"When you see something that looks like Rafah, you'll know that was a settlement." That's how people in Gaza are giving instructions to their friends who for the first time in their lives, or the first time in many years, entered the areas of the settlements. It's an exaggeration, of course, because there's no comparing the wildcat crushing of a house on 10 minutes' notice and sometimes without any notice at all, to the demolition padded with compensation and attention for a house that was a crime to build there in the first place.
But that was the typically joking manner of the Gazans and how they refer to the Israeli talent for destruction. The media dust of the post-evacuation period is settling. But the issue of the destruction and the chances for rehabilitation are essential elements in the analysis of the expected political developments, no less than the weakness of Mahmoud Abbas or the political wisdom of the Hamas.
One need not be an economist to reckon that the IDF's departure will be accompanied by the feeling of some immediate improvement in the economy. The mere fact of the absence of checkpoints means that a trip from one end of Gaza to the other won't take hours and days but an hour at most, that workers will get to work on time and every day, that taxis and trucks will make the return trip 10-20 times a day and not once every day or three.
One need not be a psychologist to know that the absence of fear of snipers and tanks and military incursions will improve the mood of the workers and the quality of their work. The Palestinian economy was driven to such poverty that any checkpoint's removal would manage to raise the "growth rate."
But one need not be a sworn pessimist to know that any long-term economic rehabilitation (let alone social-political rehabilitation, without which the economic recovery will not take place) will not work without the guarantee of a connection between Gaza and the West Bank; a constant, permanent and natural connection of people and goods, for work, education, leisure, development, family; a natural connection between the two parts of the same society. If Israel continues a policy of allowing only the most minimal connection between the West Bank and Gaza, it will foil from the start any chance of economic recovery, which too often is presented as the basis for political progress or a necessary condition to fight terror.
Travel on the roads of Gaza, which were closed to Palestinian traffic for years, exposes the full dimensions of the physical destruction Israel left behind. A thousand words and a thousand images cannot describe it. That's not because of the weakness of words and photos, but because of the ability of most Israelis not to see and not to grasp the extent of the vineyards and groves and orchards and fields that the people's army of Israel turned into desert, the green that it painted yellow and gray, the sand turned over and the exposed land, the thorns, the weeds.
To ensure the safety of the settlers who were evacuated last month, the IDF spent five years uprooting the green lungs of Gaza, mutilating its most beautiful areas and cutting off the livelihood of tens of thousands of families. The Israeli talent for ignoring the enormous destruction that we caused leads to the wrong political assessments. Ignoring it enables the IDF to continue destroying Palestinian territory in the West Bank. Along the fence, around the settlements, in the Jordan Valley, the destruction goes on as a means to continue creating facts on the ground and to guarantee that the future Palestinian entity remains as divided and split and territory-less as possible.
But ignoring the dimensions of the destruction hides from the eyes of the Israelis and their political representatives the Palestinian skill for enduring and suffering. Thus, political-military calculations don't take into account that the destruction sowed by Israel does not convince the Palestinians that they should give up and give into Israeli political dictates.
"I don't understand how my parents don't get heart attacks," says a Ramallah resident every Friday when he returns from a visit to his village near the Green Line. A large part of his family's land has been expropriated for the sake of the separation fence. Those who ignore the dimensions of the destruction are not taking into account how deeply the Palestinians are rooted in their land and country.
Some will say this is because there is no choice, but it's not only that: the more the IDF destroys and damages the landscape, nature, the land, the more the Palestinians compare it to the foreign armies of invading crusaders. Their foreignness, the Palestinians reckon, is what unleashes all the destructive impulses that lack any care for the natural beauty of the place, its human history, the architecture of that human history.
Foreigners, history has proven, leave. Irrespective of the correctness of the conclusion, it holds the Palestinians steadfast against the plans for destruction for the sake of more settlements that the Israeli government envisions for the West Bank.
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