Gaza town to be closed during pullout

Under the current system, Israel exercises complete control over the Palestinian economy, with products often being held up for days at Israeli crossings, during which time many perishable items spoil. (Arjan El Fassed)

Israeli forces have notified Palestinians living near a Gaza settlement of a month-long closure of their community, just days prior to the upcoming withdrawal from the area. Abdullah Maani, a local leader of the al-Ma’ani area in the Central Gaza Strip town of Dair al-Balah, told that Israeli forces notified him on Friday of a closure that would seal off his community from the rest of the Gaza Strip for three to four weeks, starting this coming Wednesday.

“The soldier told us there will be a complete closure, and that he is giving us advance notification so we can stockpile water and food, adding that no one will be allowed in or out, except in extreme cases and with prior coordination,” Maani said. “I don’t know what we can bring in for this amount of time. We have to transport water here in gallons.”

The community of 140 Palestinians lies adjacent to the Israeli colony of Kfar Darom, thought to be among the first of the illegal settlements due for evacuation this week.

Restricted access

The Israeli army has fenced in the small enclave since July 2002, declaring it a closed military zone and preventing all vehicular movement in and out of the area. Movement for local residents has been extremely restricted as has access for international organisations, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Beginning on Wednesday, Israel plans to evacuate the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza along with four small enclaves in the West Bank. But coordination between Israel and the PA has been extremely limited prior to the withdrawal and Israeli officials have revealed few details about the logistics of the phased plan. Security officials from both sides announced only on Thursday they would set up a joint operation centre to monitor the withdrawal, with select Palestinian officials allowed inside.

Lack of information

It is not known precisely which settlements will be evacuated first and how, though there is speculation that Kfar Darom will be among the first. Meanwhile, Israeli officials announced on Friday a deal to sell settler greenhouses in the Gush Qatif Bloc of settlements to the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli press reported.

The $14 million deal will be overseen by the Economic Cooperation Foundation (ECF), a private organisation run by former Israeli MP and Oslo Accord architect Yossi Beilin. The ECF will buy 75% of hothouses in the settlement bloc through private international donations and transfer them to the Palestinian Authority.

Hothouse deal

Middle East Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn is said to have played a major role in raising the funds - most of which come from American donors. Under the deal, 450 Gush Katif farmers will receive $3500 per empty hothouse and $4000 per for hothouses ready for planting. Approximately 3500 dunams of hothouses in Gush Katif are covered by the deal.

Palestinian economists have warned, however, that without access to the end consumer and free import and export of goods, the newly gained assets will be worthless to the Palestinian economy. Though initial discussions have taken place, no agreements have been reached on the future of Palestinian ports, with Israel citing security concerns.

Future concerns

Under the current system, Israel exercises complete control over the Palestinian economy, with products often being held up for days at Israeli crossings, during which time many perishable items spoil.

“Israel does not maintain systematised rules or procedures for the movement of Palestinian goods, thereby increasing risk and uncertainty among investors,” said Diana Butto, advisor to the Palestinian Technical Team on Israel’s Evacuation.

“Israel has yet to provide answers and information to the Palestinians on all of the major issues. Accordingly, Palestinians fear that the Occupied Gaza Strip will be turned into a large prison, with no access to the Occupied West Bank or the rest of the world.”

Laila M. El-Haddad is a journalist based in the Gaza Strip. This article was originally published by and reprinted on EI permission.

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