Israel’s all-out war against the Palestinian group Hamas has entered the next phase, marked by an order to take “full control” of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant, said this meant, “No electricity, no food, no water, no gas — it’s all closed,” for 2.3 million people living in an area slightly more than twice the size of Washington DC.
In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered a full disengagement from Gaza, marking an end to settlements that started after taking control of the region following the six-day war in 1967. After lightning strikes by Hamas last week, from land, sea and air, the Israeli forces are now advancing towards a full siege of Gaza.
The 2005 Unilateral Withdrawal
The first and second Intifada or Palestinian uprisings were met with violent protests, riots, suicide bombings and terror strikes. A very small Jewish population settled in the Gaza Strip compared to a majority Palestinian population.
The second Intifada, which began in 2000, was marked by intense violent protests, suicide bombings, riots and attacks. Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon argued that defending a population of approximately 9000 settlers came at a high cost. Clashes in Gaza between the Israeli forces and Hamas and even Yasser Arafat’s PLO made the future of the peace process with Palestinians look bleak and the defence of Jews in the area was turning into a costly affair for Israel.
The unilateral disengagement process began in August of 2005 and by September, around 9,000 Jews living in 25 settlements were evicted and the Israeli troops completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the Green Line — A 1949 Armistice Line drawing boundaries between Israel and its Arab neighbours. These settlements had stood for decades until 2005 and their removal involved bulldozing, forceful eviction by Israeli troops. Although the settlers received compensation from the Israeli government for rehabilitation, the process was protracted and tedious.
Israel still has control over the airspace and maritime boundaries of the Gaza Strip and supplies electricity, and water to the region.
Ariel Sharon was not always a supporter of the disengagement plan in the occupied areas. The former Prime Minister in his election campaign vocally opposed the withdrawal of Israeli settlements in occupied areas but a few years later a climbdown from his stance elicited both criticism as well as support from people, leading to the orange and blue ribbon protests in Israel.
Vehicles with orange ribbons symbolized opposition or disapproval of the withdrawal plan, while blue ribbons signalled support for the process. Sharon, however, portrayed the plan as a bold initiative to break the “stalemate in the peace process.”
Hamas-Fatah Clashes And No Hope For Peace
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was portrayed as a step towards a peace process, but in 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council election, marking a dramatic shift in Palestinian politics and the emergence of the group as an alternative to Fatah, a group that now governs in the West Bank. The aftermath of the disengagement plan was starkly different from what was envisioned.
Hamas failed to maintain a unity government with Fatah, which resulted in violent clashes or referred to by some experts as a brief civil war in Gaza.
Hamas took complete control of the military and political establishment in Gaza and Fatah was left to govern in the West Bank, it was followed by terror attacks against Israel by Hamas. Between 2008 and 2023, Israel and Hamas engaged in recurring clashes, resulting in thousands of casualties over the years.
Israel and Egypt have enforced stricter border controls and measures to restrict the movement of people from the Gaza Strip. The shore along the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza is reportedly used to supply arms and ammunition in the region. Though Iran denies any role in supporting Hamas, the Iran-backed Hezbollah is often reported supporting the Palestinian group.
The Full Siege
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks by Hamas but also expressed concern over Israel’s order for “complete control of Gaza”. Mr Guterres said the military operations should be conducted in “Strict accordance with international humanitarian law.” The Israeli government is bent on revenge and has vowed to obliterate Hamas.
The US has ordered the deployment of US ships and warplanes to Israel, signalling an “unwavering” support for its ally. A Carrier Battle Group led by the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford is headed towards the eastern Mediterranean to boost fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.
Meanwhile, Hamas has threatened to kill hostages unless Israel halts its airstrikes in Gaza. The “full siege” plan is backed by its proposition of “right to self-defence”. The ongoing conflict has claimed over 1,300 lives on both sides, raising concerns of potential escalation in the coming days.