Map of the Gaza Strip (Dec 2011) /// United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory
I think that many of us are infuriated in front of the unfolding new siege over Gaza by the Israeli army. As horrifying as those images of children and entire families being struck by the bombs sent by aircraft, battleships, drones or other remote controlled machine guns, it is extremely important to also insist on the daily oppression that the people of the Gaza strip have to face even when they are not being bombed. Since 2006 and the Israeli disengagement of its settlement within the strip, the situation is different from the one in the West Bank -which I have to say, I am more familiar with. When the West Bank has to suffer from multiple colonial apparatuses, Gaza functions pretty much as a gigantic prison from which, it is almost impossible to escape -even the Egyptian border remains close to most people. Most of the needs of its people (water, food, electricity, phone & internet networks etc.) is provided directly by Israel (for most of it, see the last map of this article) who has been, along the years, quite literally experimenting how little it could provide without provoking a severe humanitarian crisis in the eyes of the International Community. The access to the sea itself is heavily restricted – and enforced with real rockets – by the IDF to keep Gaza fishermen’s boats within a limit of three nautical miles. Needless to say, fishing cannot be a strong economy in this context.
The strip is thus a scale 1 experiment for the Israeli state to determine how to sustain the lives of 1.7 millions Palestinians – apparently more for its International reputation than for its philanthropic will as we can currently see – with the minimum of ressources. But, this very small piece of territory – and to some extents, this is also true in the West Bank – is also a terrain of experiments for military training and weapon technology. As some specialists have been detecting, some US military officials have been often spotted during IDF operations in a clear attempt to learn how to lead a siege in the Middle East. After the operation Cast Lead in Dec 2008-Jan 2009 that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians of all ages, the Goldstone Report and various other testimonies have shown that white phosphorus bombs and flechette shells which are categorically banned by the International legislation. The various apparatuses of control around the Strip are also an opportunity for the Israeli army to implement new technology in matter of weapons like remote controlled machine gun stations t0 prevent the access of the ‘no-go zone’ (about 500 meters from the green line) and the ‘high risks zone (fron 500 to 1,500 meters from the green line):
Shooting at people accessing restricted areas is often carried out from remotely-controlled weapon stations. These stations are deployed in secured pillboxes every several hundred meters along the fence, each containing machine guns protected by retractable armoured covers, whose fire can reach targets up to 1.5km.30
A team of all-female soldiers act as lookout staff of the operation rooms located at the battalions’ headquarters around Gaza.31 These soldiers identify potential targets and suggest them to their battalion commanders, who authorize whether the target is “incriminated” or not, i.e. whether warning or direct fire can be opened at them.
According to a recent report from the Israeli daily Haaretz, “the procedure to authorize opening fire is complex, but takes less than two minutes”.32
Actual fire is ultimately carried out by pressing a button, which opens the pillbox dome revealing the machine gun, and operating a joystick which allows the soldier to aim the weapon toward a designated target, guided by the images relayed from the field. The operator also draws upon images and information from ground sensors, aircrafts, and overhead drones,33 and is fed with real time audio of the target being struck: “This [the sound of the shots being fired] gives you the feeling of, ‘Wow, I’ve fired now” explained one twenty-year old operator. “It’s very alluring to be the one to do this. But not everyone wants this job. It’s no simple matter to take up a joystick like that of a Sony PlayStation and kill, but ultimately it’s for defense”.34 Other military means are also used to enforce access restrictions to land, including airstrikes from unmanned drones and shooting from tanks. Ammunition used during the latter include ‘flechette’ projectiles, which explode in midair releasing thousands of 3.75 cm metal darts that disperse in a conical arch three hundred meters long and about ninety meters wide.35 During July 2010, a least 2 civilians were killed and 10 injured (including 4 children) by this type of ammunition.
31. “IDF’s newest heroes: Women spotters on Gaza border”, Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz, 3 March 2010.
32. “Lethal Joysticks”, Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz, 2 July 2010
33. “Automated Border”, Arieh Egozi, Ynetnews.com 6 October 2007
34. Op cite Pfeffer, 2 July 2010
excerpt from the United Nations OCHA and Whole Food Program’s report on the humanitarian impact of Israeli-imposed restrictions on access to land and sea in the Gaza strip.
Few days ago, the IDF’s official website also issued an arrogant article on the developments of new combat weapons that “James Bond wishes he had” as their despising humor indicates.
The Gaza strip as well as the West Bank are therefore territories whose people are the subjects of military, economical and political (this is obviously not a coincidence that this new siege was declared two months before the next legislative elections in Israel) interests, which overall are relatively independent from the ideological, historical and security-based arguments that are given by the Israeli State to justify such colonial and martial behaviors.
All following maps are done by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory: