Putting Gaza in ‘Formaldehyde’: Israel’s ‘Disengagement,’ A Decade Later
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leans over housing plans as he meets with contractors who were building temporary housing for settlers due to be evacuated from the Gaza Strip under his disengagement plan in southern Israel, July 5, 2005. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
- In the summer of 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel's army and approximately 8,000 Jewish settlers from the interior of the occupied Gaza Strip after concluding that maintaining Israel's settlement enterprise there wasn't worth the cost.
- Although Israel removed its soldiers and settlers from the interior of Gaza, the territory remains under Israeli military occupation according to international law, as Israel controls virtually all entry and exit, as well as Gaza’s airspace and coastline. Israel's continued status as the occupying power in Gaza has been affirmed by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, as well as human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. (See fact sheet here for more)
- While portraying his plan, known as the Gaza "disengagement," as a bold move for peace, in reality Sharon intended for it to alleviate international pressure on Israel to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, allowing for the continued colonization of occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As senior Sharon advisor Dov Weisglass explained in October 2004:
The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process... And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with… a [US] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.
The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.
- On August 15, 2005, Israeli forces began removing settlers who had not already left voluntarily. Although some of the most radical settlers resisted, the withdrawal was completed within a week.
- Following Hamas’ victory in parliamentary elections for the Palestinian Authority in 2006, Israel increased already severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and goods into and out of Gaza, imposing a crippling naval blockade in 2007. As Weisglass, then an advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explained, the siege and blockade were intended “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger” as punishment for electing Hamas.
- A decade after Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza:
- The unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world, averaging 43% during 2014. Youth unemployment is more than 60%. Since 2007, when Israel tightened its siege and imposed its naval blockade, Gaza's GDP has decreased by 50%.
- According to a study released by the UN in August 2015, Gaza’s infant mortality rate is up for the first time in more than 50 years.
- An estimated 80% of Gaza's population relies on humanitarian assistance, mainly in the form of food aid.
- Israel has launched three major attacks on Gaza, in 2008-9, 2012, and 2014, resulting in the deaths of approximately 3,800 people, most of them civilians, and more than 16,000 wounded. More than 100,000 people remain internally displaced in Gaza as a result of the destruction caused by the assaults.
- Israel continues to entrench its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank and to expand its settlements there. Today, there are approximately 650,000 Israeli settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a significant overall increase since 8,000 settlers were removed from Gaza in 2005.