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August 18, 2005

Two Sides to a Withdrawal

by Sanjay Suri

The beginning of the pullout of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip presents two contrasting pictures of two very differently placed people. While the Israelis are looking at comfortable compensation packages, thousands of Palestinians face the threat of starvation as a result of the Israeli pullout.

The average compensation packet for an Israeli settler home is around a quarter of a million dollars. But to that has been added a bonus payment, two years free rent at the new location, help to set it up, removal expenses, compensation for loss of land, and redundancy compensation. For some families, the compensation package is closer to half a million dollars.

On the other hand, the World Food Program (WFP) has been busy stocking food to make sure that poor Palestinians in Gaza do not starve as the settlers move out.

"That is a real danger because every time there is a movement of settlers, the Israelis block off all access roads and communication," Arnold Vercken from the WFP told IPS from Jerusalem. "That means Palestinian people cannot have access to their businesses and their fields and their source of work."

The WFP staff itself may not get past the barriers set up. "And so we have pre-positioned the food beforehand in warehouses at about 21 locations," Vercken said. "The poorest people are the most vulnerable here and we are providing for them."

The WFP says the supplies will be needed to sustain tens of thousands of impoverished Palestinians. About 5,800 tons of food have been stored in the warehouses in Gaza, the WFP says.

"The food is sufficient to feed the 156,000 Palestinians who benefit from WFP rations until the end of October," the WFP said in a statement. "In addition, WFP has already provided all beneficiaries in the densely populated Strip with a two-month ration for July and August."

"In spite of the logistical difficulties that have increased with the Israeli disengagement, WFP, working along with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and the Palestinian Authority, has now secured enough food rations for the poorest Palestinians in Gaza," Vercken said in a statement earlier.

In the al-Mawasi enclave, which has been one of the areas most severely affected by the Israeli occupation, about 1,340 families have already received sufficient food for the next 10 weeks, the WFP says.

For the past four years, al-Mawasi has been under virtual siege by the Israelis, with the movement of its 7,000 inhabitants completely restricted.

About 8,500 Israeli settlers are being moved out of 21 settlements in Gaza this week. They moved in after Israel captured the territory in the 1967 war. They will be relocated either within Israel or in the occupied West Bank, where new settlements are being built to accommodate them.

The WFP will continue to provide food assistance in both Gaza and the West Bank, Vercken said. "Despite the disengagement it will take some time before an economic network is created in Gaza," Vercken told IPS. "It will take some time to mitigate the effect of the situation prevailing over the past years. The WFP will continue to provide food to the most insecure, both in Gaza and the West Bank."

The WFP, which has been operating in occupied Palestinian territory for the past ten years, is launching a new two-year operation next month to provide nearly half a million Palestinians with food assistance. Much of the crisis may now shift to the West Bank where the construction of a separation wall has been aggravating the situation for Palestinians.

The operation will bring 156,000 tons of food to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank at a cost of $80 million.

Some of those who have pledged donations to this program are the European Union ($9.6 million), the United States ($1 million), Austria ($300,000) and Italy ($70,000).

The WFP is looking for further donations to meet the needs.

(Inter Press Service)

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