Everybody Loses in Sharon’s Gaza Plan

Everybody Loses in Sharon's Gaza Plan

Everybody Loses in Sharon's Gaza Plan

GADID, Gaza Strip — Plots of flowers grow outside most
of the homes we pass as we drive through this small agricultural
cooperative in southern Gaza. I point out a particularly lavish
one, and the driver, a gruff 55-year-old, stops the car.    "What
are those white ones?" I ask, motioning through the window. "And
those yellow ones with the orange tips?"  From the back seat,
Rafi Horowitz, a veteran of four Arab-Israeli wars, calls out a
Hebrew name for one of them. Debbie Rosen, a resident of nearby
Neveh Dekalim and a spokeswoman for Gaza’s Jewish
communities, isn’t sure he’s got it right. I get out
of the car to take a closer look, and a moment later all three
Israelis are in the garden with me, admiring the flowers and
arguing about their names. A consensus is reached on the
begonias, hibiscus, and pimpernel, but the white ones remain an
enigma.  Rosen knocks on the front door and tells the man who
opens it about the botanical debate underway in his front yard.
He steps back inside, then reappears with a well-worn guide to
the flora of the Holy Land. In it we find a picture of our
mystery flower: white bougainvillea.

A visitor would have to be strangely obtuse not to sense the
deep attachment of Gaza’s Jews to the land they live on.
Gadid is the kind of place where even tough army veterans take an
interest in flowers — a place whose streets and
kindergartens are named for the seven biblical species of fruits
and grains. "Gadid" itself is an old Hebrew word for the date
harvest, and the names of other settlements, like Pe’at
Sadeh ("edge of the field") or Netzarim ("sprouts"), similarly
evoke the agricultural yearnings of their founders. When those
founders arrived, Jewish Gaza was all yearning and no
agriculture: These settlements were mostly built on barren sand
dunes where no one lived and nothing grew. Today it is a
horticultural powerhouse, supplying two-thirds of the organic
vegetables and cherry tomatoes Israel exports, and renowned for
its bug-free lettuce and other greens. Gaza’s legal status
may be complicated (it is technically an unallocated portion of
the League of Nations’ 1922 Palestine Mandate), but the
moral status of this land is as clear as day: As a matter of
justice and sweat equity, the Jewish homesteaders whose faith and
hard work have made the sand dunes bloom surely have as much
right to their homes in Gadid and Neveh Dekalim as the Arabs have
to theirs in nearby Khan Yunis and Dir El Balah.

Yet in just 10 weeks, if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s
"disengagement" program goes forward, the 8,000 Jews who live in
Gaza — men, women, and a great many children — will
be expelled. Their homes and property will be taken over by the
Palestinian Authority. And the green revolution that has
transformed Gaza’s sandy wastes into an oasis of hothouses,
nurseries, and flower gardens will almost certainly come to an
end.  It will be a tragic upheaval. But Jews won’t be the
only victims of Sharon’s plan. At Tnuvot Katif, a large
produce packaging plant here, I watch for a while as about two
dozen workers, most of them local Arabs, get heads of tall leaf
lettuce for export. More than half of Tnuvot’s 127
year-round employees are Arab; they in turn account for about 2
percent of the 3,500 Arabs employed by Gaza’s Jewish
firms.

During a break in the shift, I ask some of workers if they
like their jobs. They shrug — rinsing and bagging lettuce
is no one’s idea of exciting work. But when I ask what they
think of the coming Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, they grow
animated. If the Israelis go, some of them tell me through an
interpreter, they’ll lose their jobs. If this plant shuts
down, they’ll be out of work, and if the Palestinian
Authority takes it over, they’ll still be out of work
— the jobs will go to workers with better connections to
the PA’s ruling thugs.  "If that’s how you feel," I
ask, "why don’t you oppose the disengagement publicly? Why
don’t you tell the PA that you want your Jewish neighbors
to stay?"  When my question is translated, the men look at me as
if I’m crazy. "It’s forbidden!" replies Randoor, the
only one of the workers who would give even his first name.
"We’re not allowed to say that!"

I press him: Why not? What would be so bad about saying that
Jews and Arabs should be able to live together? But Randoor
shakes his head and crosses his wrists, as if being handcuffed.
"They might put us in jail," he says. "They might call us
‘collaborators.’"  In the jungle that is Palestinian
society, being called a ‘collaborator’ can be a death
sentence. Indeed, the PA’s newly elevated security chief
— a cold-blooded killer named Rashid Abu Shabak — is
known in Gaza as the ‘collaborator hunter.’ In recent
years,  Abu Shabak has hunted down scores of Palestinians accused
of helping Israel prevent terror attacks. Who knows what he might
do any Palestinian who would dare to call for the Israelis to
stay? All the world over, politicians and pundits are applauding
Sharon’s coming retreat. Yet a simple lettuce-packer like
Randoor seems to grasp what so many of them cannot: The lives of
Gaza’s Arabs will not be improved by expelling Gaza’s
Jews.

By David Silver