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Return to Gaza

Nigel Roberts's picture

In my last few blogs I have been writing about a visit to the West Bank & Gaza in January of this year. The WDR 2011 is looking at how peoples' expectations can affect the course of a conflict, and the extent to which actions by governments and the international community can change those expectations. This new video explores these ideas.

Return to Gaza from WDR Video on Vimeo.

I Can’t See You

Nigel Roberts's picture

Jerusalem, January 15. 2010

“War…yes, everyone knows what war is like. But occupation is more terrible in a way, because people get used to one another. We tell ourselves, ‘They’re just like us, after all’, but they’re not at all the same. We’re two different species, irreconcilable, enemies forever.” Irene Nemirovsky, 1942, on the attitudes of the occupied French.

    The controversial wall separating Israel from Palestinian administered areas, is further limits access and movement. Photos © Natalia Cieslik.

So-called dialogue

In 2005, at the time of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, I became involved in a series of discussions between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Government of Israel (GOI). This involvement stemmed from World Bank analytical work: we had argued that a healthy Palestinian economy was an essential part of the confidence-building needed if Palestinians were to ‘invest’ in reconciliation, and that Israeli restrictions on movement and access were crippling any such possibility. What’s more, we believed that it was possible to greatly reduce these restrictions without destabilizing Israeli securityor rather, that a pursuit of day-to-day ‘absolute security’ risked the achievement of any longer-term ‘sustainable security’, and that improved methods of managing the flow of goods and people could be used to the benefit of both parties.

This argument had some resonance in Israel, and subsequently with the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA), and was adopted as a core part of the Wolfensohn Quartet Mission’s terms of reference. A series of negotiations took place and culminated in the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) brokered by US Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice in November 2005.

Despite its high profile, the AMA was never implemented. That’s a longer story.

Trapped

Nigel Roberts's picture

Gaza City, January 10, 2010

In our WDR Concept Note, we have written about an ‘expectations trap’. We argue that persistent violence and disappointment at efforts to tackle it can fracture peoples’ confidence in their leaders and institutions: a crisis of confidence that can snowball, as when investors lose faith in the stock market. Under this dynamic of despair, people are more prone to embrace violence, out of anger or an effort to preserve dignity and identity.

    Reconstruction Gaza Style.  Photos © Natalia Cieslik.

Gaza is a literal expectations trap, both physical and psychological. It is true that Israeli settlers and soldiers no longer live here, but it must be hard for any but the more avid Hamas supporters to find many positives out of two decades of ‘peacemaking’let alone believe that a just resolution is anywhere near happening. Visiting almost a year after the recent war with Israel, Laurence Wright described the isolation and hopelessness in the The New Yorker: “I began to see Gaza as, I suspect, many Gazans do: a floating island, a dystopian Atlantis, drifting farther away from contact with any other society.”

What the %*$& happened here?

Nigel Roberts's picture

Gaza City, January 9, 2010

"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit. "No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way."

Winter in Gaza

I first visited this place in 1994. Even then, the name was synonymous with misery. What I remember, though, was a crowded, contentious place possessed with energy and, in the minds of many, the hope of an end to 46 years of exile.

    Photos © Natalia Cieslik
Rex Bryan, Yezid Sayigh (from left), and I on the right during our trip to Gaza.

I haven’t been here for four years, and am here on WDR business with Yezid Sayigh (our West Bank and Gaza case study author), Rex Brynen and Natalia Cieslik of the WDR core team. Today, Gaza feels dead. It’s cold. A few green Hamas flags droop from the electricity lines. Much of the damage from the battles of December 2008 has been cleared away, but bullet-strikes run up and down many of the apartment blocks. There is little color anywhere; little of the efflorescent graffiti that once covered walls, few advertizing bill-boards, hardly any of the posters of ‘martyrs’ once claimed by contending political parties. As we drive the length of the Strip, the streets are almost empty.

Only a few Gazans can get out of the Strip now, almost all across the southern border into Egypt. Trade with Israel is a fraction of what it once was. The large modern facility Israel built at Erez to manage the flow of daily laborers is almost empty. Little except basic foods comes in through the Israeli cargo terminals, and only a few cut-flowers and vegetables are allowed out. Everything else comes in across the Egyptian border, most of it through a network of more than 100 tunnels dug by entrepreneurs beneath the fence at Rafahpetrol, cigarettes, bottled water, clothes, cement, allegedly 4-wheel drives, and even a lion and a zebra for the Gaza zoo.

It’s complicated

Natalia Cieslik's picture

I have just returned from Jerusalem. It was my first visit to this part of the Middle East, and now I see why people always say that you have to go there to get an idea of what it is really like. It is complicated.

     Interviewing a displaced family in Gaza for the WDR 'Witness' project.

It helped to be traveling with Nigel Roberts, Yezid Sayigh, and Rex Brynen. They combine decades of field experience and academic research, with intimate knowledge of every detail and latest twist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After spending two weeks with them I am convinced, between the three of them they likely know the shoe size of every actor in the region.
 
We went to Tel Aviv, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, and Jerusalem again for our consultations on the upcoming World Development Report. We met dozens of people, individually and in groups: journalists, political scientists, human rights activists, doctors, businessmen, students, civil servants, among others. There were hawks and doves, moderates, people who had given up any hope for peace and others who refuse to let frustration win over their beliefs that a solution and peaceful coexistence are possible.