Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Sleep in a Sterile Zone

Ariella Azoulay
[This military campaign, too, is a part of the same regime]

The familiar sight of a Palestinian room - colorful blankets wrap those sleeping on the floor, crowded against each other. A khaki sleeve caught my eye. A ray of light crossing the frame from the right led to it. Then it became easier to notice a pair of army boots peeking under another blanket, a flexed knee in uniform and an upside-down helmet. These are Israeli soldiers. They are sleeping in a Palestinian home in Gaza. There is no trace of the inhabitants. They must have “fled” once more as refugees.

This photograph landed in my e-mailbox ten days ago with about another twenty. The accompanying letter iterated: "We should all be proud of the IDF… these brave kids defend our country" and, following, provided a recommendation which is also an authorization to distribute these images. This e-mail was signed by the CEO of the Israeli branch of a large European firm. His full personal data were prominently noted at the bottom of the letter. This is the most abstract photograph of a very harsh series, the last two of which come with a warning: these are not to be viewed by children. According to the sender, the rest may apparently be shared with them as a part of this war's booty.

Images similar to the one of soldiers asleep in a Palestinian home were disseminated to date only by soldiers who are members in Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence) as a part of their sobering-up process from the missions the army had required them to carry out for the sake of 'state security'. Their photographs are not made public in the press but are exhibited in alternative venues. In Israel, at least, the occupation of a Palestinian home to provide soldiers with a place to sleep is not a media item. Were a press-photographer to shoot such a frame, the editor would not print it for 'lack of public interest'. But now the press has been kept away from Gaza, and it has a very meager supply of images of the ongoing horror there. Israel allows press-photographers to set themselves up on a hill adjacent to the Gaza Strip and shoot – long distance - the smoke billowing over the horizon, thus screening the inferno within. The hill overlooking Gaza is open to local tourist-visitors. For their convenience, someone has placed benches there as well as site-scape information booths. In the last few weeks, people have been arriving with children and binoculars to show their kids and watch Gaza being bombarded, and to take pleasure in Israel’s might. When the man standing with his back to the camera returns home, he will download the photographs he took and distribute them to family and friends. He will show them that he, too, was there, holding his fingers in a victory sign for the camera, while Gaza goes up in flames in the background. From time to time, this screen that insulates us from Gaza is ruptured by photographs transmitted via e-mail by Gazan photographers – unbearable images of severe harm to civilians and their immediate environment. Very few of these are printed in Israeli daily press. Those that are published are provided by Reuters (whose Gaza office was bombed yesterday) or AP. Some probably reach these news agencies by the Gazan agency Ramatan that currently employs 150 journalists and photographers in Gaza and has become a major supplier of news photographs worldwide (except to Israel). The person who proudly forwarded the photograph at hand did not see in it that which the soldiers of Breaking the Silence saw in the images they published in the past. They, or others like them, have refused to go to war this time around. Those who refused have been tried and incarcerated. The Israeli press has not reported this at all. The media's silencing their refusal joins the similar silencing of demonstrations by Jewish Israelis against the war, or the arrest and incarceration of dozens of demonstrators. No one will prosecute the soldiers in this picture or the one who photographed them, all having invaded a home and removed its inhabitants in order to have a place to sleep. Theirs is an 'act of state'.

The photograph I have chosen is a not particularly harsh sight. It shows soldiers asleep in Gaza. Even in the midst of battle soldiers need their sleep. The difficulty arises when one recalls that these colorful blankets in which the soldiers are curled up are not their own, that the dwellers of this home where they now sleep have been made homeless. One of the soldiers, wakened by a first ray of morning light before his mates, is taking pictures - for them, for their families, a souvenir – an image of a night's sleep in Gaza.

But, after all, this is Gaza. How can Israeli soldiers who participated in the destruction of Gaza – the devastation of entire neighborhoods, public buildings, fatal ruin of vital infrastructure, wounding thousands, bombing hospitals, civilian shelters, schools, killing of over one-thousand human beings – how can these soldiers who are "not exactly welcome guests" in Gaza, how can they possibly afford to sleep so peacefully in the midst of the inferno they have produced without sensing any immediate danger to their own lives? The answer lies in one of the Occupation's practices, most common since its inception – creating a 'sterile zone'. What is a sterile zone? An area emptied of Arabs so that the military can carry out its missions. In this image we are most likely witnessing the heart of the sterile zone. We have no knowledge of its range, its perimeter, but for these soldiers to sleep so serenely, so safely, not only the dwellers of this house had to be removed from the sterile zone, but the residents of the entire area.

For the Israeli soldier, a Palestinian home is a violable space. This point has not been born in the recent Gaza campaign. The history of this violability goes back slightly over sixty years-old. At that time, the voices opposing the expulsion of Palestinians were hushed by another that overtook the military and political leadership of the Jewish public, making expulsion a fait-accompli. This leading voice stammered in its official declarations but was none the less determined in its practical aspects and managed to expel 750,000 Arabs from the areas of British Mandate Palestine. For a whole year Jewish soldiers went from village to village and, when called upon, from home to home, tearing the Arabs away from their dwellings and lands. At times they used indirect means - rumors and truck convoys – and at others, violence and direct threat. Ever since, the Palestinian home has not ceased to be threatened by the very thinking and operating pattern that to the Israeli public (as well as to world public opinion) presents that very home as an existential threat.

The residents of the Arab towns of Ramle, Bir Al-Saba, Majdal and Isdud, occupied by Israeli forces in the 1948 war, either escaped or were forcibly expelled and most of them were removed to Gaza and tripled its population at once. At the end of the war the Egyptians controlled Gaza and instated their own military administration. Israel did not manage that last "military victory" – the conquest of Gaza – before signing the ceasefire agreements with Egypt in 1949, thus giving birth to the narrow, troublesome 'strip' at the edge of the State of Israel. A 'strip' is a military-political term that expresses temporariness and designates a region that must be dealt with as undetermined, its situation to be solved. 'The Gaza Strip' was born as a problem. Since this birth, Israel has never ceased proposing 'solutions to the problem'. In 1949 Israel proposed a 'political' solution, aiming to annex the strip along with some of the refugees it harbored. But this political 'solution' with its military scent was rejected by the parties involved. In the 1956 Sinai campaign, the Strip was occupied along with the entire peninsula and Israel imposed its military administration. This did not last long for under American-Russian pressure Israel was forced to retreat from the territory it conquered. In 1967 Israel managed to re-conquer the Strip and take control of the 1948 refugees yet once again. Since then, for over forty years Israel has controlled the Palestinian population in Gaza. At least ever since the general closure Israel imposed upon the Gaza Strip in 1991 during the first Gulf War, such control entails cutting off the Strip from the West Bank as well as strict control over any entry and exit from it. By means of administering the crossings, Israel regulates life in Gaza. Since the Second Intifada, and ever more tightly since its 'disengagement', Israel has been managing a measured, chronic disaster, ever-watchful not to cross the fine line of a 'humanitarian catastrophe', enabling or preventing the flow of goods, people and means.

Since 1948, the Palestinian home is never the private domicile that shelters its dwellers from invaders and strangers. Israelis do not conceive of themselves as invaders or strangers, and the Palestinians are not regarded as home-owners in the simplest sense of the term. Their homes are vulnerable to nightly incursions, bulldozer activity, bombs dropped upon them from the skies, missile barrages or simply shootings that make them uninhabitable, expropriate them to create army outposts, positions and headquarters, all given to changing circumstances and the increasing 'security necessities'. The explanation given for these ritual actions is that they are crucial in order to 'flush out the terrorists from their nests', 'suppress resistance' or 'destroy insurgent infrastructure'. Thus the Palestinian home is presented as a military outpost of the enemy, calling for military intervention. The Palestinian home constitutes a problem, and military intervention its solution or at least a means to 'solving the problem'. More precisely, the home becomes penetrable and violable because it has been perceived by some local Israeli commander as a 'security problem' or its solution, but it tends to be regarded again and again as a problem because it is always seen as penetrable.

Israel usually manages to carry out its destruction with a public silencer, without reverberating in Israeli or international public discourse, maintaining the status quo. Whenever its operations were intensified and expanded and the Palestinians persistently resisted Israeli military might with the meager means at their disposal, Israel has turned to 'the world' for help, to halt the self-same campaign it initiated and bring about a 'ceasefire' agreement. Usually, while conducting these negotiations, it manages to grab the chance for some more destructive actions and invades more homes. Any such military campaign renews the state of emergency, re-justifying its permanent validity since 1948, mobilizing one and all and helping to forget the preceding emergency. Most importantly – it prevents citizens from identifying the source of this state of emergency: the regime itself. This regime needs the state of emergency. It cannot survive without it. To this end it has been mobilizing its citizens for the past forty years and more to continue fighting its non-citizens subjects. The source of the real state of emergency is the existence of a regime that denies all of its subjects - both citizens and non-citizens – the viable possibility to build for themselves joint frames of living in their area; it does not let them exorcise themselves of the language of occupation in which any Arab is a potential member of the 'killer gangs' as they were termed in the 1940s, 'infiltrators' in the 1950s, 'militants' in the 1960s and 1970s, and 'terrorist organizations' ever since the 1980s.

"A ceasefire is enough for us", Ben Gurion wrote in 1949. "If we chase peace – the Arabs will expect us to pay a price – either borders or refugees, or both. Let us wait a few years." Ben Gurion wrote this in the very year the State of Israel was accepted as a member nation in the UN. In spite of its mass expulsion of Palestinians and the devastation of their habitat, Israel was recognized as a 'peace-seeking' state.

Within this pattern of suspending the final solution – be it peace, war or mass expulsion – the current campaign, too – constitutes colonial expansion and violent suppression of resistant people who have been made refugees. This recognition, namely the alliance of sovereign nation-states that back each other up in the wars they conduct against civilians who have been made refugees in their own land or outside, continues to condone Israel's countless military campaigns in the territories it has occupied.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Amnesty International in its Public Statement Appeals the Moroccan Authorities to Investigate the Death of a Migrant Killed at the Border

The organization also called for the respect of the rights of migrants who are often ill-treated and summarily expelled from Morocco. The calls follow the killing of 29 year-old migrant from Cameroon, known as Alino and the arrest and arbitrary expulsion of 14 other migrants at the beginning of January 2009.

In the morning of 1 January 2009, at least 50 migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa tried to reach the fence between Morocco and the enclave of Melilla. According to accounts given to Amnesty International, Moroccan law enforcement officials fired once in the air but following shots were directed at the migrants to prevent them from crossing the border. Alino, one of the migrants, was reportedly hit by the second shot and died during his transportation to Nador hospital

For details of the public statement issued by Amnesty pl. click on the link:

Morocco will Soon Join the Sea Horse Network – A Communication Satellite to Monitor Migratory Flows Between Sub-Saharan Africa and Spain

"Sea Horse Network is a communication satellite developed by the European Union (EU) and Spain to monitor migratory flows between sub-Saharan Africa and Spain. Regarded as a rear base and base transit of illegal migrants to Europe, Morocco deploys many ways to deter potential migrants to the European Eldorado. Her participation in "Sea Horse Network will monitor real-time departure of boats to the Canary Islands. This system will also be used for monitoring maritime traffic in drugs on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic according to its designers. A system that probably will relieve the Kingdom of Morocco in the efforts already undertaken in the fight against migration. The "Sea Horse Network is already in place between Spain, Portugal, Senegal, Mauritania and Cape Verde. The exchange of information between the focal point of the Canary Islands and the offices of Senegal, Cape Verde and Mauritania are already operational. All this information is processed in the central platform installed in the Spanish capital.

It is time to rethink whether this kind of surveillance mechanisms will lead to more violence to the borders. The securitisation of the borders will lead to policing and control of populations who might be forced to move for several reasons. The international community should join hands to probe these reasons rather than act as the monitoring agencies at the “borders”.

For details click on the link:

Ten Years of Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (GP10)

Forced Migration Review has launched a special issue on Ten years of Guiding principles. The special issue reflects on the discussions at the international conference on the Ten Years of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (GP10) held in Oslo on 16-17 October 2008.

The conference aimed to assess the accomplishments and shortcomings of the Guiding Principles since their launch in 1998. The FMR special issue includes shortened versions of some of the conference presentations, plus a selection of other articles, most of which present case studies on the application of the Guiding Principles in different countries.

For details click on the link:

Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia by Louise Brown Published by: Virago Press, 2000 ISBN 1 86049 903 1 Pages—276 Price: UK Pounds 7.99

Geetisha Dasgupta

Louise Brown begins this book with a rather shocking narrative style. In the preface, she introduces the thought behind the book. She also says that research in prostitution is not an easy task; the research methodology cannot involve standard research techniques and information about the real trade is difficult to access. She adds that the Asian stereotype of the woman is a myth. Poor Asian women, though exposed to danger of being trafficked to a huge degree, cannot be said to be weak. Their vulnerability does not prove their weakness. The array of chapters is interesting, and signifies how the author views the industry. The book explores facets like “The Market”, “The Commodity”, “The Agents”, “Seasoning”, “The Customers”, “The Management”, “The Law”, “Life and Death”, and “The Shame”. The following paragraphs try to throw some light on these.

Relating minute details of the social behavioral pattern of the Asian commercial sex industry, she speaks of the very basics of the mode on which the flesh trade subsist. She begins with the case of Sahana, a young illiterate Nepali woman, who was violated because of her two most valuable qualities, that of being pretty and that of being young. Her family earned a good fifty pounds for her face. She ceased to be in the trade after a while because she contracted HIV and rapidly lost her physical beauty that was the key to her survival in the market. In the first chapter, the author talks about the sexual attitudes of the Asian men and counter poses it to that of the western men. Notions that mark the understanding are hypocrisy and contempt for women, fidelity and virtue, abhorrence for and fear of divorce, etc. Prostitution for these women is not a forced occupation always. The link between poverty, prostitution and trafficking is a pretty confused one. Often, money earned out of prostitution enables one to earn the respect of the family, and in turn, it is the family itself that expects a pretty daughter to join prostitution if that is a standard mode of income in the society in reference.

Though the Asian sex industry underwent considerable changes following the Second World War, the essential social mores were never altered, nor was the attitude towards the women. Brideprice and dowry are both ways that convert a woman into a non-person. In case of the failure of families, it is the women who are more vulnerable. Social hierarchies are confirmed in terms of access to and control over the women. This is in a way manifested in the exchange of women in marriages. Rape is often an entry ticket to flesh trade and the perpetrator in this case, becomes the trafficker as well as the pimp. The author explores the concept of Devadasi in Hindu religion and says, it is a kind of religious prostitution where, girls are sold pre puberty and on the occasion of reaching physical adulthood, sold off to the highest bidder. Thus restricted to the profession for life and her daughters also follow suit. Hinduism makes space for prostitute castes, like the Badis in Nepal. Islam, though equal to women in religious terms, creates huge levels of gender power differences in the social realm and therefore perpetuates violence. Brown analyses the Purdah as a social tool to harness the women whom the men seek to control. This notion, when violated, would inflict consequences like honour killings. Newspapers in Sindh have reported 66 honour killings in the province in 1996 alone. Prostitution in such societies, are never overt. Often, the uninitiated customer would not realize where to approach in search of “free women”. In countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Philippines, there would be covert concubines, which, would not be recognized from outside. Globalization and liberalization pushed more and more women to flesh trade. They are being increasingly commodified, and often the buyer would sort through an array of choices made available to him by the agent. In Thailand, two million young children and women from Burma have become sex slaves in the past few years.

In traditional societies, where illegitimate sexual experience is a great no-no, there have to be agents who usher the women into the trade. Agents function in almost all kinds of ways that one might imagine. More often than not, the daughter is culled out from the family through lucrative offers of a better life through a sanitized job in a big city. Many a time, romantic liaisons are fabricated. In countries like Bangladesh for example, marriage, rather than employment is a better avenue towards flesh trade. The story of Rupchand, a rickshaw puller from Dhaka, is a case in point. He had three daughters to marry off. When he married one of them to an unseen Indian man through a known Indian woman, the daughter vanished forever. Rupchand died and his widow has suspicious of what had happened to Fatema, the daughter. But there were never any way to find out. Some sex workers in Asia however, make a conscious choice to enter the market, though such women are very few in number. Girls are recruited at an early age. There are even pick up vans that assist them for the travel.

In the rest of the chapters, the author speaks of the ‘qualities’ that are sought in a prostitute by a potential buyer and how the trade which is increasing by leaps and bounds is ‘managed’. Every industry has its laws, and so does the commercial sex industry. The author points out the significant dissimilarities that the Asian market has, when compared to the west. The book is marked by an on your face narrative style that often takes aback the uninitiated, but also would create more interest to the reader who wants to begin in this particular study area. This summarizes the reason for using not too much figures, but more field experiences, stories and descriptions.

Geography of Mass Incarceration

Oren Yiftachel
[Prof. Oren Yiftachel teaches political geography and urban planning at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba]

"We have a great opportunity now in Gaza to smash and flatten them… we should destroy thousand of houses, tunnels and industries, and kill as many terrorists as possible…". So declared Eli Yishai, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, a few days ago. On the same day Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni promised "to topple the Hamas Regime", and Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert demanded in every forum to "hermetically seal" the Gazan-Egyptian border.

These, and many similar statements by Israeli leaders, sketch in painful clarity the ‘political geography of mass incarceration’ increasingly evident in Israel/Palestine. Under this regime large populations are locked into specific areas against their will, and often against international law, and are then subject to the mercy of their wardens. Typically, when the conditions of imprisonment become unbearable a rebellion erupts, and is suppressed by violent collective punishment, which in turn sets the conditions for the next uprising.

This is how Israel is now treating its rebelling prisoners in Gaza. As the leaders’ statements show, it seeks to lock them in the tiny strip and punish them with enormous force. At the same time Israel is further institutionalizing the geography of incarceration and with it the likelihood of future uprisings.

This is not a new phenomenon: European colonialism widely used mass incarceration of indigenous groups, condensing them in reserves and Bantustans, to enable Whites to freely exploit land, minerals and labor. Today too, racist governments attempt to deal with the existence of 'unwanted populations' by applying methods of spatial containment and violent ‘punishment’, as evident in the cases of Chechnya, Kosovo, Kashmir, Darfur and Tamil Elam in Sri Lanka. The key to this spreading political order is the prevention of the rebelling region from gaining state sovereignty, leaving it ‘neither in nor out’ of the state’s control system. As a non-state entity, resistance of the jailed to colonial power is often criminalized, leading the state’s righteous claim that it has 'no choice' but to further oppress the anti-colonial struggle.

Importantly, the mass incarceration strategy is usually not the preferred option. It is typically employed only when the colonial power has lost some of its ability to settle and control the land by other, softer, means, and when the option of ethnic cleansing has become untenable. Much to the regret of racist regimes, this is the situation today under international law. Hence, mass incarceration remains one of the main policy options for colonial states aiming to dominate indigenous populations.

Back to Israel/Palestine: Gaza turned into an open air jail already in the late 1940s when over 150,000 Palestinian refugees were driven by Israel into the small region (covering just 1.7% of British Palestine), joining its 60,000 previous residents. The refugees were never allowed to return to their lands and homes which were confiscated and destroyed. Ironically, it was during the 'peace process' that the incarceration of Gaza intensified, with a sequence of closures, movement restrictions and the construction in 1994 of a massive barrier around the Strip. Following the 2005 disengagement and the election of Hamas, Israel's illegal siege over the area was notched up with a near total blockade of movement and trade.

Gaza is a severe case, but it’s not unique. Since its establishment, Israel's ethnocratic regime has worked incessantly to Judaize the country by confiscating Palestinian lands, constructing hundreds of Jewish settlements and restricting the Palestinians to small enclaves. This began with the military government inside the Green Line until 1966, and the establishment of a 'fenced area' for the Bedouins in the south, which operates until today. Since the 1990s, the ghettoisation of Palestinians continued with the marking of areas A-B-C in the occupied territories, with the advent of closures and checkpoints, and finally with the construction of ‘the wall’ – all helping to fragment Palestine to dozens of isolated enclaves.

The long-term geographical impact of the Judaization policy has been dramatic. -- the Palestinians in Israel, for example, constitute 18% of the population, but control less than three percent of the land. In the entire area between Jordan and Sea, the Palestinians constitute just under 50%, but control only 13% of the land. Critically however, Judaization seems to have reached its limits, and since the Oslo period Israel has been re-arranging its colonial geography to fit realization.

The difference between Gaza and the other enclaves is the depth of its isolation and its persistent rebellion. The Hamas leadership never accepted the Oslo illusion, or the promise of 'two states for two people' enshrined in the 'roadmap' or the 'Annapolis process'. They have realized that the promise has become an empty rhetoric which enables the on-going colonization of their lands. The promised Palestinian state has become in the meantime fragmented, suffocated and impoverished. And what has been Israel's response to this crisis? The deepening of mass incarceration, 'necessitated' to protect Jewish settlement, and at the same time maintaining a campaign of massive personal incarceration, during which Israel has arrested over 10,000 prisoners who are now jailed without trials, including dozens of Palestinian parliamentarians. The incarceration policy has thus resulted in the creation of prisons within prisons.

While the geography of incarceration is typically explained as a security measure, its appeal is also increasing for economic reasons. During the current age of globalization, personal, commercial and financial movement has become essential for development and prosperity. The geography of mass incarceration helps to keep the ‘unwanted’ outside the riches of this process. Therefore, the on-going fortification around Gaza, including the current invasion, also put in place a system of protecting Jewish economic privileges.

Indeed, Palestinian violence plays an important part in the creation of this geography, through the hostile dialectic between colonizer and colonized. For example, the shelling of Israeli civilians by Hamas and suicide bombing of previous years are clear acts of terror, which gave legitimacy within Israeli society to carry out the incarceration policy. But Palestinian violence, and particularly the shelling from Gaza should also be perceived as a prison uprising, currently suppressed by the use of state terror, which kills many more civilians and creates infinitely more damage than the initial act of resistance. This dialectic means that the very maintenance of a geography of incarceration already sews the seeds for the next prison uprising...

It is important to note, however, that the option of rebellion only intensifies the punishment and killing, but not the basic geography of imprisonment. Hence, even after the current invasion is over, Israel will undoubtedly continue to use this strategy in both Gaza and the (non-rebelling) West Bank, and in softer forms inside the Green Line, where Israel's Palestinian citizens are also contained in small enclaves. I have termed this process 'creeping apartheid' – an undeclared yet powerful political order, which creates vastly unequal forms of citizenship under one ruling power. Rights under such regimes are determined by a combination of ethnic affiliation and place of birth. This cannot be illustrated more vividly than by noting the differences in mobility and property rights – Jews are free to move and purchase land in almost the entire area under Israeli control, while Palestinians are limited to ‘their own’ separated enclaves -- Gazans in Gaza only, Jerusalemites only in Jerusalem and so on.

This type of political geography tends to result in a chain of absurdities. Here is one: the invasion and destruction of Gaza is carried out by an ousted Israeli government, and is actively supported by a defeated US administration. The two governments which lost power are violently attacking in their dying days the democratically elected government of Palestine. This leads to the next absurd: instead of condemning and placing sanctions on Israel, which has placed Gaza under siege for the last two years, the world has imposed sanctions over the Hamas government. The occupied are punished twice: once by the brutal occupation, and a second time for the attempt to resist.

Sadly, these absurdities are not surprising, being part of the geography of mass incarceration, under which the colonial power will recognize the prisoners’ leadership only if they refrain from rebelling against their incarceration, as is currently the case with the Abass regime in the West Bank. In the case of a rebellion, however, its leaders are likely to be oppressed are often eliminated.

What may be slightly (but not entirely) more surprising is that Israeli leadership and society have not learnt from history that a geography of mass incarceration exists on borrowed time. Such as geography can never receive legitimacy, and hence cannot create security for the jailing side. On the contrary, instability and constant rebellions are likely to undermine the incarcerating regime itself.

Against the reality of mass incarceration, it may be advisable to listen to Mahmoud Darwish’s wise advise to his prison warden: “I shall still teach you how to wait/ at the gate of my postponed death/ slowly slowly/ perhaps you will have enough of me/ and will rid yourself of my cross/ and enter your night liberated/ from my ghostly shadow."

Returning Time to Gazans

Oren Yiftachel
[Prof. Oren Yiftachel teaches political geography and urban planning at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba]

The sights of death and destruction from Gaza are devastating, and the residents of southern Israel are under on-going bombardment. The situation is suffocating, saddening and infuriating. In such a time it may be difficult to look beyond the violence, but this may be necessary to understand what is transpiring in front of our eyes.

An aboriginal author once said, during the struggle for native rights in Australia: "wherever national territory advances, our time is killed, but it also has a strange habit of returning after death."

It may seem far removed, but this insight can help us fathom the war on Gaza. Beyond the carnage, brutality, and screaming children, we can also see it as the continuation of the Israeli territorial project which has adopted a consistent and cruel goal – the erasure of Palestinian time, that is, the full recent history of this land. This erasure, needless to say, is aimed at destroying Palestinian space, in what Palestinian professor Sari Hanafi calls ‘spaciocide’. With this destruction comes the annihilation of political powers, those existing by right, and not as a result of some Israeli 'generosity'.

Accordingly, one may look at the current invasion to Gaza not only as an 'operation' to stop Hamas' rockets; a pre-election effort to boost popularity by cynical Israeli leaders; nor an attempt to re-establish Israel's deterrence following the failure of the second Lebanon War of 2006. This invasion and destruction of Gaza is neither only a colonial attempt to 'create a new political order' among neighboring nations, or an imperial (American-Israeli) push to control insurgent Arab societies. The current attack on Gaza is of course all these, but also – and most importantly, another step in the long-standing project of silencing, fragmenting, breaking and annihilating Palestinian history and collective existence. The erasure project is conducted by nearly everybody in Israel – politicians, artists, the media, university researchers and intellectuals.

Against these efforts of collective forgetfulness, let us remember that history: the Gaza Strip is a small region covering only 1.7% of historic Palestine. It was created as an entity following the 1948 war, known as the Nakbah (Palestinian disaster), during which some two thirds of Palestinians refugees were driven out from what is now Israel, with 150,000 of them joining the 60,000 Arabs already residing in the area. The armistice lines were drawn between Israeli and Egypt, with the refugees trapped on the 'wrong side', and prevented from returning to their villages. In the meantime, Israel destroyed nearly all Arab villages from Jaffa to Beersheba, appropriated all Palestinian land and allocated it to the dozens of Jewish towns and settlements built around Gaza.

The refugee population in Gaza today amounts to more than a million (over two thirds of the Strip's population). Its spatial conditions have worsened dramatically, with overcrowding, poverty, lack of services and a growing regime of geographic constraints. Israel's conquest in 1967 eased for a while the sense of siege, but following the first Intifada, and further since the Oslo Agreement, Gaza was cordoned once more, cut off from the rest of the Palestinian Territories and the world, and surrounded in 1994 by a massive 'security fence', ironically as part of the 'peace process'. Gaza became a large Palestinian Ghetto, or as notable Gaza Eyad el-Sarraj quipped: "the largest jail in the world.".

This is the background for the rise of Hamas, which offered an alternative to the failed Oslo accords under which the promise to peace turned into a Palestinian 'Via Dolorosa'. Hamas refused to believe the promise of 'two states for two nations', which has become an empty slogan, enabling the endless continuation of Jewish settlement and Israeli colonial occupation. Hamas also gave voice and political weight for the refugees by appointing Ismail Haniya - - resident of the Shati Camp, as its first Prime Minister. This move was conducted against a corrupt Palestinian political elite, trapped within the Oslo framework, which prevented it from dealing with the refugee issue, thereby silencing again the recent history of this land.

True, the shelling of Israeli towns by Hamas should be condemned as an act of terror, and as a disastrous political strategy with grave consequences to the Palestinian people. But beyond this, we should understand it as a desperate attempt to remind the world, Israel, and even the Arab world, that the refugee problem is still alive – an open wound awaiting to be healed by the forces that created it -- first and foremost Israel.

Against this on-going cry, Israel typically decided to escape engaging with the issue, and is now conducting a campaign of state-sanctioned terror, against Gazan society. Hence the brutal violence that aims to divide, cut, kill and injure. But even tones of bombs and piles of 'cast lead' cannot silence the echo of history. Israel's mighty military power is weak politically and morally and will not prevent the return of native time, even after its pronounced death, as predicted by the Aboriginal author.

The moral is clear: the genuine cessation of violence must pass through the return of time to our public and political life, that is, the opening of a genuine debate over the history that created and maintained Gaza and other Palestinian ghettoes controlled violently by Israel. Without that, we may realize time and again that our enormous military power buys no genuine security. During such a debate, the refugee issue will be foremost on the agenda, but it will also have to engage with the Jews' own history of dislocation and disaster, and the making of a safe Jewish place in an Arab Middle East.

The return of Palestinian time, therefore, is necessary for the recognition of Jewish time, and for the two nations to find a way to coexist in their common homeland. Hence, we must replace territory with history as the core of Palestinian-Jewish engagement, and thereby enter, perhaps, a time of reconciliation.