Gush Katif Under the Palestinians

Gaza’s Jewish settlements were situated on about 30 percent of the Gaza Strip’s land. Former World Bank Group President James Wolfensohn intended that once the last Israeli left, the area would become attractive for tourism and hotels—a type of “Arab Riviera.”

Others hoped the Arabs would turn Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East, a modern city-state drawing tourists to its beaches.

The greenhouses of Gush Katif, computer equipment, irrigation pipes, water pumps, and plastic sheeting were bought for the Palestinians at a cost of $14 million by private international donors. The Arabs destroyed all of it within days of the Israeli pullout.

In 2011, a European-financed effort, headquartered in the former settlement of Gadid, helped resuscitate farming on some of the land where the greenhouses once stood. These provided most of the onions, melons, and grapes sold on the Gaza market. Some of the fields in Gan Or are also being farmed again.

Hamas, which controls the area, is not happy about the farming but looks the other way. It also reluctantly allows tons of food, medicines, and other supplies from Israel into the Gaza Strip nearly every day.

In 2009, four years after disengagement, Israeli journalist Avinadav Vitkin, himself a former Gush Katif resident, contacted a Palestinian photojournalist. Would the Arab photographer take on the assignment of visiting the abandoned settlements and reporting back on what he found if his identity would be kept confidential to protect him? He agreed.

Vitkin was curious as to what had happened to places like Neve Dekalim, the “perfectly normal, suburban-like community with small cottages fronted by lawns and fauna” he was forced to leave, he said.

In selling disengagement, Israelis had been told Gaza was so overcrowded the Arabs would jump at the chance to use the areas the Jews would abandon.  

Instead, the hundreds of photos that came back offered a portrait of ruin and destruction. Sand, wasteland, and rubble.

Rather than build on the foundations the Israelis left behind, the Palestinians either destroyed or neglected them. “What is painful,” Vitkin said, “is that it is hard to recognize the structures in the photos. The destruction has been so total.”

The Fatah Party used some of the abandoned structures to house a campus of its affiliated Al-aqsa University, using money donated by United Arab Emirates. The walls are decorated with the portraits of dead Palestinian terrorists. The Gadid community’s synagogue is now a mosque.

Israelis were told, Vitkin recalled, that they had to quit Gush Katif because it wasn’t sensible to live in an enclave surrounded by so many Arabs. “The reality is that Gush Katif epitomized Israel as a whole: an enclave of Jews surrounded by Arabs. The Jews had better get used to the idea,” he said.

In 2006, a New York Times reporter wrote that, with a few exceptions, most of the former settlements were transformed into a “post-apocalyptic landscape baking in the unforgiving sun.”

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