Over breakfast Fabricio read us the headlines from one of Jerusalem’s daily newspapers…It seems Sharon has encouraged the friends and families of settlers to visit their loved ones in Gaza this Passover because it will be the last time they will be able to enter. After that, the Israeli army will move quickly forward with the disengagement plan – much sooner than the original July timeframe.
One of the objectives of our trip was to get a better sense of what the disengagement will mean for Gazans. The details of the plan remain quite mysterious and our questions about the disengagement were consistently met with shrugs. How will goods get in and out? What will become of the homes, lands and greenhouses of the settlements? How difficult will it be to get exit permits? Who will control the water and electricity? Will workers be able to continue working in Israel and in the industrial zones outside of Gaza? Will the Israelis coordinate at all with the Palestinian Authority?
Raji Sourani, the Director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, one of GRI’s partners, does not feel optimistic about the Israeli withdrawal. …”in practical terms, I just can’t see how things will work…Israel will continue to be the masters.” Responses were similar throughout Gaza. The lack of information leaves Gazans with a feeling of instability – anxious and uneasy about their future. Many feel that the disengagement from Gaza will be at the expense of the West Bank and there are already rumors of proposed settlement expansions. With Gaza locked up in the south and the separation wall and the settlements eating away at the West Bank, it is difficult to see how a Palestinian state is even viable.
However, life goes on in Gaza. After our gloomy introduction to the present situation, we had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with a group from the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC). GRI supports PARC’s Urban Agriculture Project in Gaza, which works with women in refugee camps to set up organic urban gardens on rooftops and backyards and to raise protein rich pigeons. We visited some women involved in the project and they invited us into their homes to see what they had planted. One of the women, Lemia, gave me a lesson in Arabic as we walked through her garden. Subscribing to the foreigner is deaf school of though, Lemia, with a broad grin on her face, shouted into my ear the Arabic names of all the different plants we were seeing…. Lemoun! Teen! Zataar! Balah! Filfil! Bandoura!
Lemia was proud of her garden and had even saved enough money to purchase a solar powered fruit and vegetable dehydrating machine that she was sharing with several other women. With a glimmer of hope in her eyes, she explained how she would eventually like to break into organic export markets. Whether or not this will be possible remains to be seen, but suddenly, standing on Lemia’s roof amid pots of tomatoes and bright green herbs, it seemed that many things were taking root, not the least of which is the local community’s capacity to meet basic food needs and to generate much needed income for the family.