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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
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May 11, 2005

Giving Up Gaza: Two Views on Who Wins and Who Loses

Dear Friend of FLAME:

It seems certain that Israel will withdraw from the Gaza Strip sometime this summer. On the one hand, Prime Minister Sharon argues that the cost of defending 8,000 Israeli “settlers” far outweighs the value of maintaining a foothold in this isolated home to some 1.2 million Palestinians, a great number of them terrorists sworn to Israel’s destruction. This logic seems sound, and the U.S. supports the withdrawal because Bush and Co. see this as a progressive step in efforts to strengthen Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s credibility and eventually to negotiate a peace. But, as usual, politics in the Middle East is not so simple. As the two short articles below illustrate, Israel’s departure has profound downsides. As Jeff Jacoby notes in the Boston Globe, the Gaza pullout not only hurts the stalwart Israelis who have settled this once-barren land, it also hurts ordinary Palestinians, many of whom work for the Israeli settlements and are sure to lose their jobs with the Palestinian Authority takes over. In addition, Danny Rubenstein points out in HaAretz that Israel’s withdrawal without negotiated reciprocity on the part of the Palestinians only strengthens the hand of Hamas, the murderous terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction and to the establishment of an Islamist state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean . . . and beyond.

The dire warnings raised in these articles should inform both the Sharon and Bush administrations as they pursue what some would consider “the easy way out.”

Best regards,

Jim Sinkinson
Director, FLAME

P.S. As you know, Sharon’s plan to abandon Gaza carries treacherous dangers. To get a clear---and admittedly frightening---picture of the consequences of Israel’s departure, I strongly recommend FLAME’s recent hasbarah message, “Abandoning Gaza: Would Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza lead to peace?.” You can find this article on our website at This piece, which appeared in publications nationwide, gives a brief and lucid history of this territory and explains Israel's claim to it. Of course, as always, if you would like to support the distribution of perspectives like this in national media, we welcome your tax-deductible donation. Simply go to to make your contribution online.

Everybody Loses in Sharon's Gaza Plan
by Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, May 9, 2005

PLOTS OF FLOWERS grow outside most of the homes we pass as we drive through this small agricultural cooperative in southern Gaza. I point out a particularly lavish one, and the driver, a gruff 55-year-old, stops the car.

''What are those white ones?" I ask, motioning through the window. ''And those yellow ones with the orange tips?"

From the back seat, Rafi Horowitz, a veteran of four Arab-Israeli wars, calls out a Hebrew name for one of them. Debbie Rosen, a resident of nearby Neveh Dekalim and a spokeswoman for Gaza's Jewish communities, isn't sure he's right. I get out of the car to take a closer look, and a moment later the three Israelis are in the garden with me, admiring the flowers and arguing about their names. A consensus is reached on the begonias, hibiscus, and pimpernel, but the white ones remain an enigma.

Rosen knocks on the front door and tells the man who opens it about the botanical debate underway in his front yard. He steps back inside, then reappears with a well-worn guide to the flora of the Holy Land. In it we find a picture of our mystery flower: white bougainvillea.

A visitor would have to be strangely obtuse not to sense the deep attachment of Gaza's Jews to the land they live on. In places like Gadid, streets and kindergartens are named for the Bible's seven species. "Gadid" itself is an old Hebrew word meaning date harvest, and the names of other settlements, like Pe'at Sadeh ("edge of the field") or Netzarim ("sprouts"), similarly evoke the agricultural yearnings of their founders.

When those founders arrived, Jewish Gaza was all yearning and no agriculture: These settlements were mostly built on barren sand dunes where no one lived and nothing grew. Today it is a horticultural powerhouse, supplying two-thirds of the organic vegetables and cherry tomatoes Israel exports, and renowned for its bug-free lettuce and other leafy greens. Gaza's legal status may be complicated (it is technically an unallocated portion of the League of Nations' 1922 Palestine Mandate), but the moral status of this land is as clear as day: As a matter of justice and sweat equity, the Jewish homesteaders whose faith and hard work have made the sand dunes bloom surely have as much right to their homes in Gadid and Neveh Dekalim as the Arabs have to theirs in nearby Khan Yunis and Dir El Balah.

Yet in just 10 weeks, if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ''disengagement" program goes forward, the 8,000 Jews who live in Gaza -- men, women, and a great many children -- will be expelled. Their homes and property will be taken over by the Palestinian Authority. And the green revolution that has transformed Gaza's sandy wastes into a spectacular oasis of hothouses, nurseries, and gardens will almost certainly come to an end.

But Jews won't be the only victims of Sharon's plan.

At Tnuvot Katif, a large produce-packaging plant here, I watch for a while as about two dozen workers, most of them local Arabs, get heads of tall leaf lettuce ready for export. More than half of Tnuvot's 127 year-round employees are Arab; they in turn account for about 2 percent of the 3,500 Arabs employed by Gaza's Jewish firms.

During a break in the shift, I ask some of workers if they like their jobs. They shrug. But when I ask what they think of the plan for Israeli withdrawal, they grow animated. If the Israelis go, they tell me through an interpreter, they'll lose their jobs. If the plant shuts down, they'll be out of work, and if the Palestinian Authority takes it over, they'll still be out of work -- their jobs will go to workers with better connections to the PA's ruling thugs.

''If that's how you feel," I ask, ''why don't you oppose the disengagement publicly? Why don't you tell the PA that you want your Jewish neighbors to stay?"

When my question is translated, the men look at me as if I'm crazy.

''It's forbidden!" replies Randoor, the only one of the workers who would give even a first name. ''We're not allowed to say that!"

I press him: Why not? What would be so bad about saying that Jews and Arabs should be able to live together? But Randoor shakes his head and crosses his wrists, as if being handcuffed. ''They might put us in jail," he says. ''They might call us 'collaborators.' " In the jungle that is Palestinian society, being called a ''collaborator" can be a death sentence. Indeed, the PA's newly elevated security chief -- a cold-blooded killer named Rashid Abu Shabak -- is known in Gaza as the ''collaborator hunter."

Politicians and pundits are applauding Sharon's planned retreat, yet a simple lettuce-packer like Randoor seems to grasp what they cannot: The lives of Gaza's Arabs will not be improved by expelling Gaza's Jews.

The bitter taste of the Hamas victory
Danny Rubinstein, HaAretz, May 9, 2005

Following the publication of the results of the second round of Palestinian municipal elections in Gaza, it can be said with certainty that barring any change in Palestinian public opinion in the coming weeks, the evacuation of Israel from Gaza will leave control over the Strip in the hands of Hamas.

The Hamas victory in the municipal elections in Gaza was impressive. The organization won a clear majority of the seats on the city council in Rafah, which has more than 100,000 residents, in Beit Lahia, with 40,000 residents, the El Bureij refugee camp, with some 30,000 inhabitants, and in the smaller town of El Murqa.

True, there was a mixture of local affairs, rivalries and competition between clans in the municipal elections in the territories, and the identity of the candidates was of far greater importance than their political positions on the issues. However, even if this is taken into account, it is impossible to ignore the outright Hamas victory.

One of the signs of the victory is that the Fatah activists in Gaza have not yet grasped the fact that they are losing their positions of power and control. When the results became known, particularly in Rafah, Fatah supporters took to the streets and announced there was voting fraud and that they would not allow Hamas to control the city halls. It is difficult for them to accept their loss.

This difficulty is the result of the Fatah movement having been the ruling Palestinian party for years. Its activists grew accustomed to being in positions of power. They got used to the pleasure provided by power - and for years, their control in Gaza was self-evident, even more so than in the West Bank.

The question therefore is how did Hamas win so clearly and why was Fatah's loss so painful. True, Gaza is the birthplace of the Hamas movement, which grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Strip, with links to Egypt. But that is of no importance. One must add in the economic distress in Gaza, which is much worse than in the West Bank - and as the backdrop of this distress, there were bitter complaints about corruption in the public administration, meaning among Fatah activists, who should be replaced by Hamas activists with their image of simplicity and honesty.

Moreover, in Gaza, Hamas - much more so than in the West Bank - appears to have fought, made sacrifices and won the Palestinians their victory in the form of the Israeli withdrawal from the Strip. Fatah and Palestinian Authority spokesmen in Gaza are not able to cope with the argument that during the entire period of the peace process and negotiations with Israel, they failed to do what the Hamas Qassams and mortars managed to do - force Ariel Sharon to retreat from Gaza.

The picture from the Israeli perspective could even be worse because Hamas is perceived in Gaza as being on the verge of receiving the Gaza Strip, without anything given to the retreating Israelis in return.

Officially, at least, there has been no change in the Hamas position. It does not recognize the State of Israel and supports the continuation of the armed struggle. Hamas publications continue to refer to Israel as the "Zionist entity" and to the "occupied territories of 1948." Palestine in its entirety is defined as belonging to the Waqf, and therefore no concessions are possible.

It is possible that sometime in the future, Hamas will change these positions. But it is almost certain that the heads of the religious-political movement won't do so without getting something in return - recognition of their movement and readiness to accept them as negotiating partners. There does not seem to be any chance of that now - and certainly not soon. Meanwhile, Hamas is marching down a paved path, relatively certain to get the Gaza Strip from Israel as the fruits of victory.

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