A week after they descended like locusts on the greenhouses that Jewish settlers nurtured in Gaza, looters continue to pillage what should be a prize asset for a fledgling Palestinian state.
And the Palestinian Authority, which took over Gaza after the Israelis evacuated the territory, appears powerless to stop them.
When a Daily News correspondent visited abandoned Jewish settlements in Gaza, he found brazen vandals dismantling farms that once produced some of the world's finest tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
The now-gutted greenhouses were gifts to the Palestinian people from U.S. philanthropists, who raised $14 million to buy them from departing settlers.
Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Qusa insisted the damage was limited to 30% of the 4,000 or so greenhouses - and blamed most of the vandalism on spiteful Jewish settlers. 'The Palestinians damaged so little you can't even count it,' he said. (As we've noted, AFP reported those claims as facts.)
One of the philanthropists, Daily News Chairman and Publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman, called that assertion 'ridiculous.'
'We thought it was a chance to show the Palestinians that there were more benefits from cooperation than confrontation,' Zuckerman said. 'I'm just sad that they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. ... It's almost inexplicable.'
The World Bank reported 90% of the greenhouses were intact when the Israelis left. Facts on the ground reveal that much of that bounty is now gone.
"All over Gush Katif the greenhouses have been damaged and a lot was stolen from them," Karim said, referring to former Jewish settlements in southwest Gaza. In Gadid, much of the expensive equipment used to tend the crops was stolen. So were the water pumps, irrigation lines and all the fuse boxes.
At the former Katif settlement, a Palestinian soldier, Pvt. Mohamed Cidawi, said looters made off with most of the metal support beams and even stole the plastic and canvas coverings that protected the vegetables from the hot sun.
"Go away," Cidawi shouted when he spied a boy with a sledge hammer preparing to smash a fuse box. "If I see you here another time, I'll kick your ass!"
In the nearby Neveh Dekalim settlement, there were no soldiers to stop 29-year-old Samir Al-Najar and his eight-man crew from demolishing a half-acre greenhouse. Al-Najar insisted the land was his family's before Israel occupied it in 1967 and that he was reclaiming it.
"I want to reorganize the land so we're clearing it out for now," Al-Najar said as two workers carried off a stack of tall metal support beams. Asked whether he intended to sell the materials, Al-Najar shook his head. "We'll probably rebuild with them, but I want the greenhouses to be our own, not Jewish ones," he said.
Sounds like it is time to give them even more money!