Collection: The Occupied Territories, Apartheid and Violence
Haaretz, 16 August 1991.
By: Danny Rubinstein
IN THE GAZA STRIP, THE MOST DENSELY POPULATED AREA IN THE WORLD, THE JEWISH SETTLERS FOUND PLENTY OF SPACE IN WHICH THEY LIVE COM~ORTABLY
The wide avenue leading toward the town is partly blocked. Near’ the police building, housing the Israeli administration, there was an attempt to attack an Israeli army position three weeks ago, and that section of the street was closed. Abu Hassan, a driver from the Nusseirat refugees camp, and Rolf Van Uje, a senior employee in the UNWRA say, that except for an incident that occured in the Shatti camp last week, it is rather quiet now in Gaza. There are several versions with regard to what happened In Shatti. What is clear, is, that soldiers wearing Arab dresses were driving in a disguised vehicle and noticed several boys painting slogans. They tried to catch them, one was caught, the others escaped. The soldiers in the Arab disguise took out their weapons, hidden under their dresses, hunted the escaping boys and fired at them. One boy was thus killed. A first victim in Gaza in such an incident, after many weeks. Within a minute a riot broke out. Crowds flocked into the street, many came at that time from the mosques, surrounded the soldiers, who defended themselves, shot and wounded 14 of the camp inhabitants. Once such clashes occured in Gaza day after day, Now it is an exceptional event.
It is impossible to pass the center of Khan Yunis in a car in the morning hours. Narrow, dirty streets, filled with refuse and garbage. Near the fruit and vegetable sheds a convoy of vehicles is passing with difficulty between donkeys pulling carts, walk masses of human beings. The transition from Israel to the Gaza Strip is always stunning. Within a few minutes you drop into one of the worst slums of the Third World. The open stinking sewage, the half naked babies and an endless mixture of half completed structures covered with tin roofs. The tiles put on them prevent the wind from tearing the roofs off. Foreigners rarely enter Khan Yunis. A TV crew visited the place some time ago and took pictures of the AI Kudwa family, related to Yasser Arafat, whose father is buried in the cemtery of the town. He left his home town in the 30’s and went to Cairo, to return only in the 50’s, just before his death.
Prices in Khan Yunis are about 50% lower than in Israel. When the Gaza Strip farmers are not allowed to market their products in Israel, the prices here deteriorate amazingly. Two weeks ago you could buy here a whole crate of tomatoes for one Shekel, one kg, for 10 Agorot [a tenth of Shekel]. Merchants say that people do not buy even for the low prices. They have no money. Once 80,000 people from Gaza were working in Israel. During the Gulf crisis and War, their number dropped close to zero, in the last months there were some 30,000. The UN officials in Gaza say they feel the growing unemployment. For every job there are hundreds of candidates. More apply for social aid grants. In the 42 days of war, when the Gaza Strip was closed, UNWRA released emergency funds and distributed an additional 5 kilo of flour to each family. The UNWRA administration in the Gaza Strip used the general closure to make fresh surveys of the number of inhabitants in its care. The up-to-date figures show that 530,000 of the 750,000 inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are refugees and half of them live in camps. One of them is the Khan Yunis camp, housing 40,000 people.
The camp is adjoining the town. Nearby are the fences of the group of the Jewish Gush Katif settlements.
Along the fences, a few Israeli army positions watch the camp. No soldiers enter the camp. "If they enter, it becomes a battlefield", says one of the young Palestinians gathering around us. They describe their life in the camp: "We are live like dogs, but not like the dogs of Tel Aviv who live well. Like the dogs of Gaza".
The UN budgets keep the camp only on the verge of human existence. Most of the money is spent for education (elementary only) and for clinics and basic foodstuffs. The result: All the inhabitants know to read and to write, there are no epidemies despite the bad sanitary conditions, no one actually dies of hunger. The young men say that unemployment in the Khan Yunis camp reaches 50% and more, Some used to work in Israel or in the settlements. One of them got now a job as assistant of Gazan pharmacist, the others walk all the time between the center of the town and the beach. Beyond the fence, a prefabricated building factory was established by settlers. Nice houses are being prepared for Jews from all the world, they say. One boy complains that the factory was built on a site that was the football ground of the refugee camp, others confirm what he says. In a distance of a few hundred meters from the fence, big bulldozers are seen preparing another area of sanddunes for a new, exclusively Jewish housing quarter and additional buildings for the Neve Dekalim area center
From Khan Yunis and the refugee camp, a narrow road leads to the Gush Katif settlements. You have only to pass the opening in the fence and the military control post and within a minute or two you arrive at the nearby Jewish settlements. The road is empty. Only a few Arabs are working on the west side, in the direction of the settlements and the sea. The Israeli settlers never visit Khan Yunis. Their own localities have been extensively developed in the last years. In the past the settlers had to drive to their houses through the outskirts of Gaza and the big refugee camps in order to reach Israel. Now they can bypass the whole area of the Strip inhabited by locals and reach their settlements from the east. The new road, completed recently, is named after the late Knesset member Yigal Cohen from Tel Adashim, an enthusiastic supporter of the settlements. When you drive on that road, you do not see even one Arab house.
Till 2-3 years ago, the Jewish settler population in Gaza Strip amounted to some 2,000. Since then their number has doubled and is supposed to reach 5,000 by the end of this year. Most of the 16 settlements are spread between the coast of Khan Yunis and Rafah. In all of them you can see speedy construction projects. Almost 4,000 Jewish candidates registered for purchasing 350 plots of land at very low prices in the north of the Gaza Strip, near the Erez roadblock. All are native Israelis from Ashkelon area and the development towns in the south. The sand dunes of the Gaza Strip are really beautiful. Though the settlements are only a few hundred meters from the refugee camps, sand hills hide the miserable sights. The west wind blowing from the sea protects the Israeli settlements from the bad odour of the camps. In the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places in the world, the Jewish settlers found plenty of space for settlements whose slogan, on the fence of one of the local tennis courts, calls to come to Gush Katif to find here a high quality of life.
Most of the Gaza Strip settlers are religious. They belong to the National Religious Party and Gush Emunim and, due to the lavish support they get, they have plenty of money. There are many luxurious public buildings in the settlements, besides the tempting recreation facilities for tourists, a nice hotel with a charming bathing beach. Jeep tours in the dunes and horse riding are being offered. Children are offered rides on donkeys and even a trip in an Arab toy carriage. A sailing club, a swimming pool, as well as a kosher restaurant all offer their services.
Until recently it was hard to find Israelis who were attracted to the idea of building their home inside the Gaza Strip. Nobody wanted even to visit and spend a holiday on the beach and the sand dunes that are so close to the slum camps. But things have changing in Israel. The scheme of the government succeeds in creating in the territories a total separation between Jews and Arabs. If one and more or less equal law exists in many areas of life inside the State of Israel, though it is not perfectly enforced, it equally evident that the law, the civil and legal status, the administrative mechanism, taxation, all rules governing every aspect of life – all are differ completely between the Jewish settlers and the Arab inhabitants. This difference is the only way to offer abundance and well being to Israelis in the heart of an area of poverty and distress that were not once defined by foreign visitors as an "insult to human dignity".
Toward the evening, the "Dates Coast" of Gush Katif made preparations for a celebration involving a festival of Israeli songs and other local amusements of rides on jeep and horses in the sand dunes. Nearby, across the fence, in the Khan Yunis camp, as in the whole of Gaza Strip, curfew came into force at the same time, prohibiting people even to leave their houses from the beginning of darkness till the daybreak.