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Gaza Withdrawal Presents Hope, Challenge for Palestinians


Israel has completed the evacuation of 8,500 Jewish settlers from 21 enclaves in the Gaza Strip and plans to turn the areas over to the Palestinians in October. VOA's Sonja Pace was in Gaza City and has this report on Palestinian hopes after nearly four decades of Israeli occupation.

Musbah Shamallah sits in the sandy lot in front of his house on the outskirts of Gaza City shuffling through a bundle of papers.

These faded documents, he says, are deeds to land the family has owned for generations - land the Israelis confiscated in 2001 to extend the security perimeter around the settlement of Netzarim.

But, now the settlers are gone and the land they once occupied will soon be turned over to the Palestinians. Musbah Shamallah says he'll take his papers to the authorities to reclaim his property and turn it, once again, into productive farmland.

Like so many people here in Gaza, Musbah Shamallah greeted the Israeli withdrawal with joy and expectations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sees it as holding promise for a better life.

Mr. Abbas has promised that all the Palestinian homes destroyed by the Israelis during the past five years of violence would be rebuilt.

But, keeping those promises and meeting Palestinian expectations will be a tall order. Arrangements are yet to be worked out with Israel over the free access of goods and people to and from Gaza and between Gaza and the West Bank.

Abdelhakim Awad knows it won't be easy. As head of the youth organization of the ruling Fatah party, he has been organizing events to celebrate Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Mr. Awad says people must be involved and feel they have a stake in the future.

"How to let people participate with us and to participate in having responsibility after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. How they [the people] can protect the land, how they can put an end to breaking the law," he said.

Mr. Awad acknowledges that widespread allegations of corruption against Palestinian leaders have severely weakened the Palestinian Authority. Still, he says it's not too late to win back people's trust and the best way is to present a solid plan to make Gaza a model for what a future Palestinian state can be.

"We can change life in the Gaza Strip. We can improve the administration and we can make the [Israeli] withdrawal from the Gaza Strip the great dream to [for] the Palestinians," he said. "This gives hope to continue because without withdrawal from any part of our land, there is no hope to [for] the Palestinians. Hope is power."

Mr. Awad says Palestinians know that an end to Israeli presence in Gaza does not mean an end to occupation. There is still the Israeli presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas the Palestinians also want for their future state.

There are different views among Palestinians over how to bring about an end to Israel's occupation and to promote the creation of a Palestinian state. Militant groups such as Hamas say they will continue their resistance, including attacks against Israelis. Mr. Awad says Fatah and the Palestinian Authority seek negotiations, not violence.

All Palestinian farmer Musbah Shamallah wants is to get his family's land back.

He says everything will change once he can farm his land again. As for prospects for a broader peace between Israel and the Palestinians, well, "I ask God for that," he says.