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Gaza: Between freedom and fear
by Al-Ahram Weekly (reposted)
Thursday Aug 4th, 2005 8:16 PM
Links to several articles from this weeks Al-Ahram
With two weeks to go, Gazans are looking ahead to a life free of military occupation -- they hope, writes Khaled Amayreh in Palestine

With its nearly 1.4 million tormented souls -- thanks to decades of institutionalised Israeli repression -- the Gaza Strip is readying itself for the upcoming Israeli withdrawal, slated to begin in two weeks. The public mood is far from euphoric, Gazans navigating between cautious hope for a better tomorrow and nagging apprehension about a future that is increasingly fraught with unpredictability and danger.

For many ordinary Gazans, like Omar Salameh of the Khan Younis refugee camp, freedom from the spectre of death by random Israeli bullets fired by trigger-happy soldiers manning nearby watchtowers, represents the ultimate good riddance. "Reality has taught us the hard way to keep our dreams modest and realistic. We are not dreaming of miracles in this part of the world. All we want is to be able to live our lives quietly and safely," he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

"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 added.

Salameh's modest aspirations are in the minds of many. The suffering and pain meted out to most Gazans by a sustained Israeli blitz decimated the psychological health of the bulk of Gaza's citizenry. Hence, most are not entertaining grand dreams about the post- withdrawal period, such as Gaza becoming the Singapore of the Middle East. In fact, ordinary Gazans who talked to the Weekly are merely looking forward to simple, even petty, things which people in the rest of the world take for granted, such as being able to travel to the next town or outside the country freely, and having a job with a stable income.

This is not to say that Gazans are lukewarm about the Israeli withdrawal. The opposite is true. Gazans are preparing for "victory" celebrations and parades all over the heavily populated 370-square kilometre Strip.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and its ruling Fatah Party is planning a large carnival to celebrate "liberation" from the yoke of occupation. And Hamas, whose sustained and valiant armed resistance against Israel played a key role in getting it to leave Gaza, is also planning to highlight the "landmark event" with visible celebrations.

"This will be the most significant event in annals of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948," argues the chief spokesman of Hamas in Gaza, Mahmoud Al-Zahar. "This is the first time Zionism retreats from an occupied Palestinian land. The event has both historic and symbolic significance of immense proportions," said Al-Zahar, who lost his eldest son when Israeli warplanes bombed his home two years ago.

Like most Palestinians, Al-Zahar angrily dismisses "those Westerners and some Arabs" who view the Israeli withdrawal as an expression of "good will and magnanimity" on Israel's part. "What good will, what desire for peace? Look, Israel wouldn't have decided to leave Gaza had Gaza not become a heavy burden unto Israel. We became a painful thorn in Israel's side. In short, the price for keeping Gaza under occupation had already become greater and more painful than giving it up, and the reason for that is the resistance."

But is Israel going to leave Gaza alone? This is the main question many Palestinians are trying hard to answer in light of Israel's incessant refusal to reveal the details of its impending withdrawal from Gaza. For example, there is little or no clarity as to whether Israel will permanently withdraw from the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's sole throughway to the outside world. This is a paramount issue for Gazans and the PA since keeping the border crossing under Israeli control would in effect reduce Gaza to a huge concentration camp, rendering the entire withdrawal meaningless and without substance.

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by Al-Ahram Weekly (reposted)
Thursday Aug 4th, 2005 8:17 PM
Don't be fooled by appearances -- it is Abbas rather than Sharon who is in trouble, writes Graham Usher in Jerusalem

Two weeks before D-day (Israel's disengagement from Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank), Israel and the occupied territories are a looking-glass world. On 2 August 30,000 Israeli soldiers and police were again mobilised in and around Israeli border town of Sederot to prevent anti- disengagement Israelis from reaching the Gaza Strip. On 29 July the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian factions apparently closed a bloody page in their history by agreeing to "work together" to ensure Israel's Gaza withdrawal was a Palestinian "success".

So there you have it. On the Israeli side, trauma and dissension: on the Palestinian, agreement and unity. It is of course an illusion -- a looking glass.

Israel's Gaza and West Bank withdrawals will certainly be traumatic and perhaps violent. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israeli Jews willing to fight for the "land of Israel" in the teeth of the "state of Israel's" attempt to disgorge those parts of territory it now deems dispensable to the Zionist project. But it is no less true that Ariel Sharon has managed to fragment the opposition to the disengagement.

At an 11-hour meeting, the Yesha Council -- the official leadership of Israel's settler movement -- agreed to the army's conditions for holding the Sederot protest. The rally would only last a few hours; only a few thousand protesters would be allowed to attend; and at the conclusion all would be decanted back to Ofakin, an Israeli town well out of Palestinian mortar range.

The size of the military presence was because the army fully expected many protesters to buck these terms and seek to infiltrate Gaza through the walls, fences and earthworks that surround it. But in doing so they will lack the legitimacy of their right- wing leaders, let alone that of the state and Israeli public opinion. It is Sharon who now has legitimacy in those courts, and with it the power to thwart the outlaws and "uproot" the settlements they have come to defend. It is a trait and a power the PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, can only envy.

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by Al-Ahram Weekly (reposted)
Thursday Aug 4th, 2005 8:19 PM
While preparations are underway in Gaza to claim victory once Israel withdraws, much work will be required to rebuild the shattered Strip, writes Erica Silverman in Gaza

Israel has de-developed the Gaza Strip for 57 years but as their mid-August scheduled date for withdrawal approaches, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to complain about the chaos the Israeli occupation is leaving behind.

Israel's unilateral strategy for withdrawal has created a collective fog for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestinians alike. The uncertainty emanates from Israel's refusal to disclose their logistical plan for the month-long procedure, which has hindered the PA's ability to prepare and has generated a sense of fear amongst Palestinians in Gaza concerning conditions both during and after disengagement. Sabha Abu Rabea, who lives with her paralysed mother opposite the slated for evacuation Netzarim settlement, has had her home levelled once without warning by the Israelis. She has real cause to fear an outbreak of violence.

What will Gaza look like the day after disengagement? Will the checkpoints be closed? Will Israel allow for the movement of goods and people between the West Bank and Gaza? Will Palestinians issue their own identity cards (an important question for a population living under the confines of over 900 barriers and checkpoints)? Will Israel seal off Gaza from the rest of the world? In short, the PA has no idea.

Diana Buttu, legal adviser to Mohamed Dahlan, PA Minister of Civil Affairs, suggested that Israel might be concealing the details of which they themselves are unsure. "After 38 years, Israel as a state must reassess their mentality of control," she explained. By withholding information Israel creates the chaotic situation of which hence it complains, leaving the field wide open to Hamas and other factions to insinuate weakness and disorganisation on the part of the PA.

Further, Israel's policy of state-sanctioned assassinations -- killing eight Hamas members in recent weeks -- also increases the vulnerability of the PA. Cutting out the leadership creates a power vacuum and increases instability until the faction regroups. Meanwhile, the Islamic Resistance Movement is struggling to refrain from acts of vengeance. "If Israel continues a policy of aggression towards Hamas, we will respond at any time, even during the disengagement," asserted Hamas spokesperson Mushier Masri.

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by Thanks
Friday Aug 5th, 2005 7:01 AM
Thanks for keeping up the flow of info to balance out the pro-israel propaganda machine of the mainstream media.