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PlaNet News & Views

Posted on 22-8-05

Peace Within Reach
August 21, 2005, The Observer, by Sandra Jordan
[Note: Tonight (22 Aug05) on PTV, 9.30pm, Triangle TV - Auckland, the
history of the creation of Israel and occupation of Palestine plus a
programme of the current situation.]
It is the wedding season in Gaza. Every day last week the streets were
jammed by wedding convoys, up to 20 a day. You hear them before you see
them - the procession is led by a trailer-load of musicians, and then
comes the bridal car adorned in flowers and ribbons, followed by busloads
of whooping relatives. Over-excited men may open a car window and fire a
few pistol rounds into the air. All in good taste according to Gazan
wedding etiquette.
It is in stark contrast to the intifada years of endless funeral
processions. Predictions of a bloodbath in Gaza during the Israeli
disengagement have not come true.
The next hurdle is how the Palestinian political factions will co-operate
over distributing the former settlement land, a potentially explosive
issue, only partially tackled by yesterday's announcement by Palestinian
leader Mahmoud Abbas that all land will be taken under government control
until ownership issues are settled.
For now, love is in the air. That and an Israeli observation balloon
hovering over Gaza, taking pictures of everything below.
The wedding processions pass under flags and banners celebrating
liberation, however limited. 'Gaza is the start,' proclaim Hamas banners:
'Next Jerusalem and the West Bank.'
But for now there is the double wedding in the El Tartori wedding hall on
Gaza's beachfront. The Tafeshs are marrying the Badawis. 'We are sisters,'
said one of the brides, Manar, 19, pointing to her sister Deena, 18. Their
respective grooms Wahib, 27 and Ahmad, 26 are brothers.
'I hardly know which I am happier about,' says Deena, 'that this is my
wedding day or that it's the day the last settlers have left our land.
This is the first truly happy occasion in my life.'
It is a typical arranged marriage. Wahib explains: 'When my mum went out
looking for brides for me and my brother my aunt told her about a
neighbour's daughters who might be suitable.'
After five years of conflict Gaza's economy has been decimated and parents
looking to match their daughters to pairs of brothers has become a common
phenomenon. A double wedding cuts the cost and otherwise many young people
could never afford to get married.
'I prayed to God that our wedding would go ahead without problems,' said
Wahib, concerned that the pullout could have led to violence. Instead
there is a growing sense of Palestinian self-esteem. 'The Palestinians
don't feel humiliated any more. We have less now but in the long term our
sacrifice will be worth it,' says one of the guests.
Outside the wedding hall, the beach was packed with midnight picnickers.
Throughout the disengagement, as settlers fought with soldiers,
Palestinians have been swimming in the Mediterranean - fully dressed women
splashing alongside half-naked kids as men washed their horses in the
One day the Palestinian Authority put on a victory show at the port. Not
to be outdone, the next day Islamic Jihad put its victory show on the
water, filling fishing boats with masked militants who like shooting in
the air.
Earlier last week Samir Al Owney stood under a painting of his son
Hussain, a militant who was killed by a tank shell in 2003 during an
Israeli army invasion. Hussain was 16 and had joined the al-Aqsa Martyrs'
Brigade behind his father's back.
'I would have stopped him', said Samir, 'but I didn't know. I can't
believe the Israelis will ever leave, but if they do it is thanks to
Hussain and the other martyrs who died to defend our people and liberate
our lands.'
Then the unexpected happened - the settlers started to leave in a hurry.
'Could we ever have believed the Israelis would destroy their houses in
Netzarim and Gush Katif?' asked Aziza Ghaben, 49, a mother-of- five and a
Hamas politician from Beit Hanina.
'But resistance will not stop,' she warned, 'till we have liberated our
land. We were in a small prison, now we are in a bigger one. They still
control our borders and continue the occupation in Jenin and Jerusalem and
we will not accept it.'
A few miles south in Deir el-Balah, Yehia Abu Samra is waiting anxiously
for the day he can return to his land and house in the Kfar Darum
A father-of-eight, he abandoned his house at the beginning of the
intifada. 'I was hanging on in my own home till the bullets drove me out.
My home was surrounded by a fence and we couldn't leave without permission
from the Israelis. We had become part of the settlement.'
His new house is 500 metres away from his old home and his 160 dunams (40
acres) of land. The pink curtains in the sitting room are perforated with
bullet holes. The shots are fired from an Israeli watchtower built on Abu
Samra's land. Abu Samara is a former general who now works in the
Palestinian Interior ministry. He served 24 years in jail for fighting the
Israelis in 1968. The pullout perturbs him.
'The price I paid is not equal to the reward - I wanted a Palestinian
state. I feel like I've been stabbed.' From the roof of his house he
watches bulldozers and tanks speed across his land, leaving storms of sand
in their wake. He wonders if his house will be in ruins when the soldiers
have left.
'My biggest worry about Gaza is this - who will control our borders? Our
airspace? Our sea?' he says. It is a worry shared by most Gazans.
Nor is he fully optimistic about the future. 'I hope this is not the last
withdrawal,' he says. 'The Israelis can never return to Gaza. I hope now
that we move the struggle to the West Bank. '