Issue Date: September 16, 2005
Is Gaza exit Israel's first and last?
By MIRIAM WARD
It all looks good on the surface. Sharon has removed the 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four small outposts in the West Bank. Israel has taken the first step toward compliance with international law and the Geneva Conventions. Around 1.3 million Palestinians have freedom of movement within Gaza. Relieved of the economic burden of protecting 8,000 settlers, Israel is freed from the moral burden of subjugating another people. Or is it? Questions remain.
This is a critical time for Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. He must immediately engage the international community to address the humanitarian needs of Gazans. Up to 80 percent unemployment exists. Removal of the settlements has had a negative effect on thousands of Palestinians who lost their jobs doing menial labor in the settlements. Thousands more will not be allowed to work in Israel. Malnourishment among children is rampant.
Israeli settler families who left Gaza will each receive up to $400,000, having lived on Palestinian land rent-free for three decades. Impoverished Palestinians in Gaza must now be helped. The world media cameras caught the pathos of Israeli settlers uprooted from their homes. Few photos of the thousands of Palestinians whose homes were demolished at Rafah have appeared in the mainstream Western media. Nor was the media around when in the early 1980s I visited families in Gaza who had just been told their land was no longer theirs, and they would not be allowed to harvest their crops. Settlers would be moving in.
On the political front, Abbas has a formidable task. Firmly committed to peaceful negotiation and adamantly opposed to militant methods, he must convince extremist Palestinian groups that negotiations can and will work, that renewal of talks with the Israelis will bring about further compliance with international law by decolonizing the West Bank. To convince them, Abbas must have concrete evidence -- a freeze on settlements; a freeze on wall construction, especially around Jerusalem; an end to humiliating checkpoints, roadblocks and ubiquitous Israeli soldiers.
Concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians must be addressed together, not in isolation. Last October, Mr. Sharons chief adviser, Dov Weisglass, spoke frankly about the goal of the Gaza disengagement plan. The Gaza plan supplies the formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians, Mr. Weisglass said. If true, if Mr. Sharons intent is to make Gaza first and last, there will be no peace.
Miriam Ward, Sister of Mercy, is a founding member of Pax Christi Burlington and Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel. She has conducted 27 pilgrimage/study tours to biblical lands.
National Catholic Reporter, September 16, 2005
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