Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Arab world fears return of Gaza settlements

AFP wrote an interesting story about the reaction of former Gaza residents to Operation Cast Lead:
NITZAN, Israel - Like most of her neighbours, Galit Kakoun dreams of returning to the Gaza Strip which until three years ago was home to 8,000 Jewish settlers like her.

Her reminiscences of the good old days were interrupted by a siren warning of incoming rocket fire from Gaza, 15 kilometers (10 miles) away from her bew home in the small community of Nitzan.

Residents rushed to a shelter and barely made it to safety before a dull thud was heard outside.

For the former Gaza settlers, the rocket underlined what they believe was the error of Israel forcing them to leave Gaza in the summer of 2005. Israel withdrew all of its ground forces from the densely populated territory and handed it over to the Palestinians.

"The current situation never would have existed if we had stayed at home," said Orit Berger, 34, who had lived in Gaza's Gush Katif settlement bloc since the age of three.

"Now Hamas is stronger than it was then," she said.

Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007 and Israel says the offensive it launched on December 27 is aimed at wiping out the Hamas movement's ability to fire rockets on southern Israel.

Israeli authorities insist hostilities will end only when they have achieved their goals.

That, said Berger, would be repeating the mistake of 2005.

In this community of 3,000 where wooden signs bear the names of former Gaza settlements, many neighbours share her views.

"We were told: "You have to give up your home, your life in Gush Katif to give peace a chance," said Deborah Neor, her voice dripping with irony.

"Now we have left. And the Palestinians, what are they doing with this chance?" the 52-year-old geography teacher asked.

The I-told-you-so argument is also popular in Nitzan, close to the port city of Ashkelon.

"We knew it, we said at the time that if we leave, rockets would soon fall on Ashkelon and Ashdod," said Gush Katzion veteran Mauria Bentolila, 57. "We gave it all up for nothing."

Even as the toll from the Israeli offensive spirals with Palestinian medics reporting at least 660 dead, many in Nitzan dream of returning to Gaza, which Israel occupied after the 1967 war.

"I am sure we will return," said Kakoun, a 39-year-old mother of four. But she keeps her optimism in check. "If not me, at least my children."

Anat Yaakov, 49, has more ambitious hopes for the impoverished Palestinian territory of 1.5 million that is one of the most crowded places on Earth.

"I believe we will return, but only if the Gaza Strip becomes a fully fledged Israeli territory and not a series of settlements."
Not a bad article, but what I find interesting is where it can be found.

I could only find this story published in two places: The Khaleej (UAE) Times and the Arabic al-Arabiya (without attribution to AFP.) A third wildly inaccurate story, written by an Arab for Alternet, takes for granted that Israel plans to re-occupy Gaza.

This indicates that the Arab public is not nearly as afraid about nor as upset over Gazans being killed as it is about the hated Jews controlling any additional territory. Even the slightest whiff of an idea that Gush Katif would be rebuilt is enough for the collective antennae of the Arab world to twitch. There is also a little irony involved in that this story is sympathetic to Jews who were expelled from their homes, a narrative that the Palestinian Arabs feel that they should own completely.

As I've mentioned before, this fear should be exploited by Israel. When Israel's leaders say that they have no intention of re-occupying Gaza, they are taking their best bargaining chip off the table. Even if it is a bluff, or even if all they end up doing is a symbolic capture of a few square meters, the Arab world would be far more afraid of an "expansionist" Israel taking their land than by a measly few hundred killed, something Arabs do to each other much more effectively and brutally than those genocidal Zionists.

Rocket fire would stop, and many lives would be saved, if the immediate consequence of rocket fire would be a border adjustment, no matter how small.