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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Making a wilderness and calling it victory

Alan Johnson of the BBC surveys the fate of the former Israeli settlements in Gaza. It's a sorry tale and of course, Alan Johnson of the BBC being Alan Johnson of the BBC, it's largely the Israelis' fault. If only they'd stop overreacting to those 'crudely-made' rockets that only 'rarely' kill anybody... They should realize that it's their responsibility to fix it so that the Palestinians can play with rockets to their hearts' content and have a viable economy.

Reading the article, it dawned on me that there was something missing. If land which was illegally occupied has been vacated, what would you expect to happen to it? Surely it should be restored to its rightful owners. But it seems that's not on the agenda at all. Why not? Could it possibly be that before the settlers came this land was so unproductive that nobody ever thought of staking a claim to it?

Can the BBC settle this point, on which I am genuinely in ignorance? The evidence on offer is circumstantial at best, and I strongly suspect that that is in itself a clue to the answer. Here's a settler speaking last August:-

'"When we got to Gush Katif in the 1970s, there was nothing; just sand dunes 15 metres high," he says.

'"It was desert all around, with a smattering of Bedouins who worked with us. We didn't occupy anything. We developed these farmlands. From the sand, we created a paradise."'

(the article from which this comes is an eye-opener on the PA's determination to cut its nose off to spite its face: some settlers were willing to sell their farms as going concerns, but the PA were refusing to pay even if someone else gave them the cash)

On the other hand, a PA employee who, also last August, wrote a diary for the BBC website (balance, you see), had this to say:-

'Now we are looking to what happens afterwards. Once military control has ended there will be a special court appointed by the Palestinian authorities.

'It will ask people who owned land near or inside the settlements to prove their ownership with papers, then they will get it back.'

So how's the special court coming along a year later? Our correspondent Alan Johnson is on the line from Gaza. Over to you, Alan...

Maybe there is a parallel universe in which the settlers were invited to stay on and help kickstart the Gazan economy. Having consented, they are buying goods and services from Palestinian businesses and paying taxes to the Palestinian authorities. Meanwhile the rockets have stopped in reciprocation for the Israeli withdrawal, and exports flow freely across Gaza's borders.

In our universe, of course, the settlers had to go - not because they were thieves, but because they were Jews in a place where all political factions agree that no Jews are wanted. Something to bear in mind next time you hear that Israel is a racist apartheid state.

Or to put it another way: what do you call someone who doesn't want any Arabs living next door? A racist. What do you call an Arab who doesn't want any Jews living next door? An anti-imperialist resistance fighter. They're a laugh a minute, the anti-Zionist left.

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