August of 2005 was a very traumatic month for nearly 8,000 Jewish settlers who were forcefully evicted from homes in more than 20 settlements in the Gaza Strip. From what was known as Gush Katif in the southern part of “Gaza” to the northernmost settlements like Dugit, the entire Gaza Strip was made “Judenrein” in less than a week, Though army units stayed around a while longer, to (hopefully) make sure that Egypt and the U.N. sent forces to the border to keep watch against arms smuggling and the like, Israel’s settlement presence of more than 35 years had officially come to an end.
And today, the majority of these “evacuees” are still living the life of displaced persons, or refugees, in their own country! Many of them had been making an excellent living by farming, and had invested not only all of their capital, but their “human capital’ into what had been very successful agricultural ventures, where Israel received a good deal of certain farm produce such as cherry tomatoes. So much was raised in hot houses which dotted the Gaza landscape that the produce found ready markets abroad. And now, many of these former farmers are still without a source of livelihood, and living in temporary housing such as caravans, pre-fabricated homes, and even in tents.
Government offers of relocation assistance have been sketchy and inadequate for these families, many of whom have anywhere from 5 to 8 or more children. Those who were “lucky” enough to leave early received what became known as “caravillas”, and find them far too cramped as compared to spacious five to seven room homes which they had built years before, when the situation was much more stable and Palestinian labor was readily available. In fact, thousands of Palestinians made their daily livelihood working either on these farms, or in the many factories set up in border industrial zones in Gush Katif and other areas. Not only did many Palestinians make their living in these areas, but many thousands more crossed the border daily into Israel to work in a variety of occupations all over central and southern Israel.
Many Israelis are beginning to wonder if the government’s unilateral decision, made by then prime minister Ariel Sharon, was really a good idea. For not only are the former settlers still mostly displaced; the situation in Gaza itself, now with a radial Islamic governmental entity in control, has gone from bad to worse; with Palestinian made Kassam rockets being launched at Israeli towns and settlements bordering the Strip on an almost daily basis. The settler’s presence in strategic parts of Gaza, including locations near Gaza City and other cities like Rafiah and Khan Yunis, required large numbers of soldiers to be in place there in order to defend them. The Israeli army presence also gave the IDF a strategic foothold there from both a military as will as psychological standpoint. The price paid over the years was not an easy one, however, and scores of Israeli soldiers, as well as civilians lost their lives.
In comparison to what is the current reality, however, that price may have been worth it, for it delayed what is now the new fait accompli in which the Palestinian Authority has become split into two entities: an extreme radical section ruled by Ismiail Haninya and his Hamas organization, and another entity composed of the former PLO or Fatah organization controlling their part of the West Bank. With no Israeli army units patrolling the border between Gaza and Egypt, Hamas and other radicals, including the Islamic Jihad and even Al Qaeda, are bringing in untold quantities of munitions and explosives, including sophisticated anti-tank missiles and mobile SAM missiles capable of shooting down helicopters and perhaps even commercial airplanes.
Since its military victory over rival Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah forces less than four months ago, Haninya and his organization have been rapidly changing the Gaza Strip into an ultra-conservative Islamic fiefdom with some similarities to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Palestinian women, even those who are not Muslim, are now required to wear full covering on their bodies, and many of them are even veiled. On the economic front, unemployment is as high as 80% in many sections, and most Gaza families have to rely on handouts from Hamas and the UN in order to survive. Naturally, all of those incomes that many Palestinians received from working for “Ha Yahud” are no more.
The security situation within Gaza is now so bad that even many foreign aid organizations, including UNWRA and UNICEF are considering either reducing their presence there or even pulling out altogether. The Al Qaeda organization is not only alive and well in Gaza, but is reported to have built up an army of more than 18,000 well equipped fighters; ready to be called into “action” when the right time arises.
Was the ‘Disengagement’ really worth what is currently happening in Gaza, as well as to the lives of so many good, loyal Israelis? Would Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit be in captivity now had a stronger Israeli presence been in place within the Gaza Strip? These questions, and many others, will have to be left for the history books to give a final and appropriate answer.
Alas, if people could only peer a bit into the future…