation, thousands of others rushed across the border into Egypt to embrace their loved ones in the Egyptian side of Rafah and in Arish. "I went to get my sister whom we haven't seen for 12 years," a young man said. Old and ailing mothers clambered over the barriers in order to embrace their children who had been cut off from them for what seemed an eternity. One woman who had seen her son for the first time in 10 years smiled with joy as tears streamed from her eyes.

Fishermen, whose boats had gone rusty, went out to sea and returned with their first catch in many years.

Such scenes were not -- regretfully -- relayed in either the international or the Arab media. Nor did the media hone in with the required intensity on the extensive destruction the occupation army left behind on a literally scorched land: the rubble of demolished settlement buildings, charred and uprooted palm and fruit trees, acres of fields and dozens of kilometres of roads and infrastructure bulldozed, water mains ploughed out and electricity lines torn down. Then there was the synagogue, which the Israelis had so thoroughly demolished before they left that not a single window, door or lamp was left in one piece, after which they began to fret that the Palestinians would storm and destroy it. Even the sole clinic that had remained standing did not have single wall left unmarred or a single window that had not been smashed.

All was total, vengeful destruction.

Nor did the media transmit the images of the massive destruction wreaked on thousands of Palestinian homes in Rafah, Khan Younis and the central areas, which had been the targets of Israeli gunfire over countless years. These appalling scenes of desolation, reminiscent of the images of ruin wrought by World War II, scream out the crimes the occupation forces committed against hundreds of innocent people, including Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall whose American and British nationalities could not protect them from falling victim to Israeli bullets as they tried to shield a home and a child in Rafah.

The media did not show the new racist separation wall that is beginning to emerge in northern Gaza, or the occupation airplanes that are sweeping over the towns and cities of Gaza 24 hours a day, or the occupation forces' tanks that are still rumbling through strips of land inside the borders of Gaza to the north and east.

The people of Gaza were victorious through the steadfastness and courage of their resistance. However, the media has failed to drive home the reality of a captive people who having just emerged from their cells now face the spectre of an enormous high security prison.

Certainly, the media has failed to portray awareness of the men and women of Gaza who fully realise that the occupation is not over yet, and that their wardens have entrenched and re-armed themselves around the barriers surrounding Gaza.

During our trip from the north to the south of Gaza we met thousands of people, including security men and policemen who were visibly exhausted but never grumbled. When we congratulated them on the departure of the settlers, the response was invariably, "we'll rejoice when Jerusalem and the West Bank are liberated." Unlike some of the factions, which appear incapable of sharing the sentiments of the people outside the context of factional rivalry and the war of slogans, the people were happy, but their celebration was restrained.

This is why we do not despair from the attempts to sever Gaza from the West Bank and Sharon's delusion that he can shatter the unity of the Palestinian people and crush their dream of independence in a single free and unified state. What does disturb us, however, is the lack of a common national strategy to confront Sharon's political assault. I am referring to Israel's massive PR campaign, aimed at covering up the evidence of the crime it has committed over the past 38 years behind the magnified moans and wails of settler thieves who were forced to hand over their spoils even as Israel continues to control all Gaza's ports of entry, its territorial waters and its airspace.

We are also disturbed at how smugly Sharon swaggers through the chambers of the UN on the 23rd commemoration of the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, his bloodstained hands receiving awards and tokens of normalisation from Arab and Muslim ministers, while not a single voice cries out on behalf of the deprived and downtrodden Palestinians, surrounded by a wall of tanks around the Gaza Strip and encircled by 700 checkpoints and an illegal separation wall in the isolated prisons of the West Bank and Gaza.

What the Palestinians want is a clear vision of how to counter the de facto realities Israel has created with the de facto realities we create, and how to offset Sharon's political offensive with a political offensive of our own. They want an immediate convention of an international conference that will address all final status issues within the framework of international law and legitimacy. They want a persistent follow-through on the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the separation wall in order to compel Israel to dismantle it or face sanctions.

The Palestinian people also want a Palestinian-Egyptian decision to keep the crossing point at Rafah open, a campaign to pressure Israel into establishing a safe corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, and a courageous mass movement to stand against the Separation Wall.

It is said that no right can be lost as long as the demand for it persists. This applies to the Palestinians who have remained indefatigable in their struggle for the restoration of their rights. Living proof of this is to be found in Haj Abu Houli, who remained resolute until finally, after passing the age of 80, he saw the occupation's checkpoint crumble and he regained the right to be proud of his name.

* The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative.