The following is excerpted from The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development by Sara Roy (Harvard University) published by the Institute for Palestine Studies (2016). For a limited time, The Gaza Strip is on sale, which you may buy here.
In our society it is murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist.
– Martin Luther King Jr. The Trumpet of Conscience (1968)
In 1956, Moshe Dayan, then Israel’s chief of staff, delivered a famous eulogy for Ro’i Rutenberg, who lived on the Nahal Oz kibbutz and was killed in an ambush by Palestinians from Gaza. It included the following (emphasis mine):
Early yesterday morning Ro’i was murdered. The quiet of the spring morning dazzled him and he did not see those waiting in ambush for him, at the edge of the furrow. Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we declare their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate. It is not among the Arabs in Gaza, but in our own midst that we must seek Ro’i’s blood. How did we shut our eyes and refuse to look squarely at our fate, and see, in all its brutality, the destiny of our generation? Have we forgotten that this group of young people dwelling at Nahal Oz is bearing the heavy gates of Gaza on its shoulders? Beyond the furrow of the border, a sea of hatred and desire for revenge is swelling, awaiting the day when serenity will dull our path, for the day when we will heed the ambassadors of malevolent hypocrisy who call upon us to lay down our arms.
Ro’i’s blood is crying out to us and only to us from his torn body. . . . We will make our reckoning with ourselves today; we are a generation that settles the land and without the steel helmet and the cannon’s maw, we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home. Let us not be deterred from seeing the loathing that is inflaming and filling the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around us. Let us not avert our eyes lest our arms weaken. This is the fate of our generation. This is our life’s choice – to be prepared and armed, strong and determined, lest the sword be stricken from our fist and our lives be cut down. The young Ro’i who left Tel Aviv to build his home at the gates of Gaza to be a wall for us was blinded by the light in his heart and he did not see the flash of the sword. The yearning for peace deafened his ears and he did not hear the voice of murder waiting in ambush. The gates of Gaza weighed too heavily on his shoulders and overcame him.
Through his powerful words, Dayan showed that although he was able to understand both the suffering and hostility of the Palestinians, he clearly believed that however painful it is, Israel must do whatever is necessary to maintain control over the land. Yet “bearing the heavy gates of Gaza” and building a home for the Jewish people “at the gates of Gaza to be a wall” have assumed dimensions that perhaps Dayan himself could not have envisioned.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are trapped in what Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian terms “a zone of non-existence.” In this zone, she argues, one finds “new spaces of obscenity in the politics of day-to-day lives,” spaces where engaging in normal, everyday acts of living and working – going to school, visiting neighbors, traveling abroad, planting a tree, growing vegetables and selling them in a nearby market – are treated as criminal activities, resulting in some instances in death. In these “obscene spaces,” innocent human beings, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink and likely by the soil in which they plant, all with the knowledge and acquiescence of the world community.
For me, as a Jew, this disfigurement of everyday life is painfully symbolized in the Star of David that was gouged into Gaza’s soil during Israel’s 2008 war on the territory. The desecration of the land in this manner not only points to the destruction of a way of life and means of survival for Palestinians, it embodies the limitations of Israeli power and the failings of Jewish life as well. No doubt those who branded the Star of David upon Gaza’s land meant to convey the presence and the power of the Jewish state over the destiny of others. Yet this power is one of deprivation and humiliation, and it speaks profoundly to our own inability to live a life without the walls the Ro’i Rutenberg was tasked to build so long ago.
As this introduction has hopefully shown, the people of Gaza are being deliberately targeted; a crime against them is being committed. More than anything, this crime can be seen in the daily and unrelenting assault on Gaza’s economy and society for which the United States, the European Union, and various Arab states bear enormous responsibility together with Israel. Whether you deliberately shoot a human being through the heart with a bullet or deprive him of a home, livelihood, and the means to care for his children, you are telling that human being that he has no right to exist (in the sense that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the term). In this way among others, Gaza speaks to the unnaturalness of our own condition as Jews. For in Gaza, we seek remedy and consolation in the ruin of another people, “observing the windows of [their] houses through the sites of rifles” – to borrow from the Israeli poet Almog Behar. It is ironic, then, that our own salvation now lies in Gaza’s. And no degree of separation, disavowal, or denial can change that.