In 1948, the greater part of Palestine’s population was forcefully displaced beyond Israel’s pre-1967 sphere of control to clear the way for Israel’s anachronistic pioneering. A great number of the “transferred” ended up in the Gaza Strip. Their nearby existence quickly gave rise to an abiding Israeli wish: “If I believed in miracles,” declared David Ben-Gurion in an October 1956 Knesset speech, “I would pray that Gaza would be washed down into the sea.” After 1967, Gaza’s inhabitants not only remained above water but came under direct Israeli rule.
Several decades later, they surely aren’t taking up very much room. “Taken in isolation,” Darryl Li wrote in 2006, “the Gaza Strip is often described as one of the most densely populated places on earth: 1.4 million Palestinians crowded into 365 square kilometers. But in the broader Zionist calculus of minima and maxima, this fact can be redescribed as follows: some 25 percent of all Palestinians living under Israeli control have been confined to 1.4 percent of the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine.”
Still, they exist, they take part in Palestinian politics, they resist with all the means at their disposal. And Israeli officialdom continues to look wistfully at the water.
But how simultaneously to exclude and control these people while clearing safe space to pioneer? “It will be a difficult struggle,” explained Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday. “Gaza’s residents are not about to jump into the sea”. Until the likes of Barak can be so lucky, however, they do see ways to proceed. Fabricating pretexts for aggression on the southern front is, after all, a vibrant tradition, as old as the state itself.