Winning in Gaza

By Miko Peled

The common wisdom regarding Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza suggests that Israel is defending itself against a vicious enemy and that all means justify the cause of security for the citizens of Israeli cities. Common wisdom dictates that the US must support the Israeli Jewish population in their effort to gain recognition and acceptance, not to say security for their fledgling democracy. But here common wisdom stand stands in stark contrast to the dictates of reality because Israel is fighting a war it cannot possibly win.

For more than sixty years Palestinians have been living as refugees in the Gaza strip as well as other areas in and around what used to be Palestine. Those who live in the refugee camps have for three generations suffered unimaginable hardships that began with homelessness, poverty and deprivation and went on to include incursions by Israeli commandos, shelling by Israeli artillery and air assaults by the Israeli air force. In Gaza close to 900,000 people are refugees who were forced off of their land in 1948. They and their descendants have suffered more than their fair share of hardships. 

The accepted position on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is that it began in 1967, but for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere the Israeli occupation of Palestine began in 1948 and was only completed in 1967. Many Israelis feel this way too.  So to expect that a solution that deals only with lands occupied in 1967 will hold for any length of time is naïve at best, and the ashes of the peace process of the 1990’s lay as testament to that.

Most of the refugees in the Gaza Strip today came from the southern towns and villages of Palestine. According to UN sources, in 1948 some 200,000 refugees were concentrated in and around Gaza City whose original inhabitants numbered only 80,000. This severely burdened this narrow strip of land, an area of only 140 square miles.  Today over three-quarters of 1.4 million people in the Gaza strip are registered refugees.

The Gaza strip includes the city of Gaza which is approximately 48 miles southwest of Jerusalem, with a population of 410,000, as well as the cities of Beit Hanoun , Beit Lahia, Deir el-Balah (at the end of 1170, Saladin’s army had arrived in Palestine entering through Darum, which is now known as Deir al-Balah) Jabalia, Khan Yunis and Rafah.

The majority of the refuges live in eight refugee camps that include: Jabalia, Rafah, Beach, Nuseirat, Khan Younis, Bureij, Maghazi and Deir el-Balah.

According to the United Nations the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip have one of the highest population densities in the world. For example, over 80,688 refugees live in Beach camp whose area is less than one square kilometer. This high population density is reflected in the overcrowded schools and classrooms.  Even with poverty and over population, Gaza maintains one of the highest literacy rates in the world, 92%.

Today these refuges and their descendents, who live just a short drive from their original homes who now house Jewish Israelis, are being told by the world that they must accept their fate and live as refugees with no law to protect them, no human rights and no civil rights.  They are also told quite clearly that any resistance on their part, violent or otherwise will not be tolerated. Israel, the country responsible for their present condition will never allow them to return to their homes, to resist or to become part of a larger Israel/Palestine. 

Whether one agrees that Palestinians deserve the same rights as all other people or not, one has to recognize why resistance to Israel has developed in the refugee camps in Gaza. It is a vicious cycle, not unknown in the history of other nations. Since the early 1950’s refugees from Gaza tried to enter the newly establish Israel, seeking to reclaim houses, possessions, or crops. Eventually guerrilla fighters began to enter Israel and to engage in violent acts against Israeli citizens. It wasn’t long before Israel developed a policy of no tolerance whereby infiltrators were shot on sight and retaliatory strikes in response to guerrilla attacks ensued.

In 1953 Ariel Sharon, then a young officer was sent at the head of the famous Unit 101 into Gaza to cleanse it of terrorists and to stop Palestinian "infiltrators" from penetrating Israeli borders. Sharon stated: "If we don’t act against the refugee camps, they would become a murderers’ nest." Or in other words, centers for resistance against Israel. Israeli attacks on Gaza continued throughout the 1950’s, 60’s 70’s and they continue to this very day. It is hard not to see that this is an ongoing campaign against a nation that is unwilling to give up the struggle for freedom and justice.

Gaza has a history of being tough to subdue. It is said the Alexander The Great had to fight a bitter battle to conquer it, as did the British during the First World War. While violence may quell the resistance for a short time, all it takes is one child who decides to take up the fight and as we know this is a battle that no conquering power has ever one.

-Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and peace activist living in San Diego.  His father was the later Israeli General, Matti Peled who was also the first Israeli military Governor of Gaza. For comments or contact information please go to

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