The Fuel That Fuels the Rage: 3 Key Gazan Resources Israel is Clinging Onto

by Eleanor Penny

11 August 2014

Before the Israel-Palestine wars of 1948, Jewish socialists had envisaged establishing a Jewish state slowly and peaceably, from small co-operatives of workers. Perhaps it was easier then to be both Zionist and pacifist, or Zionist and socialist. The homeland in your head needs no water supply. There was no one else using it before you got there.

No such luck for the revolutionaries now. Israel’s economy is so intimately entangled with the apparatus of occupation that to defend the current state of Israel is to write an ideological blank cheque to the violence it takes to preserve such a settlement. Accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses, Hamas leadership hardly guarantees a rosy future for Palestinians. But one thing remains clear – when Mark Regev says that Hamas poses a threat to Israel, he is right. And he’s not just talking about rockets. The threat of Palestinian independence is a threat to Israel’s privileged reign over the area’s natural resources. This is the political settlement at stake in recent weeks’ bloody tussle on the Gaza Strip; the gunpoint bargain of colonialism that exchanges the greed of one for the hunger of another. Here are three resources Israeli is eager to preserve:

1. A captive economy.

There is no captive market quite like a market full of captives. Israel enjoys near-total oversight of the passage of goods, services, utilities and labour into and out of occupied territories, effectively ensuring that Palestinians are obliged to buy Israeli goods and services, or go without. Rainwater cisterns built by Palestinians looking to lessen the burden of water bills from are frequently destroyed.

Since 2010, the shelves of Gazan supermarkets are dominated by products boasting an Israeli barcode, and a price tag that the 40% of Gazans living in poverty can ill afford. Though it’s played pretty fast and loose with parts of the Paris Protocol – free movement of workers is far below the stipulated levels – other parts of the ruling that have proved rather useful. These 1994 regulations allow Israel to label Palestinian-grown produce as its own and sell it as part of its billion dollar agricultural export market. Struggling Palestinian producers have little option other than to accept the meagre slivers of profit offered them.

Such totalizing control of land and resources has also done a pretty good job of stifling Palestinian business. When land-use permits are hard to come by and the free passage of raw materials and finished products is not guaranteed, investors shy away. Little wonder then that the Palestinian economy struggles even on the days when the streets are swept clear of the dead and wounded. Meanwhile, settlements such as Mishor Adumim entice in companies like SodaStream with offers of reduced corporation rates, lower rents and purportedly lax enforcement of labour and environmental regulations. All for the bargain price of living under Israeli jurisdiction – and paying Israeli taxes.

2. Gas.

In February 2014, Israel signed a contract to provide Jordan with $400 million of gas. However, its hope for a seat at the high table among wealthy fuel-exporter states is tethered to an uncertain reality. Domestic gas prices are rising, whilst experts caution that Israel’s current gas reserves could run out in under 40 years. In the cold light of dawning scarcity, the Israeli government has pinned its hopes to finding new sources of the gaseous gold. For a while, the Leviathan gas field looked like the answer. But it lies deep in the disputed waters of the Levant Basin, and the US has tentatively favoured Lebanon’s claim over Israel’s.

In 2008 – just before Operation Cast Lead, a similarly bloody siege of Gaza – gas reserves worth an estimated $4 billion were discovered off the Gazan coast. The Israeli authorities lost no time in assuming sovereignty of it before trying to broker a deal with Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to sell $1.2 billion worth of it back to the Palestinians. Though Hamas stood in the way of the deal, the gas reserves remain in Israeli hands and the power asymmetry is proving rather a lucrative one. The Israeli defence minister has brushed off speculations that these resources could be used as the groundwork for an economically independent Palestine: “The proceeds will likely serve to fund further terror attacks against Israel.”

Presumably the international community has no need to fear that Israeli gas profits would go to funding armaments in the area. When it already has the capacity to reduce the whole area to a radioactive slime trickle, apparently such concerns are a little frivolous.

3. Water.

This is the story: a misty-eyed cavalcade of settlers rolling into Palestine buoyed with the certain assurance that they would ‘make the desert bloom’, as though there were nothing there before but the empty, waiting dust. But the careful task of conservation and irrigation in a densely-populated, drought-prone area proved harder and distinctly less romantic. These woes found a simple, thorough, and violent solution: the co-option of Palestinian water sources.

The capture of the west bank in the war of 1967 gave Israel access to its mountain aquifers and the area’s water supplies, and the state has continued to exploit them ever since. Water from occupied territories in the West Bank and the Sea of Galilee makes up 60% of Israel’s fresh water supply, and is key to maintaining the pressure in its other coastal aquifers. These are the sources on which Israel depends to keep its fields fresh, its fountains flowing, its power stations churning, its toilets flushing. Meanwhile, only 20% of the mountain aquifers’ water is left for the Palestinians. And a thirsty population, raging with disease from inadequate sanitation, is a weakened one. Perhaps IDF soldiers know this, as their siege of Gaza strips most of its inhabitants of potable drinking water. Perhaps not. It is a truth, in any case, coded in the glint of gunfire.

When war erupted again, there were those quick to identify it as the latest symptom of some kind of pathological enmity between Jews and Arabs. Two peoples: monolithic, embattled, doomed. When Jewish shops are smashed in Europe, when Israeli teens post racy tributes to IDF soldiers on Twitter, this may sound like a plausible diagnosis. But as rage fuels the conflict, it is important to remember what fuel fuels the rage.

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