The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Islamic resistance movement Hamas are planning victory parades, but the estimated 1.4 million Gazans are torn between cautious hope for a better tomorrow and nagging apprehension about a future that is increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.

For many Gazans, like Omar Salameh of the Khan Yunus refugee camp, freedom from the spectre of violence by Israeli forces after 38 years of occupation represents the ultimate good riddance.

"Reality has taught us the hard way to keep our dreams modest and realistic," Salameh says. "We are not dreaming of miracles in this part of the world."

Many Gazans look forward to simple things, such as being able to travel to the next town or outside the country freely and having a job and a stable income.

Daily bread

"All we want is to be able to live our lives quietly and safely, and to be able to earn our daily bread and feed our kids. If we achieve this, we will be the happiest people on earth," Salameh says.

Palestinians march during a rally
in Gaza on 30 July

Gazans are already preparing for "victory parades" all over the densely-populated 370-square-kilometre strip.

The Palestinian Authority and its ruling party, Fatah, are planning a carnival to celebrate the "liberation" from the occupation. And Hamas, the armed resistance group that has claimed a key role in getting the Jewish state to leave Gaza, also is planning celebrations.

"This will be the most significant event in the annals of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948," said Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas' chief spokesman in Gaza.

"This is the first time Zionism retreats from an occupied Palestinian land. The event has both historic and symbolic significance of immense proportions," says al-Zahar, whose eldest son was killed when Israeli warplanes bombed his home two years ago.

Desire for peace

Like most Palestinians, al-Zahar angrily dismisses "those Westerners and some Arabs" who view the Israeli withdrawal as an expression of "goodwill and a true desire for peace" on Israel's part.

"What goodwill, what desire for peace! Look, Israel wouldn't have decided to leave Gaza had Gaza not become a heavy burden unto Israel," al-Zahar said. "We became a painful thorn in Israel's side. In short, the price for keeping Gaza under the occupation had already become greater and more painful than giving it up, and the reason for that is the resistance."

Because of Israel's refusal to clarify the details of its withdrawal, the big question for many Palestinians is whether Israeli forces will return.

Israeli troops use a mobile cage
during an eviction exercise

On Tuesday morning, the military renewed threats to re-enter Gaza after the withdrawal. Israel's army commander in Gaza, Aviv Kochvi, told Israeli radio: "The army would suspend the withdrawal and reenter Gaza if it came under attack."

There is little clarity as to whether Israel will irreversibly withdraw from the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's sole path to the outside world.

Some Israeli officials have hinted that a resolution of the border issue might be postponed for a few months pending an agreement with Egypt over the deployment of 700 Egyptian security personnel to guard the "Philadelphi passage" along the Rafah-Sinai border.

Issues unresolved

But a postponement would be unacceptable to the Palestinians and likely to the Egyptians as well, who would view it as signalling bad faith on Israel's part.

PA Civil Affair Minister Muhammed Dahlan said during an interview with Aljazeera on Monday night that Israel has yet to provide answers on four main issues: the harbour, the airport, safe passage to the West Bank and the Rafah border crossings. He said the withdrawal would be meaningless without resolving these issues.

Israel has indicated it will retain control of Gaza's skies and territorial waters, which would effectively prevent any real transformation to genuine independence. 
 

Workers in the Gaza Strip wait to
go to jobs in Israel

"How could the Gaza Strip possibly be independent as long as Israel remains in control of our skies, waters, borders and economy?" Gaza lawyer Raji al-Sourani told journalists in Gaza this week at a meeting with civic leaders during which the post-withdrawal era was discussed.

Israeli officials and media have constantly refrained from using the term "nessiga" (Hebrew for withdrawal) in referring to the pullout and instead use the term "disengagement".

This, according to al-Sourani, who also is head of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, means that the Gaza Strip will remain under the Israeli occupation under international law.

Others share al-Sourani's concerns.

In an interview with Aljazeera.net this week, Gaza journalist and expert on Israeli affairs Saleh Na'ami warned that unless the international community pressured Israel to make the withdrawal from Gaza "genuine, complete and irreversible," the "smell of blood and powder" would be wafting over the area within a few weeks.

"I am not trying to underestimate the significance of this withdrawal. However, what the world and many Palestinians often forget is that Gaza in itself is not an independent variable," Na'ami said.

"We know that Sharon wants to use the withdrawal from Gaza in order to consolidate the occupation of the West Bank. If this is proven true, and it seems it will be proven true, then Gaza will become another Southern Lebanon sooner or later."