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Toby Klein Greenwald

City Of Faith - A  Photo Essay About Some Of The Gaza Jewish Refugee's Living Quarters

A Gaza Diary
8 September 2005


I write this with a very heavy heart.

No more than a number of days after the expulsion of the 8,500 Jews of the Gaza Strip, as well as the 1,500 Jews of northern Samaria, a call went out here in Israel for volunteers to go back to the shattered Jewish communities to assist in removing personal & household effects before the utter destruction of their homes would take place.

The Jewish communities ("settlements") of the Gaza Strip were vibrant communities, similar in appearance to comfortable American suburbs, and were all economically based on hothouse-farming with nothing more than pure beach sand for soil. With God's help and Israeli inventiveness, even this completely sterile and infertile beach sand provided the Gaza farms with extremely impressive yields of vegetables, flowers and house plants, which contributed to fifteen percent of Israel's agriculture export cash every year.

Before the actual residential areas were decimated by the bulldozers, the Israeli government gave a few days for the residents, now refugees, to remove their personal belongings from their homes.  A call went out and volunteers -- teenagers on their summer vacation -- arrived en masse and helped families pack up to remove their possessions. Some  families finished packing and their homes were cleared out just minutes before the bulldozers destroyed them.  In several instances the families and volunteers were still packing up when the earth moving equipment arrived to level their homes.  The bulldozer operators, we were told, at least had the minimum human compassion to destroy another home which was cleared and ready for demolition until the families of the refugees who were packing could fully evacuate and literally flee with their stuff.

Once the deadline for removing personal possessions passed -- and it must be mentioned that in a number of cases the homes were destroyed with all contents because certain families were physically unable to organize the logistics of moving for various reasons -- the Israeli government then announced that within 14 days all the agricultural infrastructure and equipment would be destroyed, and that those farmers should attempt to salvage what they could in the little time that remained. Why were the refugees of the Strip given so little time?  There was talk down there that it's because PM Ariel Sharon has a scheduled appearance at the United Nations  and wanted to truthfully announce to the whole world that the Gaza Strip is ethnicly-cleansed -- no doubt to the jubilation and applause of that (largely Jew-hating) international body. So those Jewish homeless refugees will just have to sacrifice a teeny-tiny-itsity-bitsy-bit more of their lives and possessions just so Ariel Sharon can get the grateful acclaim of the Nations.  How nice!  (He might even get a Nobel Peace Prize for this one! And wouldn't that be a feather in his cap!)

To do this impossible task, a call went out here in Israel for volunteers of all ages to go and help remove what was salvageable in the days remaining.

So there were crews of volunteers that arrived to assist, and these crews came in for three day periods and were replaced by another crew which worked another 3 days.  I was among a crew 200 volunteers who spent our time and energy assisting the Jewish refugee farmers of the Gaza Strip from the complete and wanton destruction of their businesses and livelihoods.

Make no mistake, this was all necessary because of the criminal act of expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Gaza Strip and the resulting apartheid thereupon -- done unto them primarily by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his political cronies, combined with political pressure from US President George Bush and the gleeful applause of US Secretary of State Condoliza Rice.

Down to Gaza

Transportation to Gaza was arranged and on busses and we left Jerusalem early on that Wednesday.  The trip from Jerusalem to down to the Strip took all of 1.5 hours.  Here's a picture of the western Negev desert near the Gaza Strip. Flat, dry, slightly rolling hills, and planted in the winter when the rains can irrigate the crops. (Click on these thumb-nail pictures for the full-size ones.)

The last time I had been in south-west Israel was 25 years back when my wife and I were looking for community to live in and we considered moving into one of those in the Strip but in the end we found another community in Judea much more to our liking.  Much had changed since I had been there last, then there were only sand dunes and a few odd houses upon them. In 25 years the Jewish Gaza Strip reached its zenith as they became beautiful communities had been created with lush greenery, flowers. Those who visited there all agreed that it was like a paradise on earth.

As our bus passed through the Gaza Checkpoint we entered the Strip.  It is popularly bandied about by the media that the Gaza Strip is THEE place with the highest population density in he world. The popular belief is that this is the cause of a great deal of wretched poverty, suffering and that it is the root cause of terrorism on the part of the Arabs. Well, I checked a source that claims to be based on the CIA data which puts Gaza as 6th in rank of world population density with Maccau, China, being first on the list, having a pop density of 6.7-times greater than Gaza.  So if high population density is the cause of terrorism, why haven't the ethnic Chinese gotten swept away with international murder and terrorism?  If the social strain of such high population density naturally forces people to violence and terrorism then even the people of Gibraltar should also be foaming at the mouth and seething with malevolent discontent because they have an even higher density than Gaza.

Anyway, our view from the bus didn't suggest an area seething with people packed like sardines, in fact the area was fairly open, with lots of space between some nice Arab homes.

(I apologize for some of the photography here, as I was traveling on an armored bus with 2-inch thick armored-glass windows that were reasonably clean but due to the thick glass there will be distortion in my pictures.  My digital camera has a bit of delay between pressing the button and taking the picture some photos are not the quality I would have gotten had conditions for photographing been more favorable. Sorry!)

In one instance I photographed a nice Arab home that was taken over by the Israeli army and turned into an observation post.  No Arabs were evicted to do this as the home was under construction at the time.  The reason for this was that a family of Jews were driving along the very same road we were on, they were stopped by terrorists and the wife and six of their children were murdered at point-blank range when Arab terrorists opened fire with assault rifles into their car.

An observation point was installed here where there were no houses to prevent more attacks.   The roadside was cleared of vegetation and objects so that terrorists could not have a hiding place for an ambush.

To be sure, our bus passed a couple Arab hamlets that suggested poverty...

Outside one of those hamlets there were enormous piles of household garbage that was strategically placed between their shanties and the roadside.  Like they were advertising garbage.  I couldn't get a picture of that one, unfortunately neither my camera nor the bus cooperated, so the picture above will have to do as it's similar enough.  Much of the news reportage out of here claims that the garbage is dumped there in frustration of the "Israeli occupation."  That would seem odd, though.  It would be similar to one trying to make a social point, and doing so by shmearing one's bodily waste products on one's shirt for all to see and smell. It would be a way of saying "I'm so miserable I can't help myself! This is what the situation forces me to do!"  Those who would see such a demonstration of filth displayed up-front and in-your-face would judge the person doing this as being the real problem. Because no matter how bad things might get one need not choose to wallow in filth, deliberately make life worse for oneself and run it up a flagpole just to make a point.  On the picture above, the dark area in the foreground appeared to have once been a garbage pile on display, as there are remnants of refuse still there, but it seems to have been removed a while ago.

As we traveled deeper into the Strip, Jewish hothouses were evident  The picture below shows a compound of hothouses that were placed near periphery of the area adjacent to the Arab sector.  Note the tank that was dug into the sand on the bluff overlooking the hothouses.


The above picture has hothouses to the left and to the right but they seem to have been removed from the center of the field.

Many of the Jewish farmers had electric fences and electrified gates encircling their hothouse compounds.

Wanton Destruction and Devastation

Then the destruction of a Jewish community came into view in the distance:

Our destination was the community of Atzmona, where 75 Jewish families lived only weeks ago.  We rode through the main gate and scenes of wanton destruction hit us in the face.




Note that in the picture below the bulldozer was still working to level homes:

A few weeks before the expulsion started, Israel Radio announced that the Israeli government admitted to be in a quandary in what seemed to be a substantial logistical problem regarding the upcoming expulsion.  The government knew that the rubble from the homes of the Jewish refugees would be substantial, and that the problem was that the government didn't want to "inconvenience" the Arabs with all that dirt and mess -- that was their phrase "inconvenience the Arabs."  Yep, that's correct, the government of Ariel Sharon was being very sensitive toward the Arabs of the Gaza Strip by not wanting to leave all that dirt, dust and rubble from their homes and farms behind after those communities would be utterly flattened. (Well, 'scuse my dust!) The government here admitted that the expense of hauling away all that rubble would be enormous, furthermore, there were no dump-sites in "Israel-proper" large enough to handle the sheer volume. Oh, dear!!  What to do???  In the end the problem was solved because the Arabs were more than willing to have all that rubble left in place so that their people could pick through it and keep whatever they can scrounge.  Oh, happy day!  Problem solved!  The  point of this anecdote is that our Israeli government is so bloody concerned about "inconveniencing" the Arabs when it involves a bit of rubble.  Yet committing crimes against humanity; specifically ethnic cleansing of Jews, the theft of their homes and possessions, the destruction of their livelihoods, and the the fact that Ariel Sharon created 10,000 homeless, jobless people in one fell swoop, is nary a problem at all!!  They are very sensitive to the Arabs (a significant proportion of whom are terrorists and/or support the terrorist actions against Jews) when it comes to a bit of rubble -- but curse the decent, productive, patriotic Jews of the Gaza Strip!  Let them be expelled, their homes flattened and let them be damned!  This illustrates a pearl of wisdom found in our Talmud.  The Talmud contains a number of bits of wisdom regarding human nature and it certainly hit the nail right on the head with this one:

"He who is kind to the cruel will inevitably become cruel to the kind."
On To Work...

When we arrived at Atzmona's hothouse area we disembarked from our busses, went into a building and were given an introductory-informational speech by one of the organizers. Then lunch was provided.  They explained the work schedule.  Due to the fact that we were under an impossible time schedule work was extremely demanding.  At 5:30 AM there would be a wake-up call, morning prayers for those who were religious would start promptly at 06:00 AM and when those were finished we would go to work.  Breakfast would arrive from the catering company by 8:00 AM and then we'd sit down to eat for 1/2 hour.  Work would resume until 2:00 PM when the lunch would arrive.  Afternoon prayers would be held following lunch and we'd resume work until sundown just before 8:00 PM. A short break would follow for evening prayers, then resume work until 10:00 PM in hothouses which still had electric lighting. The task there would be to remove plants and load them onto waiting trucks. At 10:00 PM we could retire and attend to personal needs.  Sleeping accommodations?  Well, there were none.  Everyone was told to arrive with a sleeping bag and were free to find a spot on the concrete floors of the shipping building or find a place outside in the sand -- men and women were segregated into separate buildings for sleeping.  Showers?  Well, there were none. Though there were yet functioning irrigation systems in some hothouses that might be improvised into a makeshift shower, it was hinted that we should use our ingenuity in this matter.  Under no circumstances were we to leave the area of the hothouses, for our own personal safety.  Israeli soldiers were about patrolling the area of the hothouses as well as the surroundings in squads in full battle dress both day and night.

The weather was unbearable.  I didn't take a thermometer but it was at least 95-degrees F in the shade.  Being that we were well within a mile of the Med Sea the air was very sticky and the humidity was definitely over 70%.  Even if one just sat still doing nothing and involved oneself in absolutely no exertion one was continuously bathed in sweat.  Considering that I come from the Judean Heights and live 3,300 feet above sea level where summers are rather comfortably cool and dry, the combination of heat & humidity there in Gaza was simply sweltering and not something I'm used to.

After a hearty hot lunch of a meat portion, rice, vegetables, fruit and a soft drink, on a very full stomach we headed out to work in the heat.  We were given more than a gallon of water per person and told in no uncertain terms that we should finish drinking that volume within 1.5 hours, and that more water would be delivered to us.  I was assigned with a crew of about 30 guys and girls -- all under age 25 except myself who is well into middle age  -- and our task was to disassemble a hothouse that once grew peppers.  The frame of the hothouse was mostly in place and it appeared to have been a relatively new structure.  No wonder the farmer wanted to take it with him as he was probably just began to pay it off.  So we got to work...

As the disassembly progressed, the sections had to be carried by hand to one end of the hothouse and piled up so that trucks could haul away the material to be reassembled somewhere else in "Israel proper."



To download and view a short film on your PC of the early stage of hothouse disassembly, right-click here (This file is 813 kb as a Windows media file, wma-file).


To download and view a short film on your PC of a collapsing hothouse frame, right-click here.  (This file is 544 kb as a Windows media file, wma-file).

I did attempt to help a young man carry an arch-shaped piece of 2" pipe.  It was scalding-hot because of the intense heat from laying in the sun. Together we carried this 45-lb section about 150 feet to the pile waiting to be hauled away and I was exhausted after that.  Not only because of the physical exertion involved, but the heat made it way too much for me to bear. ("As one grows older, one realizes that one isn't getting any younger." - From "Under Milkwood" by Dylan Thomas) So after that one attempt at carrying that pipe I excused myself from such labor and cited my advancing years as the reason.  Instead, I kept very busy collecting cables, struts, and the enormous numbers of small pieces of hothouse hardware that littered the area from the disassembly process.

Simply walking in that area was a challenge.  First, it was all sand and difficult to walk in under the best of circumstances. Second, the farmer halted his production of peppers abruptly so the pepper plants were still pretty much in place.  Now realize that the peppers were grown up vertical lengths of twine that were suspended from ceiling height wires that ran horizontally along the rows of peppers.  Each pepper plant was spaced about a foot apart.  The crew that worked there before us simply went through and cut all cables, wires and the entire tangled confusion of wires, twine and pepper plants holding it off the ground created a literal trip-field.  To walk through that mess was quite treacherous as one had to constantly step high and over the tangle of plants and suspended twine and cables.  Often and again I failed to pay close attention to where I was stepping and suddenly landed flat on my face, having tripped over the very thin but very strong twine that was attached to the pepper plants. The plants were amazingly well rooted in the sand.


At the end of that first day of work we were told that we would not be staying at Atzmona, but were to be taken to a kibbutz outside the Gaza Strip for our evening meal, showers and sleeping arrangements.  We were all bussed an hour away and were put up in a gymnasium at Kibbutz Be'eri.  Our meal was composed of yellow cheese sandwiches and tuna sandwiches, fresh tomatoes & cukes, halvah & candy bars for desert,  a soft drink, and were told that we could eat all we wanted.  Showers were part of the fair at that gymnasium, there were 10 shower stalls in two separate shower rooms at opposite ends of the gym, but the ladies, who numbered about 30 out of about 170 men, grabbed the showers first.  They occupied them for a few hours until told by the organizers that within an hour they would be required to allow the guys access to the showers.  By 11:00 PM the showers were opened for the men and the rush was on.  I was so exhausted that I couldn't keep my eyes open, so I nixed the shower. I just crawled into my sleeping bag with my work clothes, dirt & sweat and all, and passed out almost immediately.  There was one bright spot in all of this, the women were told that for security reasons they must sleep inside the gymnasium, and that meant on the hard wooden floor.  We men were told that we should sleep in the grassy soccer field adjacent to the gym so the prospect of sleeping on sparse grass (yup, sparse grass, not thick comfortable sod, mind you) was a lot more inviting than the hard gym floor.  About 03:00 AM I woke up and opened my eyes to see a magnificent star-field over my head as were were out in the boonies with very few lights in the area.  The planet Mars was a brilliant beige disk directly overhead.  Since everyone else was asleep this was the perfect opportunity to take a shower and change into clean clothes, at least for the couple of hours remaining until I would climb back into my grubbies and we would resume work.  The showers were deserted and I got a chance to take a long uninterrupted shower and even charge my cell phone.

Over the course of 2 days our crew of 30 people took down ONE hothouse that covered 10,000 square meters or 2.5 acres.  We were told that there were 20 such hothouses remaining there.  Obviously there was no way that they could be removed, so what ever remained would be destroyed by governent-hired bulldozers. The following hothouse that will not be disassembled...

To be fair, many of the Jewish farmers in Gaza were encouraged to sell their hothouses and took up the offer.  It happened that the European Union made them an offer that was hard for some to refuse.  The EU offered to pay for many of the hothouses in Gaza and give them as a gift to the local Arabs on the assumption that the Arabs could make a livelihood out of them.  The EU paid the Israeli government via the World Bank, but at fire-sale prices, a tiny fraction of what this property and equipment was worth, but the EU refused to buy all the hothouses available.  I suppose that in the case of the farmer whose hothouse we were disassembling it seemed that it was still new enough and worth enough to make it worthwhile moving.  What is curious is that the Arabs absolutely refused to have any actual dealings with the State of Israel and refused to buy the hothouses. Considering all the money that the Arabs are making, being that the price of crude oil has hit the $70/barrel mark, one would think that they'd have no problem buying this agricultural infrastructure from Israel as a gift to their brethren, the Palestinians.  Well, their hate of Jews is so intense that they preferred to see their own people, the Palestinians, go without a livelihood rather than pay Jews a farthing for hothouses even at fire-sale prices.  So the EU through World Bank bought a lot of the hothouses for them as a gift. A gift by the Europeans to the Arabs. That's great. The Arabs are among the wealthiest people on earth.

The following is a scene from one out of many hothouses that will remain to be bulldozed...

Well, we worked like dogs the following day, more of the same, disassembling, collecting the stuff into organize piles. Others from my crew went on to start disassembling another hothouse, while yet others loaded all the structural pieces onto trucks.  Night fell and we were asked to resume working until 10:00 PM.  The task was to empty another hothouse of the remaining TENS OF THOUSANDS of plants on to waiting trucks.  I optioned out of this task as my back had enough of bending down and picking up objects for day.  What it needed was a real chair to sit in for a spell for some lower back support. Since there were no chairs around there, I found a spot outside a hothouse, flattened a couple of cardboard boxes, put them over the sand and laid down.  I happened to meet a friend of mine from when I worked in hi-tec and he informed me that there were showers available at the residence of the Thai workers' accommodations. (Note that many THOUSANDS of Gaza Arabs were once hired by Jews to work in these hothouses, and many Gaza Arabs made a good wage, compared to Arab standards, working for Jews. When terrorism increased and some of the Arab workers were pressured to commit acts of violence against their own people who worked for Jews as well as the Jews themselves, the decision was made not to hire Arabs any more so the government brought in foreign workers, Thais mostly.  So the Arabs screwed themselves in the end.) So my friend and I walked through the dark night, through dark hothouses with the light of brilliant Venus and Jupiter in the west to guide us. We arrived and were welcomed by the Thai workers and they very graciously showed us where to take showers.  After getting clean, we sat around for a few minutes talking with our hosts -- they offered us vodka but we passed on that -- and we asked the Thais if they would lose their jobs now that the Jews in the Strip have been expelled. No, they said, they are being moved to other hothouse work outside Ashkelon.

Since we were not going back to Kibbutz Be'eri for accommodations I returned to the flattened cardboard boxes on the sand, spread out m sleeping bag there, climbed in and the brilliant stars above lulled me to sleep.  Sleeping outside on sand ain't half bad.  For two nights of "camping" it was ok.  Fortunately there are no mosquitoes in Gaza. The women, however, seemed to have it a bit rougher as they were told they had to sleep indoors in the hot building on the concrete.  I didn't envy them, but when I woke up and walked through the building the next morning I noticed that most women had found mattresses from the stuff that was being moved out and they had borrowed them to sleep on.

On Friday, our last day at Atzmona, only the brawny were loading structural pieces onto flatbed trucks from that pepper hothouse and they were hefting that stuff by hand, so I looked for other work.  I was then assigned to help an electrician. As I walked through 10 hot houses that were emptied of their contents other volunteer electricians were disconnecting power panels as well as very sophisticated and expensive computerized irrigation control stations.  I was asked to help haul some of this material on dollies to a waiting truck.

This one still had plants growing and the irrigation system was still running.  These house plants would be removed later, we would all hope.

Friday was our last day there busses took us back to Jerusalem in mid-afternoon.  Exhausted, I tried to doze on the bus back but could not sleep.  I could only think of the reports that were on the news here that the government here had hired 2 public relations firms at a pretty penny, money that could have gone to compensating the refugees of Gaza. As a result of their very expensive advise, the Israeli government is telling the world media lies that these refugees of the Gaza Strip have gotten $500,000 in the hand and are being put up in luxury hotels.  Lies, damn lies!  None of those people have gotten a farthing from anyone as compensation, those housed in 3-star hotels are not getting luxury treatment as a cramped hotel room is no substitute for a real home. All of them are penniless, jobless, and their lives have been raped, shorn of homes, businesses and places of employment, wrenched out of their communities and dumped in makeshift tent encampments and hotels.  And even if they would get 1/2 million dollars in the hand, the investment in those hothouses that are going to be flattened along with their homes were worth far more than a half-million bucks!  The infrastructure for farming is not cheap and many of those farmers went into deep debt to buy their hothouses and build their homes.

I arrived home just an hour before Shabbat.

On the bus back to Jerusalem I considered the cruelty of it all, the blatant injustice and the fact that it can all take place because Israel has a Prime Minister who behaves like a sociopath. Combined his evil deeds with a corrupt government, an equally evil court system, and a local and world media that regards the ethnic cleansing and robbery of Jewish "settlers" as a politically correct thing to do, so that's the result.

A week after I returned home I received an e-mail from the friend who was also working to disassemble another hothouse.  Although we worked together in hi-tec his background is in construction in both doing and managing construction projects.  Here's what he wrote:

Dear Dale,

I finished yesterday in Atzmona.  The progress we made on the 2.5 acre hothouse was insufficient, and they finally admitted that it would be impossible to accomplish anything with it before Thursday night when Ariel Sharon will surrender Gaza.  Old soldiers don't die, they turn cowards.  They yellow with age and run away.

I closed up shop yesterday, because although there was more work to do, I no longer had any energy left.  I knew from the start that taking down that 10,000 square meter hothouse was impossible, but I put everything I had into it so that they could at least know that 'they had tried'.  Once it was over, so was I.  To do my job I was literally living that building from the moment I started on it.  I doubt that there is a single person in Israel who is more better equipped than I to do that work.

Also, I broke a toe (after work hours), and hordes of youth descended on Atzmona yesterday.  It became an army of ants - God sent army of ants, because that was the kind of manpower that was needed for the work and to clear out the stuff that remained to be done, but it's too disorganized for me.  If I had had an overview of what needed to be done in Atzmona, I would have functioned wonderfully, but just to be another pair of hands I couldn't do it.  I'd already put in six days and I would happily put in ten times that amount, but I'm not a kid any longer so I can't work like one.  A disorganized work environment just demoralizes me.  Last week it was still systematic; now it became 'grab as much as you can'.  The final stage of triage had set in.



As of 14 September the Arabs entered the former-Jewish areas of Gaza and indulged in a wild orgy of wholesale destruction, burning, and looting.  As it turned out, the hothouses that I photographed above were not destroyed by Israeli bulldozers but rather left for the Arabs.  The Arabs went in the thousands, disposed of the massive infrastructure that remained in a wild frenzy of wanton destruction.

From Debkafile
September 14, 2005, 12:57 AM (GMT+02:00):

Gazan Palestinians ravaged their own fledgling economic infrastructure. Looters made off with the greenhouses, supposed to have given 14,000 Palestinians a living

Vandals dismantled the Erez industrial and workshop center, which had jobs for another 12,000. The Peres Peace Center and international coordinator James Wolfensohn raised $14m to buy the greenhouses from the Israeli farmers and so keep the Palestinian workers in their former jobs after their Israeli employers left.

In Erez, the former joint Israeli-Palestinian ventures were ransacked and torn down or vandalized, power centers were smashed and electric wiring pulled out of walls and stolen.

Although Wolfensohn raised $14m to buy the hothouses not one penny of this money has gone to the farmers who actually suffered the loss of their property. The Israeli government is sitting on that cash while the the Jews of the Gaza Strip languish in poverty, in refugee accommodations and yet suffer the shock and trauma of their expulsion.

The only thing left for us to do is support and assist our latest Jewish refugees in every way possible, and help them through what must be their worst nightmare.

In Tears,

Dale Baranowski
The Friends of Rachel's Tomb

Toby Klein Greenwald

City Of Faith - A  Photo Essay About Some Of The Gaza Jewish Refugee's Living Quarters

Return to The Friends of Rachel's Tomb main page