After I e-mailed my last post to interviewee Helena Cobban, she sent me an insightful response. A blogger/analyst and publisher who sat for 17 years on the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch and has reported extensively from the Middle East, Cobban added these points:
It doesn’t really matter what any of us claim about whether Gaza is occupied. Israel, like all other significant states, is a signatory of the 1949 Geneva Conventions which define this matter; and under an arrangement established in the 1870s or so, signatories to all the ‘Geneva’ and ‘Hague’ series of conventions agree that the International Committee of the Red Cross (rather than any individual, possibly flawed, state) will be the depository and ultimate arbiter regarding them. The ICRC has maintained continuously since 1967 that Gaza, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and Golan are occupied territories.
An additional power that Israel has continuously exercised in all these occupied territories including Gaza is– as Laila El-Haddad noted in her testimony at American Friends Service Committee’s great Capitol Hill briefing yesterday, and as she has in her book [from Helena’s Just World Books] — control over the population registry: that is, over who has the right to enter and reside in these territories. Over the long haul this has been one of Israel’s most powerful weapons against the territories’ legitimate indigenous residents. It isn’t just East Jerusalemites who lose their “right to reside”– Gazans and residents of the West Bank outside of Jerusalem frequently do, too. In the immediate aftermath of 1967, there was a huge exodus of West Bank Palestinians across the bridge — the kind of flight that occurs during any war. But once they had crossed, Israel gave them no immediate permission to return; and subsequently allowed only a trickle to go back under provisions of special “Family Reunification”. Since then, over 44 years of occupation, hundreds of thousands of additional West Bankers and Gazans have lost their right to reside. This splits up families horribly. It is also — especially when tied to the strangulation of normal life and commerce in the Occupied Palestinian Territories — a means to effect a quiet but deadly form of ethnic cleansing by administrative means.