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2005-08-16

Jewish Settlers Receive Hundreds of Thousands in Compensation for Leaving Gaza While Palestinians Working for Them Get Nothing

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As Israel’s disengagement from Gaza enters Day 2, we go to Gaza City to speak with leading Israeli journalist Amira Hass. A majority of the Jewish settlers have accepted a compensation package–in between $150,000 to $400,000–from the Israeli government in return for leaving Gaza. Hass reports that the thousands of Palestinians working for the settlers are receiving nothing. [includes rush transcript]

It is Day Two of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Israeli security forces poured into the largest Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim today, pushing back Jewish protesters vowing to defy orders to leave the occupied territory.

Scuffles broke out as protesters set fire to tires and several cars, and a house was set ablaze. At least 20 people were arrested.

Eviction warnings to the around 8,000 settlers in all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of the 120 in the West Bank went into effect on Sunday night. Residents have until midnight on Tuesday to leave or face forcible removal.

The letters delivered by Israeli soldiers read in part "The [Israeli military] and the Israeli police share in the sorrow and pain you are feeling and expressing. Nevertheless we will see this mission to its end, while providing any possible help and assistance."

Many of the soldiers — who are unarmed — have reportedly been confronted by protesters calling on them to disobey their orders. There are some 50,000 troops and police in Gaza right now

Around 100 families left the Gaza Strip Monday, bringing the number who have left so far to about 30 percent of the settlements’ population. This according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

More are expected to leave voluntarily today but security officials fear that confrontations with some of the 5,000 non-residents who had infiltrated the settlements in recent weeks could turn violent. Police said 500 people were arrested overnight trying to slip into the settlement of Gush Katif.

Nevertheless, a senior officer told Haaretz that he believes the evacuation would be completed within 10 days.

In a televised address on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the disengagement plan.

  • Ariel Sharon, Israeli prime minister speaking on Israeli television, August 15th, 2005.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a televised address last night. It is unclear exactly how much the disengagement plan is costing the Israeli government. But last month it was reported Israel is seeking an additional $2 billion dollars or more in aid from the United States to help pay for the plan–which would in effect double the amount of aid Israel already receives from the U.S. The costs of the withdrawal include operations carried out by security forces as well as moving and compensating the settlers.

A majority of the settlers have accepted a compensation package from the government in return for leaving Gaza. An average family can expect to receive the equivalent of $150,000 to $400,000 in compensation, depending on house size, the number of children and length of residence in the occupied territories. On top of that, there are removal expenses, two years" free rent and redundancy compensation. Many of the settlers are already beneficiaries of government subsidies for settling the land.

But what about the thousands of Palestinians working in Gaza Strip settlements? Israeli journalist Amira Hass reports that neither the Israeli government nor their employers is compensating them for losing their jobs.

  • Amira Hass, Israeli journalist with the newspaper Haaretz. She joins us on the line from Gaza City.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a televised address Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the disengagement plan.

ARIEL SHARON: It shows strength rather than weakness that we are taking this step. We tried to reach agreements with the Palestinians, which would move the two peoples towards the path of peace. These were crushed against a wall of hatred and fanaticism. The unilateral disengagement plan which I announced approximately two years ago is the Israeli answer to this reality. This plan is good for Israel in any future scenario. We are reducing the day-to-day friction and its victims on both sides. The IDF will redeploy on defensive lines behind the security fence. Those who continue to fight us will meet the full force of the IDF and the security forces.

Now the Palestinians bear the burden of proof. They must fight the terror organizations, dismantle its infrastructures and show sincere intentions of peace in order to sit with us at the negotiating table. The world awaits the Palestinian response. A hand offered in peace or continued terrorist fire. To a hand offered in peace, we will respond with an olive branch, but if they choose fire, we will respond with fire more severe than ever. The disengagement will allow us to look inward. Our national agenda will change. In our economic policy, we will be free to turn to closing the social gaps and engaging in a genuine struggle against poverty. We will advance education and increase the personal security of every citizen in the country. The disagreement over the disengagement plan has caused severe wounds, bitter hatred between brothers and harsh statements and actions. I understand the feelings, the pain and the cries of those who object. However, we are one nation, even when fighting and arguing.

Residents of the Gaza Strip, today marks the end of a glorious chapter in the story of Israel and a major chapter in the story of your lives, as pioneers, as realizers of a dream, and as those who bore the security and settlement burden for all of us. Your pain and your tears are an inseparable part of the history of this country. Whatever disagreements we have, we will not abandon you, and following the evacuation, we will do everything in our power to rebuild your lives and communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, in a televised address last night. It’s unclear exactly how much the disengagement plan is costing the Israeli government, but last month it was reported Israel is seeking an additional $2 billion or more in aid from the United States to help pay for the plan, which would almost double the money it gets from the United States, as the largest recipient of foreign aid in the world. The costs of the withdrawal include operations carried out by security forces, as well as moving in compensating the settlers.

A majority of the settlers have accepted a compensation package from the government in return for leaving Gaza. An average family can expect to receive the equivalent of between $150,000 to $400,000 in compensation, depending on the house size, the number of children and length of residence in the occupied territories. On top of that, there are removal expenses, two years free rent and redundancy compensation. Many of the settlers are already beneficiaries of government subsidies for settling the land.

But what about the thousands of Palestinians working in the Gaza Strip settlements? Israeli journalist Amira Hass reports neither the Israeli government nor their employers is compensating them for losing their jobs. She joins us on the line right now from Gaza City. She’s a correspondent with the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Amira.

AMIRA HASS: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you explain the situation right now for Palestinians? Most people don’t think of that in the Jewish settlements.

AMIRA HASS: Actually, there was a huge number of Palestinian workers working in Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. If you had — so they claimed there were some 8,000, some say 7,000 Israeli settlers before this evacuation. Then there were about 3,200 Palestinian workers working for them and some 800 foreign workers working for them.

And all received much below the — well, the foreign workers from Thailand, from Nepal receive some kind of minimum wage, but Palestinians get something like the third of the minimum wage, which is an obligatory wage in Israel. But not only in Israel, according to a military order, already from the early 1980s, Israeli employers in the occupied territories are obliged to pay the minimum wage to their Palestinian workers. Very few respect this order, and they pretend they do not know it exists. For this article that I wrote a few days ago, I spoke to some — with some employers, and asking about the rights of the Palestinian workers, and they claim that the workers are not — that the minimum wage law is not obliging them, which is a lie.

So, we cannot understand the wealth which they have acquired to settlers during the last year — during the last 30-35 years, without remembering, without taking into consideration the very low salaries they paid or the very low cheap labor they got from Palestinian — from the Palestinian labor market. They — not only did the settlers settle in the land which is not theirs, on the Palestinian — very precious Palestinian land, which was taken from the use of — possible use of Palestinian cities and refugee camps. Not only were they using the only sweet water left in the Gaza Strip, not only did they get all of the subsidies you mentioned, but they also enjoyed the very — this low wages that they paid to their workers.

So their compensations now — the Israeli government, the Israeli parliament issued a law a few weeks — a month ago, law of compensations. And it specifically entitles Israeli workers, those who lived in the occupied territories, in the occupied Gaza Strip or those who lived in Israel but worked in the occupied Gaza Strip, and their employers were Israelis, it entitled them to two different sorts of compensations for the loss of their jobs. It specifically says, this law, the only Israelis get this compensations. One is called fees of adaptation for losing the job. And the other one actually entitles the workers to get compensations even though they were not fired from their jobs, because you can get compensations if you are being fired, severment, I think it’s called, severance compensation. But these are only for Israelis, not all, which means for Jews, not for Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, what about what happens to these settlements after? The reports are that they won’t allow Palestinians in for a few weeks, and then I know some of the settlers have burned their homes. Is the Israeli government going to demolish the others, or will Palestinians be able to move into them?

AMIRA HASS: The houses are going to be demolished. I think it was also something that also the Palestinians wished for, because the houses do not fit the Palestinian requirements and Palestinian needs. There are houses for — large houses for small families. And this is too luxurious for Palestinian reality, especially in the Gaza Strip. So the agreement is that Israel — the Israeli bulldozers, they have become very expert during last years in demolishing houses, the Palestinian houses. So they will first demolish the houses in one stroke, [inaudible] take away the dangerous parts like asbestos — asbestos roof, and take away the water barrels, water tanks, and then they come and demolish the rest of it. Then Palestinian contractors and workers will evacuate the rubble to Sinai. This is the plan. So it will take, I guess, a few weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of demolishing homes, I have noted over the last few days with the mainstream press in the United States, there’s been a great effort to get the voices of Jewish settlers out, and you can hear the pain in their voices as they talk about their homes for many years, being forced out of them. And I was wondering if you think this should be a model of the coverage of what happens to Palestinians? Now, in the case of Palestinians, of course, their, for example, homes that are being demolished, we rarely hear that kind of extended interview with a Palestinian whose home has just been destroyed.

AMIRA HASS: Well, that’s, of course, the fault of, as you say, the mainstream media, and which pains much more the loss more the loss of a huge house built at the expense of the Palestinians than the loss of thousands of Palestinian houses and very, very un-modest houses, and this is an understatement, which were very often demolished in order to safeguard the security of those very settlements. Actually, during the last five years, the Gaza Strip, both houses and neighborhoods and fields were destroyed in order to facilitate the army’s job at securing the life of 8,000 or the comfort of 8,000 Jews. And this is at the expense of 1 million Palestinians — almost 1.5 million Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the Israeli press —

AMIRA HASS: 1,300,000.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the Israeli press the same way? I mean, do you hear the Palestinians, you know, the families who have had their homes destroyed?

AMIRA HASS: We have covered this, and our papers and TV channels published and reported about it, but not to the same extent as they do — as they covered Jewish loss of their houses.

AMY GOODMAN: I was also wondering about Eden Natan Zada or Eden Tzuberi, the Israeli soldier who deserted and then shot up the bus and killed four Palestinians, four Israeli Arabs in the bus, two sisters, young sisters. Actually, Sharon called him a terrorist. The policy with Palestinians is when a terrorist does something like that, they demolish the home of the family. Was there any discussion of that in this case?

AMIRA HASS: First, the Israeli army decided a couple of months ago to stop demolishing houses of Palestinian — of Palestinians who participated in some act of terror or guerrilla, because they realized five years too late that it doesn’t discourage others to resort to such acts. So, first, this is one. And there was also during the first Intifada, there was a high court decision ruling against demolishing houses of people who participated in such a terrorist or guerrilla act. This is one. The second, we all — I mean, in the Israeli left wing, Israeli human rights activists have always criticized this way of retaliation, so nobody is sort of offering to — no, it was not under discussion. Maybe some angry people in Shfaram mentioned it, mentioned that this is discrimination, just another example of discrimination, but nobody really expected or wanted the Israeli authorities to demolish his house.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, you are the only Israeli journalist to live long-term in both Gaza —

AMIRA HASS: Israeli Jewish journalist.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Jewish journalist in both Gaza and West Bank, your book, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. You’re back in Gaza right now. What is it like there, and how do the people in Gaza City relate to what’s happening in the Jewish settlements right now?

AMIRA HASS: I encounter many mixed feelings. It’s a big relief to see those settlers leaving. They really dictated during the last five years, they dictated hellish life on so many people, on 1,300,000 Palestinians. So, this is a relief. Hamas is trying to make a political capital out of it, because they claim it’s only thanks to the strategy of armed resistance against the settlement. This is — this is kind of difficult to argue with, because it’s true that ten years of negotiations did not bring — or five years of negotiations did not bring the evacuation of those useless and illegal settlements and very, very shameful, even shameful — Sharon called it a glorious chapter — very shameful chapter in the history of Israel. So negotiations did not make them leave, and only what Hamas say, armed struggle.

But let us not forget that at the same time Israel is accelerating and expanding its colonialist project in the Gaza, in the West Bank. It is a project which actually cuts the Palestinian territory into small pieces, small Bantustans, and enlarges and connects all Israeli settlements and blocks settlements to each other and to Israel proper. In ten or 20 — and this was the main reason why Sharon was very clever, very clever politician, why Sharon decided to sacrifice the settlements and the settlers of the Gaza Strip for the sake of leaving the 400,000 settlers in the West Bank. So, you have the — you sacrifice 8,000 settlers for 400,000 in the West Bank, including Jerusalem.

So, people who are more political-minded and do not need now to get this political capital out of the evacuation remember this very — remember this and know that there is no way that — the Palestinians have not really planned, have not really had a very strategized resistance against the settlements in the West Bank — in the Gaza Strip and less so in the West Bank. So, the prospect of fighting against settlements and against this illegal colonization in the West Bank needs much more political work and with the aid of the external aid of the world which is not to be seen.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, and that is we have seen a number of soldiers crying. We have heard about the soldiers who are refusing to do this. Are there more soldiers refusing to do this and resisting than there are soldiers refusing to serve in the Israeli military in the occupied territories, in West Bank and Gaza?

AMIRA HASS: It’s hard to tell. I think that they — like the demolished houses, maybe they got more attention, those soldiers who refuse to evacuate or to participate in the evacuation of the settlers than those who refuse to serve in the occupied territories because they’re against the occupation. Well, I guess there are more of them, because they have been brainwashed for years, and they were born into this reality, and there are many soldiers who come from religious — religious nationalist families, and they’re part of this. This is part of their world.

But — and, of course, the Israeli officials were much more understanding — showed much more understanding to the pain of these soldiers than they show understanding to the pain of those who do not want to demolish Palestinian houses, who do not want to put them under arrest, who do not want to shoot and kill them. And I just indeed read a letter by one of the soldiers who, by the way, did not refuse, but he participates in a group called Breaking the Silence. It’s soldiers who write down testimonies of other soldiers about Israeli — about the military conduct in the occupied territories. And he just complained about this, about the officers who show understanding to the — of the trauma of their soldiers to have to evacuate Jews but have never reacted to the traumas of other soldiers like himself who are traumatized by their orders to demolish Palestinian houses or to kill Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you very much, Amira Hass, for joining us, correspondent with the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, author of the books, Drinking the Sea at Gaza, and also her latest is Reporting from Ramallah. This is Democracy Now!, DemocracyNow.org. Amira was reporting to us from Gaza City.

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