August 15, 2005: Israel ‘disengages’ from Gaza, withdrawing settlers but maintaining occupation
“The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process” – Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to Ariel Sharon.
On this day in 2005, Israel began a process of so-called “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, by removing all Israeli military installations, dismantling 21 settlements, and evacuating 9,000 illegal Israeli settlers from the territory. Israel’s decision was for strategic reasons, to “freeze” the peace process and therefore allow Israel to consolidate its settlement presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Far from ending the occupation, however, Israel continued to be an occupying power and in 2007 would impose a brutal air, sea, and land blockade on the people of Gaza.
Israel’s ‘disengagement’ from Gaza did not mean an end to the occupation. As Human Rights Watch said at the time, “Israel plans to reconfigure its occupation of the territory, but it will remain an occupying power with responsibility for the welfare of the civilian population.” The United Nations continues to consider Gaza to be occupied territory. In fact, under the disengagement plan, Israel retained the right to control Gaza’s borders, including the movement of trade and people, and to militarily invade the territory anytime it sees fit.
The motivations for Israel’s ‘disengagement’ were not about peace, but exactly the opposite: “freezing” the peace process and strengthening Israel’s control over the occupied Palestinian territories as a whole. As a senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in 2004, as the disengagement plan was being debated:
“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 […] 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."
Both before and after Israel’s disengagement, Israel has continued to exercise totalizing control over the Gaza Strip. Israeli restrictions on trade and the movement of people have put a chokehold on Gaza’s economy. In the last quarter of the year 2000, before disengagement, the Palestinian economy contracted by 50% due to Israeli border closures, as 24,000 Gazans were not able to reach their jobs in Israel. In 2007, following disengagement, Israel imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on Gaza, turning the region into an open-air prison and perpetuating a humanitarian catastrophe that severely restricts the freedom of the millions of Palestinians who live there.