It was a victory that stunned the world. In June 1967, Israel defeated the combined might of three Arab armies in six days. One of the territories it captured was Gaza, which was initially seen as a strategic buffer against Egypt. It was only later that the Jewish presence there took on an ideological significance. Israeli historian Idith Zertal explains:“After the 1967 war, the six-day war, the settlements were, I could say, almost kidnapped by the Zionist religious group or movement in Israel, in creating the settlements beyond the green line, beyond the international border.” Construction proceeded apace in the 1970s and the following two decades. Housing attracted both religious and non-religious communities, as well as recently arrived immigrants. More than 8,000 settlers now live in Gaza in three main blocs. The enclaves have always been islands of relative prosperity in a sea of Palestinian social deprivation. The demographic trend has made Gaza one of the most densely populated places on earth. That also helped to create the conditions for militancy against Israel. Tensions exploded in 1987 with a series of incidents that led to the first Palestinian uprising. A period of calm set in following the Olso accords, but was shattered by the second intifada in 2000. Terrorists have used Gaza as a staging ground for attacks on settlements and civilians inside Israel. Ariel Sharon’s government has responded with often lethal reprisals. As attitudes hardened on both sides, settlers in Gaza were joined by more hardline nationalists from the West Bank to protest against the pullout plan. Idith Zertal says: “They became so-called one in this struggle, but deep down there are differeneces and most of the people of Gush Katif will go freely, will go without fighting, without violence.” While not many settlers have snubbed the compensation package offered by the government, there are those for whom money is simply not the issue. And the big question is: how far will that minority go in resisting their eviction from land which they believe was given to the Jews by God ?
Gaza: from strategic asset to government liability