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Joy fades as grim reality hits Gazans

Palestinians harbour few illusions for the future after Israel's pullout from Gaza, which they believe fooled the world and will do nothing to transform the territory.

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2005 10:31 GMT
Few Gazans can imagine what the post-pullout dawn will bring

Palestinians harbour few illusions for the future after Israel's pullout from Gaza, which they believe fooled the world and will do nothing to transform the territory.

However content they were to watch Jewish settlers evicted from their homes kicking and screaming, they see little material substance behind the glossy TV footage and accuse their leaders of deluding them still further.

Unemployment stands at more than 40% in Gaza and 65% of its residents live below the poverty line, says the head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Raji Surani.

"Even our leaders are contributing to this state of mind. If you listen to them, you'd think the Gaza Strip is going to become Hong Kong or Singapore," he said.

Palestinians may have celebrated the departure of the settlers at numerous rallies, but when the dust settles, few can really imagine what tomorrow's dawn will bring.

"People were slightly happy to see the settlements dismantled, but that quickly faded only to be replaced with questions and fears," said Halima Farhat, a journalist for Radio Palestine.

Restricted movement

With no guaranteed freedom of movement after Israeli troops leave Gaza, and Palestinians not knowing how they can import and export goods, most believe more than ever that they are headed for life in a giant prison.

Palestinians still have to pass
Israeli checkpoints around Gaza 

"Can we come and go from Gaza? How can we get to the West Bank? What will happen to the Palestinian workers who work in Israel? These are the only questions people are asking today," said Farhat.

"This withdrawal is a trap," says Suha Jibril, an English literature undergraduate who calls the operation "theatrical".

"We don't know what's happening behind the scenes, but even a five-year-old understands we won't be freer than we are today."

The free passage of goods and people in and out of Gaza has yet to be finalised.

Likewise is the status of the Rafah crossing with Israel, keen to maintain security control or move the terminal farther south to its own border.

Lockdown

Palestinian residents of Mawasi who have been forced to stay in their Gaza Strip enclave since the beginning of August are also waiting impatiently for the Israeli army to leave so they can regain their freedom.

Palestinians say they see little
substance in the settler pullout

"The army told us it will pull out [of the Gaza Strip] in four weeks and we are counting the hours until we see them leave," said Samir Hanun, 29, a resident of the seafront neighbourhood that is boxed in by fortified settlements, Israeli army positions and checkpoints.

"If God wills it, we will be rid of the army in the coming days and we will find our freedom again," said the father of four, nearly a week after Israel evacuated 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

In early August, the Israeli army told residents of Mawasi and three other small enclaves nearby not to leave their homes until it had finished its pullout from Gaza, according to Iyad Nasr, spokesman of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Wednesday the army would quit the Gaza Strip in mid-September.

Hanun lives 30 metres from the deserted settlement of Kfar Yam, which is currently being demolished by the Israeli army.

About 8000 residents live in Mawasi, which spreads over around 20 sq km.

Prison within prison

Already security had been considerably tightened since the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, and travel from and especially to Mawasi had been turned into an ordeal for the villagers.

Mawasi and hundreds of other people in the Palestinian communities of al-Siffa and al-Maana are affected by the lockdown.

Palestinian farmers tend their
land near the Dugit settlement  

For Samir, 29, who lost his job in the settlements, Mawasi is "a prison inside the larger prison" of Gaza for him and his fellow Palestinians. He says he wants to see the end of the occupation.

The highly fertile region's fruits and vegetables at one time supplied all of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Rampant settlement activity had taken a great deal of its territory since the 1970s, crowding out several thousand villagers who had to either leave or work in the settlements.

In order to leave Mawasi and travel to the nearest Palestinian town, Khan Yunus in the southern Gaza Strip, residents have to cross the Israeli military checkpoint of al-Tufah, known as the worst in the Palestinian territories.

Even though Khan Yunus is barely 3km, it can take days to get there and back.

Nothing positive

Questions of restoring the moribund airport in southern Gaza and building a seaport are still in limbo. So are arrangements for Palestinians who work in Israel.

Questions of restoring the Gaza
airport are still in limbo

"From a human rights point of view, there is nothing positive about the withdrawal. Gaza will de facto and de jure be cut off from the West Bank and the rest of the world," said Surani.

"We are still in prison, the Israelis have just added various sectors of land. Apart from that, we have nothing to be happy about," he said.

Like many others, he is scathing about the manner in which the evacuation was presented and consumed by the world, like a Hollywood film.

"Everyone's happy about this pullout. I wouldn't be surprised if they give [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon the Nobel peace prize," he said.

Children's hopes

But some children in Gaza seem to be a bit more positive, envisioning a better future now that the settler-pullout has become a reality.

"I dream of becoming a pilot. I want to fly over the West Bank, over Egypt. I want to see other skies," said a youngster from Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.

The conflict has robbed children 
in Gaza of normality in their lives 

"I also want to rebuild my school which was damaged by an Israeli rocket and the stadium so my friends can play football," said Hisham who lives in the al-Maghazi refugee camp which lies close to the recently-evacuated Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom.

"We spend most of our time demonstrating. When there is an Israeli raid and when the martyrs fall, we demonstrate. And when the army carries out a raid, we go into the street," he said, explaining his life in a place which has seen countless clashes between resistance fighters and the Israeli army over the last five years.

But Asra al-Hush, 13, hates the fact that children have spent so much of their lives protesting in the streets.

"We have had enough of demonstrations. We mustn't waste time, we must stay at school," she said pointedly.

Her dream is to become a lawyer. "I want to defend children and their right to play, to participate in debates and to express their opinions."

Her friend Jamila Duhan said she would love to study medicine and dreams of curing the ills of this over-crowded area which is home to thousands of Palestinians whose lives have been choked by the countless Israeli restrictions imposed since the start of the intifada.

Settlers uneasy

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, Jewish settler Eitan Halperin is living in limbo.

Sharon has said there will be no
more unilateral withdrawals

He does not work in his garden or fix his house anymore as he waits to see whether an Israeli government that just evacuated 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank will ask him and his neighbours to leave as well.

Sharon has said there will be no more unilateral withdrawals, and Israel is building a separation wall along the border of the West Bank that loops around parts to include some of the larger Jewish settlements.

But Hermesh is one of dozens of settlements on the "Palestinian" side of the barrier, and residents fear their small, isolated community has no future.

Israeli officials have said many such enclaves may be evacuated if they become difficult to defend.

After this week's withdrawal, Hermesh is one of only two Jewish settlements remaining in the northern West Bank. Halperin said government officials had told him not to bother with the upkeep of his house.

"The government tells us to stop working in our gardens," he said, adding that it told him "it is a waste of time and water".

Encouraged to settle

Some analysts say the separation wall and unilateral Israeli withdrawals are likely to define the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the coming years, especially in the absence of a formal peace agreement.

"The very moment the wall came, everyone here realised this was a dead place," said Halperin's neighbour Yehiel Matzkin, who moved to Hermesh three years ago from the southern city of Eilat.

Israel: Enclaves may be removed
if they are hard to defend

"When I saw the wall, I realised that we are only here because they can't figure out yet how to get rid of us," Matzkin said, referring to his government.

The red-roofed, whitewashed homes with gardens filled with palm and olive trees are virtually worthless now and many settlers are stuck, unable to sell their homes and move out but unsure how long they can stay.

Israeli governments have for almost two decades encouraged people like Matzkin and Halperin to move to settlements, offering them affordable homes with big yards.

Although many settlements are filled with religious Jews who live in the occupied territories because they believe it is part of biblical Israel, the Hermesh settlers are almost all secular Jews.

"I wanted a good quality of life," Halperin said, a sentiment echoed by many of his neighbours.

But that quality of life has been declining. The settlement was once home to about 90 families, but more than half fled after the Palestinian uprising that started in 2000.

Source:
Agencies
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