In Gaza, Signs of Hope in Greenhouses
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Israel began its pullout from Gaza today, issuing eviction notices to some 9,000 settlers. Many of the settlers are vowing not to budge, setting up a showdown with the Israeli army and police. The government says it will start to remove settlers by force on Wednesday. NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has found a silver lining in a story full of tension.
On a day that could be called the ides of August, Gush Katif shines as a good deed in a troubled world. In Gush Katif in southern Gaza, some 200 Jewish settlers operated some ultra-modern greenhouses that could be cultivated automatically by computer. These greenhouses grew $75 million-a-year worth of herbs, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and flowers for home consumption as well as export. The greenhouses employ some 4,000 Palestinians, making Gush Katif a major employer in Gaza. As evacuation time approached, some settlers had already dismantled their operations. Others were planning their departures, planning to take along or destroy their equipment. That would swell Gaza's unemployment roles.
What happened next I learned from one of those involved in a rescue operation. The Bush administration made an offer from US aid funds to keep the greenhouses intact. That was rejected by the Palestinians. The Economic Cooperation Foundation funded by the European Union offered to buy the greenhouses for $14 million to be reimbursed by private donations. James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, now special envoy for the Palestinian-Israeli disengagement, donated a half million dollars from his own pocket, and he put the bite on some friends of his who have not been publicly named. The departing Jewish farmers get $4,000 each from the Israeli government for the installations they leave behind.
Last week a formal agreement was signed turning the greenhouses over to the Palestinian Authority, with the understanding that current employees get the first choice of jobs. What made the Gush Katif deal work where others have failed is that this was handled as an economic rather than an ideological question, a rare case of do-gooders actually doing some good. This is Daniel Schorr. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.