“There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” President Barack Obama said at a press conference last week. He drew on this general observation in order to justify Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s most recent military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
In describing the situation this way, he assumes, like many others, that Gaza is a political entity external and independent of Israel. This is not so. It is true that Israel officially disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, withdrawing its ground troops and evacuating the Israeli settlements there. But despite the absence of a permanent ground presence, Israel has maintained a crushing control over Gaza from that moment until today.
The testimonies of Israeli army veterans expose the truth of that “disengagement.” Before Operation Pillar of Defense, after all, Israel launched Operations Summer Rains and Autumn Clouds in 2006, and Hot Winter and Cast Lead in 2008 -- all involving ground invasions. In one testimony, a veteran speaks of “a battalion operation” in Gaza that lasted for five months, where the soldiers were ordered to shoot “to draw out terrorists” so they “could kill a few.”
Israeli naval blockades stop Gazans from fishing, a main source of food in the Strip. Air blockades prevent freedom of movement. Israel does not allow building materials into the area, forbids exports to the West Bank and Israel, and (other than emergency humanitarian cases) prohibits movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It controls the Palestinian economy by periodically withholding import taxes.