Palestinians call Gaza plan a beginning

September 03, 1993|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Staff Writer

JABALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip -- In this land of smoking garbage heaps, ankle-deep dust and soldiers who answer stones with gunfire, even some Palestinians weary of 26 years of armed occupation are now wondering: Exactly who wins if Israel gives up the Gaza Strip?

From the way Israeli government officials have talked of this place in recent years, shedding the 7- by 25-mile spike of land will be like plucking a rusty nail from the nation's bleeding heel. Gaza, after all, is the birthplace of the six-year-old "intifada," the Palestinian uprising, and its weak economy contributes little to Israeli revenues.

For the Gaza Strip's 600,000 Palestinian refugees, the joy of impending freedom is tempered by the fear they'll exchange a monolithic tormentor for many smaller ones, if Palestinian factions turn against one another in the absence of a common enemy.

But for all their reservations about a possible peace agreement -- and the Palestinians here have many -- their consensus seems to be that it's better than nothing. So, sure, they say, why not give this version of peace a chance.

"We don't want to always just reject, reject, reject," says Hussein, a 33-year-old painter who will give no other name. "So let's see. Maybe something good will happen. The good thing for now is, Gaza is a start. If there is later the West Bank and Jerusalem, then we will have real peace."

Such remarks are especially encouraging coming from Hussein, because he has many of the qualifications that usually guarantee opposition to any action short of the destruction of Israel.

For starters, his family's one-time property lies in a village north of Ashkelon, well within the boundaries of Israel that were carved out by war and diplomacy in 1948. The new peace agreement's recognition of Israel concedes that such property is lost forever.

Hussein also lives in this refugee camp, a seething pocket of resentment with dirt streets, open sewers and 60,000 people crammed into cinder block shacks topped by corrugated sheet metal. In April he lost his livelihood when an Israeli security crackdown barred him and 17,000 other Gaza Palestinians from traveling to their jobs in Israel.

Yet, Hussein is now pleased. "If we have a state here," he says, "it will give us some satisfaction for what was lost there."

His neighbors are less impressed.

"This is not the kind of peace I wanted," says Ali Mohammed, 52, a grocer in Jabaliya. His family lost its 75-acre farm to Israel's boundaries in 1948. "And to me, this peace plan is like this: You have land and a home. Then someone comes and kicks you into the street. He keeps kicking and hurting you. Then he says, 'I will leave you in the street and stop beating you if you sign a paper that says you have nothing. That is what is going on now."

'Too many factions'

Then there are people such as Mohammed abu Abed, a tailor from Jabaliya. Though he loathes the occupying forces, he fears the future may be even more dangerous.

"There are too many factions," he says. "Perhaps they will fight each other. Look at Lebanon now. We may be like that."

It would be difficult for life to get much more dangerous than it already is in Gaza, where rock-throwing can end up as a de facto capital crime. Since the beginning of the intifada six years ago, 1,060 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, including 235 aged 16 and younger, according to the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Palestinian leaders say about half the deaths have been in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians have responded with violence of their own, killing 53 soldiers and 97 Israeli civilians and six tourists. They've also killed 755 of their own for suspected

collaboration with Israeli forces.

Even if the Palestinians manage to keep the peace in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal, there are still the questions of how to set up and hold elections, and how to run everything from the schools to the utilities.

Zahail Jabber, a local representative of the Palestinian peace delegation, says, "The [Palestine Liberation Organization] leadership knows that they have this responsibility, and they are preparing for everything, for all the bureaucratic staffs. For example, through the years of the intifada we have been establishing an education council, a health council and a housing council in Gaza, as if they were ministries. And in Tunis the PLO has branches for these things."

In the meantime, he says, PLO representatives who back the peace plan have opened back-channel discussions with the leaders of Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalists opposed to peace with Israel. The hope is that the dialogue will ease the transition to self rule.

In traveling the streets of Gaza, it's hard to imagine how it could be more poorly run than it is now. The Israelis have invested most of their effort in security, and practically none in paving streets or collecting garbage.

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