A Palestinian boy looks out across Gaza City on 6 August 2014. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty
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Conflict in Gaza is all part of Israel’s indirect system of control over Palestinians

2014’s Operation Protective Edge was just the latest in a long list of operations used by the IDF to “cut the grass” in the region.

Eleven years ago I was discharged from my military service as a combatant with the Nahal Brigade of the Israel Defence Force (IDF). After my release I founded the organisation Breaking the Silence together with several friends. Since then, I have spoken with hundreds of soldiers who described their military service in the territories. I never came across such lenient rules of engagement as those described by dozens of soldiers and officers who took part in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. Their testimonies describe how the IDF conducted itself and can explain to a large extent why there were such fatal results. 

But the testimonies from Protective Edge do not tell the whole story. They do not recount that last summer’s operation was only the latest in a series of operations conducted by the IDF in recent years in Gaza. (Warm Winter in 2008, Cast Lead at the start of 2009, Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Protective Edge in 2014). They also neglect to explain why it is apparent that it is only a matter of time until the next operation.

This succession of operations in Gaza is an expression of a strategy nicknamed by senior IDF officers as “cutting the grass”. Those who advocate for this strategy describe it as a necessary response to the terror threats facing Israel. These officers present the strategy as a defensive tool designed to undermine terror groups’ ability to threaten Israel’s security. They claim that because the threats facing Israel are constant and can never be completely averted, Israel must periodically and cyclically “cut” terror organisations’ capabilities and disrupt their readiness for combat. An operation every two or three years is an expression of cold and calculated logic, not whimsy.

But the last operation, like those that preceded it, not only damaged Hamas’s infrastructure and that of other armed groups. The principal casualties from the “grass cutting” policy were Palestinian civilians, whose population is being torn apart under the throes of war. Think about what happens to a society when hundreds of its children are killed within the span of two months, along with 18,000 of its homes. It is impossible not to discern whether what the IDF is “cutting” every couple of years is terror capabilities, or the ability for an entire society to develop and subsist.

In effect, the “grass cutting” policy is but another component of Israel’s system of control over the Palestinian population, both in Gaza and the West Bank. In order to preserve its control, Israel continuously operates to ensure Palestinians remain weak and vulnerable. As a soldier, I took part in countless operations aimed at “lowering the heads” of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. Many other soldiers have and continue to do the same.  Patrols at all hours of the day and night throughout the streets of Palestinian cities, raids in arbitrarily chosen civilian homes, checkpoints in the heart of densely populated Palestinian areas – all these activities are designed to show the Palestinian population that Israeli soldiers are always present in every place, and to create a sense of persecution. Other operations, like curfews on a village or the arrest of all the men in it for an undefined period of time, allow for the entrenchment of fear in the population, and with it the strengthening of control over them.

The difference between the soldiers’ missions in the West Bank and Gaza stems from the difference in the nature of control Israel has on these two territories. The West Bank has been under full, direct and daily military control and partial civilian control for the last 48 years. In the Gaza Strip, Israel has not implemented direct military control since 2005. However, to this day, it continues to retain control over the most basic aspects of daily life in Gaza. We control Gaza’s air and sea space, as well as its population registry and the passage of trade and people. The periodic conflicts in Gaza are another tool in Israel’s indirect system of control over the population, and is another means of dismembering Palestinian society.

We should remind ourselves that when we cut down Palestinians’ freedom to choose how to live their lives and their right to live securely with a roof over their heads, we are also cutting ourselves down. We are cutting down our values and our humanity, as well as our security and hope to live without anticipating the next round of war.

If we do not act to stop Israel’s perennial “grass cutting,” within the West Bank and Gaza, then we can only expect more death and destruction on both sides. Only a determined political struggle to end Israeli control can prevent the next war and bring peace and security to the people of the region. Only freedom for Palestinians can guarantee freedom and security for Israelis.

Yehuda Shaul is a co-founder and member of Breaking the Silence, an organisation of almost 1,000 Israeli veterans who work toward ending the Israeli occupation

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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