Hamas in Gaza
Hamas in GazaAttia Muhammed/Flash90

Gary Willig is a newswriter at Arutz Sheva.

The massacre of more than 800 people in southern Israel by Hamas terrorists on the morning of Simchat Torah was a shock to decent people everywhere, and must have come as even more of a shock to those who think the Gaza Strip was still ‘under Israeli occupation.’

How could Hamas have planned and executed such an operation while under occupation? Surely the movement of this many militants would have been stopped or at least seen by the Israeli soldiers on the ground to enforce the occupation?

The truth is that there were no soldiers in Gaza because the coastal enclave has not been under anything that could be considered an ‘occupation’ for nearly two decades.

In August 2005, Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The Jewish communities of Gush Katif were completely destroyed. Every last Jewish man, woman, and child in Gaza was expelled from the area by the Jewish State. Even the dead were expelled, their graves dug up for reburial in the new borders of Israel. Every last Israeli soldier was also withdrawn from Gaza. By September 12, 2005, more than 18 years ago, Gaza was completely Judenrein and had an Israeli population of zero.

If you lived in the fantasy world of the UN or the so-called human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, you could be forgiven for not realizing this important fact, because they have continued to pretend that Israel was still occupying Gaza ever since.

In 2012, more than six years after the Disengagement, UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky said that the UN still considered Gaza to be occupied, with the apparent justification that as long as any part of the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ remained under occupation, then all of the territories were under occupation.

“Well, under resolutions adopted by both the Security Council and the General Assembly on the Middle East peace process, the Gaza Strip continues to be regarded as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The United Nations will accordingly continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until such time as either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view,” Nesirky said.

A month later, a senior Hamas official in Gaza acknowledged the truth the UN was blind to that there was no occupation.

Speaking about the civil unrest in Gaza in the years following Hamas’ violent takeover of the enclave, Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar asked: "Against whom could we demonstrate in the Gaza Strip? When Gaza was occupied, that model was applicable."

The fantasy of a continued Israeli occupation of Gaza has also been indulged by NGOs that are supposed to work for the furtherment of human rights, such as Amnesty International.

Amnesty, in its 2022 report on the Arab-Israeli conflict, referred to Gaza as “the occupied Gaza Strip” in the opening paragraph of its report.

In another 2022, the Human Rights Watch organization stated that “as the occupying power, Israel remains bound to provide residents of Gaza the rights and protections afforded to them by the law of occupation.”

What is the justification for continuing to insist that Israel occupies Gaza nearly two decades after it withdrew from the territory? The Human Rights Watch report provides the answer.

“Because of the continuing controls Israel exercises over the lives and welfare of Gaza’s inhabitants, Israel remains an occupying power under international humanitarian law, despite withdrawing its military forces and settlements from the territory in 2005.”

What is the control the report mentions? The partial blockade Israel and Egypt maintain to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materials with military use into Gaza.

An NBC News summary of the history of the Hamas-Israel conflict leading up to Saturday’s massacre says it explicitly: “The UN, various human rights groups and legal scholars, citing the blockade, consider Gaza to still be under military occupation by Israel.” (emphasis added)

What is the actual definition of an occupation? The 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague Regulations) are the primary source for the definition of occupation under international law. Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations states that " territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised."

“Actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” “Where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”

These conditions are not met in Gaza and have not been met in any fashion since 2005. With zero soldiers, the IDF has no authority whatsoever in Gaza and can exercise none. Despite the claims of the UN, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, a blockade and an occupation are two very different things under real human rights law. While the word “occupation” occurs 46 times in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which is often used as the basis for accusations of Israeli violations of human rights or international law, the word “blockade” never appears at all in any of the four conventions approved on August 12, 1949.

The Israeli occupation of Gaza from 2005 until today would be the first and only occupation in world history to have no boots on the ground, to have the entire territory supposedly under occupation under the complete control of an entity hostile to the occupying power rather than the occupying power. It would be the first occupation in history in which the occupying power lacks even the basic ability to arrest people for any crimes.

In short, they have changed the very definition of the word “occupation” in order to find Israel guilty.

This is a common tactic of Israel’s critics. They accuse Israel of “genocide” when the Palestinian Arab population has grown by leaps and bounds and while the IDF has taken unprecedented steps to protect the lives of civilians while combatting terrorist organizations with actual genocidal intent. It would be the first genocide in history where the population being subjected to genocide grew instead of shrinking.

They redefine the word genocide to find Israel guilty, the facts be damned.

Israel is accused of “Apartheid,” despite the fact that about a fifth of its population is Arab and all citizens enjoy full and equal rights under the law. The horrible crime of Apartheid has been redefined to no longer refer to forced segregation and discrimination and the denial of rights based on race, but to any instance of racism or discrimination, or any security measures that are necessary to save lives but may cause inconvenience to non-citizens.

It's not about the truth for the critics who accuse Israel of occupying Gaza, of genocide, or of Apartheid. It’s about finding ways to hurt Israel and to find the Jewish State guilty at any cost to the causes of human rights and international law. No legal term or concept is safe from being redefined to fit this anti-Israel agenda.

The next time someone attempts to claim to you that Israel occupied Gaza after the Disengagement, remember what happened on the morning of October 7, 2023. Remember that there were no Israeli police, no Israeli soldiers, no administrators, not a single person in Gaza as part of any occupation to stop the massacre of hundreds of innocent people.

There was no occupation. If there had been, over 800 people would still be alive.