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Heavy-Handed Politics

"€œGod willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world
without the United States and Zionism."€ -- Iran President Ahmadi-Nejad

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Not So Great Afterall, Eh?

The Washington Post has a piece, "Unoccupied; No Israelis in Gaza. No Jobs,Either" that is worth reading.

For as long as I could remember, it had been dangerous, even lethal, to approach the heavily guarded, shoot-to-kill border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. But on Sept. 12, Israel had pulled its last troops out of Gaza. Now, a few days later, my brother Ahmed was telling me that some militant Palestinians had managed to break through the 25-foot-tall border wall, and a flood of eager Gazans were heading south to visit the Sinai. Ahmed wanted to go, too.

These were exciting days. Desperate and frustrated by years of occupation, we Gazans saw the Israeli withdrawal as a historic moment, and listened eagerly to minute-by-minute radio reports of the evacuation and its aftermath. In our highly factionalized news media, every party attributed "victory" and "liberation" to its own heroic militants.

Amid the fanfare and hurrahs, Ahmed and I made up our minds: We would temporarily escape five years of entrapment in this narrow strip of land. We would make this fantastic trip to Egypt and see what the taste of freedom is like.

We knew the trip would be brief. We should also have realized how short-lived our excited optimism would be. When we got home, "liberated" Gaza would still be overcrowded and poor, and there would still be no jobs for most of its people.

At dusk, we got out of my brother's jeep about 400 yards from the border fence. The scene was joyfully hysterical. A human tide of Palestinians -- men, women and children -- flowed into Egypt from Gaza, and back, through breaches in the fence. Leaving the jeep behind, my brother and I walked from the Palestinian side of Rafah to its Egyptian side. We felt happy and free.

El Arish did not turn out to be as exciting as the idea of visiting it. A small town, it was soon overwhelmed by the deluge of visitors. Shops were soon out of food, water and even cigarettes, consumed by the crowds of Gazans eagerly absorbing new experiences and different conversations. Ahmed and I came back to Gaza before dawn. By the end of that week, the fence at Rafah was repaired and the border was again closed, this time by Egyptian and Palestinian authorities.

The excitement lingered, at least for a couple of weeks. People in Gaza talked about their visit to Egypt, what they did, what they bought. Some of them were able to bring home beloved wives or children who had left Gaza for some reason and, lacking documents that would satisfy the Israeli occupiers, had not been permitted to return. Inside Gaza itself, there were holiday-like crowds on the Mediterranean beaches -- especially in Khan Younis and Rafah, where Palestinian access to the shoreline had been blocked for years by Israeli settlements. A better future for Gaza seemed to be waiting.

But the energy and enthusiasm of ordinary Palestinians has not been matched elsewhere in the world, not even by our own leaders. Now, only a couple of weeks later, Gazans' yearning for a better future has all but ended. A feeling of hopelessness has returned.

The key to Gaza's future is the restoration of the Palestinian economy. Only this will pull the rug out from under Hamas and eradicate the chaos resulting from poverty and unemployment.

Gazans need help from outside to save the next generations from poverty and extremism. Without such help, Gaza is still a prison -- it has just become a little more spacious.

"I think we were better off before the Israelis left," said Mohammed, my neighbor. "At least we were termed 'occupied,' but now we are not; we have been left alone in this barren land."

It's worth going and reading the whole thing.


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