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Settlers Plant Trees to Symbolize They Are ´Rooted´ in Gaza Strip (CNS-CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE) By Julie Stahl Gush Katif, Gaza Strip 01/26/05)Source: http://www.cnsnews.com//ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=\ForeignBureaus\archive\200501\FOR20050126d.html CNS} CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE CNS} CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Gush Katif, Gaza Strip (CNSNews.com) - Undeterred by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s plan to uproot them from the Gaza Strip in a matter of months, Israeli residents of Neve Dekalim on Tuesday planted trees as a sign of their intention to stay firmly "rooted" where they are.

Neve Dekalim -- Hebrew for "beautiful palm trees" -- is one of 21 communities in the Gaza Strip, which Sharon has pledged to evacuate by the end of the summer as part of his disengagement plan.

The village of some 2,600 people has been targeted by hundreds of Palestinian mortar shells, which have caused property damage but "miraculously" relatively few human casualties, residents say. The Palestinians also want Israelis to leave the Gaza Strip, and some say the rocket attacks are part of an effort to make it look like the Palestinians are forcing the Israelis out.

Leaving appeared to be the last thing on people´s minds Tuesday, when hundreds of children from the Neot Katif elementary and middle school gathered in a playground to plant trees on the Jewish holiday of Tu B´Shvat, which is known as the new year of the trees.

"The media has already taken us out of here," said Aliza Cohen, a fourth grade teacher at Neot Katif.

"When you hear the news, you hear the radio, when you read newspapers, we´re already out. The reality, our feeling is, we are here and we will be here for a very long time," said Cohen, a mother of five.

No quiet

One boy planting a tree had a huge scar on his face -- the result of shrapnel from a mortar shell. Neot Katif´s Assistant Principal Rivka Goldschmidt said he will need surgery to restore his disfigured face.

"I feel along the way that we are fighting two fronts," said Goldschmidt. "One front is the Arabs and the other front is our government, which came up with this unbelievable bad plan," she said, referring to Sharon´s disengagement plan.

Newly elected Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) deployed thousands of PA policemen in the northern Gaza Strip last week to prevent the firing of Kassam rockets at the Israeli city of Sderot. The PA police reportedly will be deployed in the southern Gaza Strip by the end of this week.

Abbas said he is close to reaching a ceasefire agreement with militant groups. And according to radio reports, Israel has agreed to halt its policy of targeted killings of terrorists on their way to carry out attacks.

Although it has been quieter during the last week, residents of Neve Dekalim say the situation is far from a ceasefire and they doubt it will hold.

"We´ve had promises. We´re tired of promises. We´re fed up with promises and with agreements and treaties and that type of thing. They´ve got to prove it now, not [for] one or two days or one or two weeks," Goldschmidt said.

"There is no ceasefire," said Dana Selinger, a mother of seven and long-time resident of Neve Dekalim.

"No doubt there is a simulated ceasefire. It´s true that the mortars and Kassams are not falling right now, but our road was closed last week seven or eight times because there were suspicions, every time for two or three hours straight because there were terrorists on the street, they were firing on the road. I don´t call this a ceasefire," Selinger said.

"They are doing it quieter," she said, "so people won´t talk about it too much."

(On Tuesday sporadic automatic gunfire could be heard in Neve Dekalim. A Kassam rocket was fired at Israel late Tuesday night but caused no damage.)

In a hot house in the neighboring Israeli settlement of Ganei Tal, a Palestinian worker named Mahmoud was pulling dead leaves off potted plants. He said he believes Abbas (Abu Mazen) will be able to bring quiet -- and peace.

A father of nine, Mahmoud indicated that his concerns were financial. He used to work in Tel Aviv, he said, but now he makes 40 shekels (about $8) a day working in Gush Katif. "That´s the price of a cup of coffee in Tel Aviv."

He wants peace, he said, because then the borders will be opened again for Palestinians to move easily into Israel for work, the way it was for years before the uprising. According to Sharon´s unilateral disengagement plan, Israel doesn´t plan to allow Palestinians into the country en masse as it did before the last four years of armed conflict.

Speaking in Hebrew, Mahmoud said he thought it was a good idea for the Jewish communities to leave the Gaza Strip.

"It was better that they would have left yesterday rather than tomorrow," said Mahmoud, who said he lived near the Palestinian city of Khan Younis. "Why should they stay here and have missiles on their head? If they go out, they´ll have quiet."

Does he think there will be peace if the Jews leave? "I´m not God," he said.

Planting Trees

"When you talk about trees, you talk about roots and our whole being here is about roots. This is the country of Israel," Goldschmidt said.

"This is a playground for children and one day when these trees are big enough and will give shade, mothers will come with their children, sit under the tree and have a good time," she said.

At least twelve 10-foot trees and dozens of tiny saplings were planted in the sandy soil of the park, which was otherwise filled with jungle gyms and swing sets, overlooking the red tile roofs of the community and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.

"When you plant in Israel you actually plant your own roots in Israel," she said. "Planting is holding on to your land."

Many Israelis, particularly in this area, believe that God has promised the Jewish people the Biblical land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria (known as the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip as an eternal inheritance and that the current State of Israel and settlements are the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise.

Children from the school performed several skits. Above an improvised stage at the park hung a banner displaying a scripture from the Bible that read, "I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land." The implication was clear -- that Sharon´s plan cannot succeed.

Yossy Krakovr, principal at Neot Katif, said it was not a "useless" pursuit to plant trees in the Gaza Strip, adding that the symbolism is particularly striking.

"The value of the meaning is even greater," said Krakovr. "For a tree there are easy seasons and hard seasons, a season of winter, a season of summer but everything even if it´s hard...deepens its roots.

"The custom of planting trees in Israel on Tu B´Shvat began 100 years ago, and since then, schools have taken the students to plant trees so the land of Israel will begin to blossom," said Krakovr, a father of six and resident of the Gush Katif settlement of Netzarim.

"We hope that the people of Israel will overcome this spiritual crisis," he said. "From our point of view, this is not a political problem, this is a problem in principle...

"We didn´t come home to the land because the prime minister decided; we came back home because it was time for the people of Israel to awaken and return to the land of the Bible. The people of the Bible returned to live in the land of the Bible," he added. (copyright 1998- 2005 Cybercast News Service. 01/26/05)

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