Israel's collective punishment of Gaza Palestinians reaps bitterness. Restrictions imposed after officer's killing end, but anger remains
Gaza City, Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip — Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers returned to their jobs in Israel yesterday, after the Army reopened checkpoints dividing this narrow strip from the Jewish state. But as they returned to work, many Gazans expressed bitterness about what they considered Israel's collective punishment of the community for Sunday's murder here of an Israeli Army officer.
Hours after Lt. Ron Tal was shot to death in a crowded downtown marketplace, Israel slapped the harshest restrictions on Gaza residents that it has imposed during 20 years of occupation.
Gaza was sealed off from Israel - keeping thousands from their jobs - and hundreds of Army troops fanned out through Gaza City, detaining dozens of Palestinians in the search for Lieutenant Tal's attacker. Fishermen were banned from fishing. A large downtown section was put under curfew.
The Army insisted the restrictions were only to aid in the search for the attackers. The Palestine Liberation Organization on Monday claimed responsibility for the killing.
By 3:00 a.m. yesterday, the checkpoints were reopened, the curfew was lifted on all but a few blocks of Gaza City, and fishing was again permitted.
But before the restrictions were lifted, they had disrupted the celebration of Id al-Adha, the most important Muslim holiday feast, for thousands of families.
``Normally on the feast families visit one another ... ,'' says Dr. Hattam Abu-Ghazallah. ``Today I am taking phone calls from friends who are confined by the curfew to their homes. This is collective punishment of an entire community for the act of one man.''
Down on the seashore near the Shati refugee camp, dispirited fishermen played dominoes on the beach - their fishing boats beached a few hundred feet away. ``It was a regrettable act, the killing of this officer,'' said a fisherman. ``I don't agree with those who say that whoever did it is a hero. He is causing pain and trouble for the whole population.''
All over Gaza, people express resentment at the collective punishment. And repeatedly, they stress that Israelis should understand that an attack on soldiers of what the Palestinians see as an occupying force is to be expected.
``We all condemn violence,'' says Fayez Abu Rahme, a Palestinian activist. ``But such an incident will be viewed with far more respect than other violent acts. It will be difficult to condemn.''
Given the overcrowded conditions, the lack of jobs and medical care, and the Army's sometimes heavy-handed behavior, Mr. Rahme and other Gazans say they wonder how Israelis can be surprised by occasional eruptions of violence.
The frustration of Gazans is something then-chief of staff Moshe Dayan seemed to understand as far back as 1956, when he eulogized a kibbutznik slain by Palestinian guerrillas from Gaza.
``Let us not pour our invective on his murderers today,'' General Dayan told mourners at the time. ``Who are we to complain about their fierce hatred for us? For eight years now, they have been sitting in their refugee camps in Gaza and watching us take root in their and their fathers' land and villages right before their eyes.
``It is not against the Arabs of Gaza that his blood cries out for vengeance,'' Dayan said. ``It is against us ... .''
On Sunday, the day of the shooting, traffic was particularly heavy because it was just two days before the feast. Roads were crowded with people returning to their families. When the checkpoints were closed, long lines of the taxis that carry seven workers each to Israeli towns were stuck for hours.
``They think they can punish us all by closing the whole Gaza Strip,'' says a merchant named Ghazi who stood by his car near the checkpoint Tuesday. ``But for our interests, this is actually much better.''
``Usually, when the border is open, we come and go. We are paid in [Israeli] shekels and [Jordanian] dinars and we forget who we are. We forget what the cause is. We forget what we stand for,'' he says. ``Maybe there is an economic loss for us in being closed off from Israel, but the loss is much worse for the Jews than it is for us.''
``What happened here is that one person died and the whole country goes berserk,'' Ghazi says. ``They shoot us sometimes like animals and nobody gives a damn. None of us is in favor of killing. But the Israelis must understand that this is occupation, and that under occupation you have different rules. Do they expect us just to lie down?''
Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees flooded to Gaza at the birth of the state of Israel in 1948, and the majority of Palestinians still live in sprawling, squalid camps operated by the United Nations.
Gaza was a focal point of Palestinian resistance to Israel in the 1950s and '60s. In the early 1970s Israel mounted a major military operation against the camps, breaking the back of the Palestine Liberation Organization there. Since then, Gaza - one of the most densely crowded strips of land on earth - has been largely quiescent. It gives the Israeli Army far less trouble, and receives far less news media attention than does the much larger, more politicized West Bank.