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The Fallacy of the Gaza Strip

December 16, 1987

The Gaza Strip is a 100-square-mile area along the Mediterranean that Israel has occupied since 1967's Six-Day War. About 40% of the area is home to 2,200 Israeli settlers. Crammed into the remaining space are 650,000 Palestinian Arabs, making the Gaza Strip among the most densely populated sites on Earth. More than half of Gaza's population is under age 20 and has known only Israeli rule. That rule, never quietly accepted, is again being violently protested. Israel's response has been an excess of force that the U.S. and other governments have rightfully condemned.

Just what has fed the outburst of anti-Israel rock-throwing and tire-burning isn't clear. Some see it as an eruption of frustration following the recent Arab summit meeting in Amman, where indifference to and even boredom with the Palestinian cause was the order of the day. Others suggest that the Gazans have been inspired by the feat of a guerrilla from Lebanon who used a hang glider to carry out a destructive attack on an army camp in northern Israel. Whatever their motivation, young Palestinians have shown that they are willing to risk their lives in confrontations with armed occupiers. Through Tuesday at least 11 Arabs, including an 11-year-old boy, had been shot dead by Israeli forces.

Israel's coalition government is typically divided about what to do. This assures that the status quo will continue. What will undoubtedly also go on is the seething discontent of young Arabs who see a future without hope or dignity. Zeev Schiff, the respected military correspondent of the newspaper Haaretz, wrote this week that "the day will come when we will beg someone to take the Gaza Strip and all of its problems away from us." In the meantime some Israelis, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, cling to the notion that, given enough time and enough pressure, the Arabs living under occupation will become passive, cooperative and accepting of their fate. The experience of 20 years should long since have exposed that fallacy.

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