Viewed from the sea, the border between Israel and Gaza is a subtle affair; quite unlike the Israel Lebanon border where the no-man’s-land snakes over the hillsides in a broad stripe before dwindling into the distant east. Gaza from the sea looks just like another city which can be seen dotting the coast of the Mediterranean at regular intervals. True, maybe more high-rise towers, more densely packed than it near neighbours but nothing to especially draw the eye.
That is during the day. At night the scene is completely changed. While the coastal towns of Israel are shining with light, there is no sign of the city of Gaza. A passing ship may see the occasional headlamps of a car and imagine that one or two small villages and scattered homesteads occupy the land south of Ashdod. The tower blocks, the buildings, the streets; all become invisible. It is as if Gaza never was. The only clue that there is a border at all is a negative one: a strip of utter darkness that lies between the citizens of Israel and their near Palestinian neighbours.
That is the closest I have been to Gaza and although the view I describe is now several years old, I am certain that it has not changed. Indeed, from what I hear in the media it is worse now for the population of Gaza than it was then. The two-state “solution” that arose from the peace initiatives of the 1990s are now dead. Former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, stated as much this week. Now, I am not in the habit of agreeing with Mr. Bolton on many topics but in this I’m sure he is right. I do not, however, agree with his proposed solution: to carve up the remaining Palestinian populations between existing states, with Gaza going to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan. I’m sure that the Israeli government would be more than happy with this; after all it has long being the policy of Israel to drive the Palestinians off the land claimed by Israelis and let the neighbouring states cope with the refugees should they choose to.
There are several objections to the Bolton suggestion. The first is the right to self-determination. These people are neither Egyptian nor Jordanian. They are Palestinian and I doubt that Palestinians of Gaza would be queuing up to join the repressive police-state that is Egypt. Secondly it assumes that Israel’s neighbours can swallow large numbers of new population, especially people that have been brutalised for many years. Egypt might be able to cope but I doubt that Jordan could. There are already hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees living in poverty in the country. Jordan has already closed its border to more. Maybe the assumption is that these people will be able to return home one day. Looking at the long-lived refugee camps of Palestinians in Lebanon, I have my doubts. Iraq has been trashed for a generation and those who have already left will not be returning soon. To bequeath another population on a fragile Jordan may well tip the balance for the country with the resulting in failed states running across the Middle East all the way from Israel’s eastern border to the western border of Iran, a truly horrific prospect.
It is perhaps time for Israelis to consider that which their policies have long attempted to avoid: what will happen if the Jewish people become minorities in their own state? For the citizens of Israeli, Gaza and the West Bank to live in one country and with equal rights under the law. Unrealistic and infeasible? At the moment, yes it is. Against the Zionist dream of a Jewish state? Yes. Would the majority of Palestinians have to renounce their claims on the land they have been driven from? Yes. Will the Jewish religion have to be granted special rights in the constitution of the new state of Israel-Palestine? Yes, that too. There would have to be much work to be done to bring this notion about and it would take time: a lot of time. Probably another forty years. It is not impossible though. Things have happened in my lifetime I never thought would happen: the fall of the Iron Curtain; Sinn Fein and the DUP in Northern Ireland working together in government. I know that these conflicts are not the same as Israel and Palestine. The point is that all conflicts have an end and despite the rhetoric on both sides, peace is seldom enforced by military means.
We all must work to break down the darkness that separates people.