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How Israel is carving up and ‘reoccupying’ Gaza

May 16, 2024 at 5:28 pm

Palestinians returning to Khan Yunis, a city in southern Gaza, which was heavily destroyed in the Israeli attacks and where there are almost no intact buildings left, are viewed on May 15, 2024. [Anas Zeyad Fteha – Anadolu Agency]

As Israel shows no signs of stopping its devastating assault on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the question now is what it plans to do with the besieged enclave. The growing fear among Palestinians is that after inflicting all this death and destruction on 2.3 million people in Gaza, Israel is now planning to reoccupy the Palestinian territory, as suggested by various recent reports and developments on the ground.

These include the construction of a buffer zone and the establishment of corridors that give Israel strategic control in vital areas, all fuelling speculation about Israel’s intentions and its long-term strategy for Gaza.

“Over the years, there has been a gradual encroachment by Israelis on Palestinian territory, where they gradually take off more and more territory, partially occupy it militarily, and then eventually cut Palestinians off from access to that territory,” analyst Andreas Krieg told Anadolu. “That could very well happen in Gaza as well.”

Krieg said that there are certain groups within the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushing for the reoccupation of Gaza. “Basically, reoccupying it in the same way that they’re doing in the West Bank,” explained the senior lecturer at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London.

Reports of Israel creating a buffer zone in Gaza first emerged last November, with local media revealing that a zone one kilometre wide would extend all along the nominal Gaza-Israel border, from Beit Lahiya in the north to the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south.

Israeli Adi Ben-Nun, a professor at the Hebrew University and expert in geographic information systems (GIS), used satellite images to explain to Anadolu how Israel has been remodelling the enclave. For the buffer zone, he said that 90 per cent of approximately 3,000 buildings in its path “are already demolished.” It forms a new perimeter along the border and reduces Gaza’s total territory by around 16 per cent, Ben-Nun added.

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Back in February, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk commented on reports about Israel’s plan to create a buffer zone, asserting that it could constitute a war crime. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem also condemned the plan, saying that the demolitions carried out by Israel are unlawful and do indeed constitute a war crime. The group pointed out that these demolitions are a preventive measure intended to thwart a future threat, which is absolutely prohibited under international law.

Another major step in remodelling the Gaza Strip has been the establishment of the so-called Netzarim Corridor.

This four-mile stretch of road, named after a former Israeli settlement in Gaza, has “basically split the north from the south,” according to Ben-Nun. Large swathes of agricultural land and around 200 to 300 buildings were razed to make way for the corridor, which is officially known as Road 749 and stretches from the nominal border to the Mediterranean coastline, he said.

He also pointed out that the corridor is near the pier that the US has built off the Gaza coast to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid.

Elaborating on the specifics of the corridor, Krieg said it has two east-west connections that cut the Gaza Strip into two. “I think it’s a quasi-permanent structure that I don’t think the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] is going to withdraw from any time soon.”

He explained that the corridor has barriers and forward operating bases, along with a partially tarmacked road, making it “very much a solid barrier” to passage from north to south in Gaza, or vice versa.

“It’s not a temporary one, but a permanent structure that suggests that the IDF is most likely going to keep the corridor and create checkpoints, making it part of a wider stabilisation operation which can last years,” he explained.

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For Krieg, it is clear that the Israeli military is “dictating a political strategy for Gaza.” The military’s plan “is to defeat Hamas by keeping a quasi-permanent presence for years on the ground with forward operating bases from which they can go and strike deep inside the territory. The effect on the ground will be that the Gaza Strip is no longer one territory, but divided into two territories. Israel will probably create quotas that will limit how many people can move south and how many people can move north. It will very much undermine the freedom of movement of Gazans.”

He noted that this sort of thing has already been seen in the West Bank. “And even if it is not a full reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, it will have a similar impact on the psyche of people in Gaza, who will feel the Israeli presence basically suffocating them.”

Krieg believes the Israelis are enforcing a “very strict policy” that “will lead to more radicalisation and potentially more resistance. They will probably operate a martial policy and martial law across the Gaza Strip for years to come, which will mean it makes it very, very easy for them to kill indiscriminately any suspect who they consider to be a threat.”

The victims could be youngsters or women, as has also been in the occupied West Bank. “That can be, and often is, civilians, so this will really determine the future moving forward.”

He thinks that the international community, including the US and European nations, will not allow a permanent Israeli presence, such as settlements, in the Gaza Strip. However, Krieg pointed out that there has been no initiative, from the UN or other members of the international community, for “the governance of the Gaza Strip… or for the day after.”

The US has no real policy and has been pushing the idea of the two-state solution, said Krieg. “In this vacuum, in the absence of a clear strategy, it’s quite concerning that the Israelis will do whatever they want to do, and gradually, bit by bit, create a fait accompli on the ground that would see Palestinians basically being more confined and more restrained in their freedom of movement on the ground.”

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.