- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

GUSH KATIF, Gaza. — This is a place Ariel Sharon used to tour on Fridays. It’s been awhile since one of those visits, though, and the Israelis who live in this place, who have deeps roots in this place, don’t appreciate the prime minister’s mounting absences. They no longer feel like his favorites. Indeed, they are downright resentful.

Their bitterness stems from plans to withdraw from Gush Katif, which lies west of the River Jordan, and other so-called settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. These are moves, the Sharon government says, toward bolstering national security and taking a huge leap along the road map.

Of course, the government’s rationale sounds foolish to anyone who knows the Jewish State of Israel was carved out by the United Nations in 1948. Palestine and the free people who lived there held the short stick. (Americans, especially those of us who support Israeli sovereignty, need only remind ourselves of how the South felt about the military occupation by the North after our Civil War.)

To think the day after complete withdrawal that a tourism poster might in the foreseeable future lure world travelers to “Visit Palestine” is a compelling prospect. After all, peace, a State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel are the stated gestures, are they not?

The Israelis now in the center of the disengagement debate, however, are of no such mind. They view the withdrawal as an expulsion of the Jews, and many of them blame President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for their impending fate. (It’s the same old, same old: Blame Yasser Arafat; but when all else fails, blame the Americans.)

The Gaza settlements are not of America’s making. Nor were the settlements foisted on the now unsettling settlers. The settlements are of the creation of Israelis themselves, beginning in the early 1970s under the government of none other than Prime Minister Golda Meir, who, interesting enough, had emigrated to Palestine in the early 1920s.

Since the intense bombardment of the Arafat compound in Ramallah and the Palestinian leader’s death in November 2004, the settlements have gone from exemplifying Zionist ideals to a reckoning that signifies secular treason. So says Debbie Rosen, a distraught Gush Katif mother of six: “We came to create a community. We were courted by the government to build the community.”

Debbie, a spokeswoman for the Gaza Beach Regional Council, believes neither peace nor Palestinian sovereignty is worthy of the withdrawal. “Why do we have to pay the highest price?” she asks. I tell her that she’s getting off quite cheaply. That the lives lost over the several decades answering the Arab-israeli question paid the highest of all costs.

Still, Debbie says, “This plan won’t achieve anything. [The Palestinian workers] don’t want us to leave … Peace? Nobody’s even used the word peace. Both sides are victims of evil politicians’ plans … My children are being raised like I was. This is my homeland. My grandparents came from Europe to build this homeland.”

My sympathy lies with her. Yet, I empathize with Palestinians who not only lost their homeland, but are reduced to backbreaking work in the very greenhouses that Debbie points out during a tour of Gush Katif. She says the Palestinians don’t want the Israelis to leave. When I ask her to have one of the Palestinians themselves tell me what they envision as their day after, she tells me that he said, “Palestinians will suffer more.”

Please. How can the Palestinians possibly suffer anymore when the Israeli military has its boots on their throats? How can Palestinian children possibly suffer anymore when they must leave homes in the predawn hours just to get to school on time? As one Palestinian relates, his young son asked whether Israeli soldiers were born of mothers or of the earth with guns in their hands. No child should “suffer” such profound thoughts.

Debbie wonders where she will live, how much money her family will receive in compensation from the Israeli government and where her children will attend school in September. Questions of a concerned mother, understandably. But I remind her that Palestinians face worse dilemmas everyday — and Yasser Arafat hardly provided a better life for them.

To be certain, however, both the homes that the settlers of Gush Katif will leave behind and the greenhouses now tended by the hardworking Palestinians will be no more the day after. The government will not merely abandon the land. The bulldozers will march into this place to destroy every remnant of life.

And when this place is Gush Katif no more, it then will be up to the same foreign governments that voted for, against or abstained from U.N. Resolution 191 in 1947, which partitioned Palestine, to ensure that the Palestinians do indeed have their support to reconstruct their homeland. That is the human-rights answer to the Arab-Israeli question.

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