TOPICS > Politics

Gaza Views

March 27, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: One place where Mideast tensions and violence have run deepest is the Gaza Strip. Much of Gaza is now officially under control of the Palestinian Authority, but Israeli settlements also dot the tiny sliver of land. Ian Williams of Independent Television news prepared reports from both sides of the divide.

First, the perspective of Israeli settlers.

IAN WILLIAMS: The division is stark: Our road, the Settler’s Road, is separated by a concrete wall from the crowded highway used by local Palestinians. Nothing here is left to chance. Bulldozers clear vast swathes of land around the Jewish settlements to improve security for 6,000 settlers, to more effectively separate them from the 1.2 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip who claim this is their land. The settlements of Gush Katif are protected by soldiers, watchtowers, and electric wire. Visiting here is a bit like entering a high-security prison. The settlements are illegal under international law, and one of the biggest impediments to peace. But to those who live here, this is the promised land, to which they have a biblical right.

RIVKA GOLDSCHMIDT, Settler (Translated): We believe that this is part of Israel, and this not an Arab land. They invaded here along the years when the Jews were in the Diaspora, but it was never theirs.

IAN WILLIAMS: Rivka’s parents fled from Hungary after the Holocaust. She came to Gaza 24 years ago, soon after the area was captured in the six-day war. Her spacious house could be mistaken for a little bit of suburbia, except for the bunker at the bottom of the garden. Beyond, bulldozers continue to clear scrub that could be used as cover for Palestinian gunmen. They’ve flattened several hundred Palestinian homes in Gaza for the same reason. That’s attracted international criticism, which the settlers find incomprehensible.

RIVKA GOLDSCHMIDT: A house is just bricks. You can rebuild it. But a person who was murdered brutally by a Palestinian will never be brought back. The family will grieve forever.

IAN WILLIAMS: Rivka’s husband grows bulbs for export to America. Like most settlers, a gun is always at his side. He still employs a handful of Palestinian workers, though other settlers no longer trust them, and employ laborers from Thailand instead. He says he’d like to see peace, but regards most Arabs as implacable enemies.

MICHAEL GOLDSCHMIDT, Settler: I don’t believe there will be ever peace. I don’t trust them. They don’t want to… they want to throw us out of the country completely. And that’s my position towards the political position — not personal each Arab worker here, but I believe in general, the Arabs throughout the Middle East wants to have the end of Israel. That’s… I feel we shouldn’t give it in, in any part, because if we give any part up, then it shows a weakness.

IAN WILLIAMS: Israel has taken around a quarter of the Gaza strip to house and protect 19 settlements. In some areas, the watchful soldiers outnumber the settlers. But that hasn’t brought security. 48 Israelis have been killed in and around the Gaza settlements since the latest Intifada began. Most recently, a Hamas fighter attacked a military college in the settlement, killing five students and injuring 23 others. It was about midnight when the gunman broke into this settlement, cutting his way through the perimeter fence down there by the beach. His information seemed extremely good, since he headed straight here, to a classroom, where some students were still studying. The gunman opened fire and hurled hand grenades in here and in a nearby dormitory, where the scars have been quickly plastered over. He was eventually gunned down. A nearby girls’ school is still mourning a teacher murdered by a Palestinian gunman who opened fire on her car. Rachel has nothing but contempt for the peace process and the Israeli liberals who support it. She believes the settlers are at war.

RACHEL SAPERSTEIN, Teacher: So you are living in a very, very, very scary situation here, very ugly and terrifying, but we’re not leaving. We’re not leaving.

IAN WILLIAMS: The violence has become a fact of life for the children of the settlement. Large, concrete blocks are designed to protect them from gunfire as they come and go to school. Teachers say they have a game, jumping back and forth between the blocks. They call it “kill me, kill me not.” New houses appear to be empty, but they deny people are leaving. Instead, they claim new settlers are coming, idealists. Many Israelis regard the settlers as dangerous extremists who will have to be removed as part of any peace settlement. The settlers regard the liberals as traitors. They’re convinced of their own righteousness and the need for absolute vigilance towards enemies they see all around them.

JIM LEHRER: And to the Palestinian perspective in Gaza, and again to Ian Williams.

IAN WILLIAMS: The Israelis believe they’re harboring terrorists and, in the name of containing terror, have closed down the Gaza Strip and blockaded more than a million Palestinians. Overnight, tanks have closed this road, dumping a mound of dirt and sand on it, though that doesn’t deter a steady stream of people. Israel’s policy does seem to have had some success. None of the recent suicide bombers in Israel have come from Gaza, but attacks on soldiers and settlements inside Gaza have intensified, as has firing from border villages into Israel. In response, Israeli bulldozers have flattened the home of a known Hamas leader before ransacking the houses of his two brothers, in what seems a policy of collective punishment, blasting their way in before turning the place upside-down with the help of dogs.

WOMAN (Translated): They even gave the baby’s milk to their dogs. They destroyed everything in the house, everything.

IAN WILLIAMS: Homemade rockets have been fired from this area, though Hamdan, owner of one house he’s never allowed it to be used by militants.

IAN WILLIAMS: Why do you think they did this?

MAN: I don’t know. You can ask them. We are not military. We are farmers here. We are not Hamas. We are not military persons, no shoot from here, no guns, no military.

IAN WILLIAMS: Hamdan thinks his house may just have got in the way, and the purpose of destroying it was to give a better view from the Israeli settlements, up on the hill behind me, into the Palestinian refugee camps on this side. Either way, all that’s really been achieved is a deepening of the hatred. Two weeks ago, 18-year-old Mohammed Farahat, a Hamas member, kissed farewell to his mother before breaking into an Israeli settlement. He massacred five youngsters as they prayed or slept. Then he was shot dead. His parents are proud of his murderous act. They’re confident their home will soon be bulldozed in revenge. And they say they’re more happy for their other sons to follow in Mohammed’s footsteps.

FATHI FARAHAT, Bomber’s Father (Translated ): I’m happy to sacrifice my five other sons, not just the one. I’m ready to sacrifice all of them for the sake of my land.

IAN WILLIAMS: The boys that were killed in the settlement, they also had family, they also had parents. Do you feel anything for what they suffered?

FATHI FARAHAT (Translated): Yes, both Palestinians and Israelis are suffering, but the pain will only end when the Israelis leave our land. They’re hitting us with aircraft, helicopters, all they’ve got. We have to defend ourselves. We have to fight back.

IAN WILLIAMS: Israel has bombed buildings belonging to the Palestinian Authority as punishment for their failure to act against the gunmen. After Mohammed’s killing spree, Israeli troops stormed a local village, killing 17 people. They claimed 15 were known terrorists, though that’s disputed by the Palestinians. Either way, psychologists here say the use of heavy weapons in densely populated civilian areas is having a devastating mental impact, especially on the children.

DR. AYAD AL SARAJ, Gaza Mental Health Association: In the last 18 months, almost every single person in Gaza was exposed to one form of trauma or another– every single person. Children receive the messages of panic and fear from the eyes of their parents, from the behavior of their parents.

IAN WILLIAMS: Gaza’s economy, almost entirely dependent on Israel, has virtually ground to a halt.

MAN (Translated): We need peace. We need to work.

IAN WILLIAMS: Saud, a chef, was one of 27,000 Gazans who used to work in Israel, generating much of the territory’s income. No longer.

MAN (Translated ): I managed to save money while I was working in Israel. That’s what I’m living on now, trying to support four children.

IAN WILLIAMS: A walk through the market and things appear to be in abundance. But it’s deceptive. Livelihoods have been destroyed as prices have collapsed, farmers no longer able to export to Israel or beyond.

VENDOR ON STREET (Translated): My business is destroyed. I can’t cover my costs. I’m working for nothing.

IAN WILLIAMS: Fishermen prepare to test the water. Israeli gunboats have been stopping them from venturing far from the coast, cutting nets. The navy recently intercepted a Palestinian arms shipment in the Red Sea. Now the fishermen of the Gaza are paying the price.

MAN (Translated ): If I’m lucky, I’ll catch enough for a packet of cigarettes. Otherwise, nothing.

IAN WILLIAMS: Gaza is under siege. There is despair here, but also defiance. It’s a dangerous combination.