Gush Katif: Could a Land-for-Peace Deal Ever Work?

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As Israel and the Palestinians meet this week for the first direct negotiations in more than a year, the issue of building in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria -- the West Bank -- is high on the agenda.

Five years years ago, the Israeli government uprooted Jewish construction in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank for the sake of peace. Today, most Israelis see the move as a miserable failure.

The 2005 disengagement from 21 communities in Gush Katif and four in northern Samaria was supposed to ease tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and relieve international pressure on the Jewish state regarding the peace process. However, now most Israelis agree it didn't happen.

"I think what's happening around Gaza is the lesson of what the price we're paying for leaving Gush Katif," said Samuel Hilburg, former Gush Katif resident.

Since the disengagement, Israel has had two wars - one of them in Gaza.

Thousands of rockets fired from Gaza have landed in Israeli towns and cities.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip less than two years after the disengagement, providing a foothold for Hamas' patron Iran on Israel's southern border. Yet, Israel is still responsible for the flow of goods across the border.

"We were the front lines," Hilburg said. "We were Israel's security zone in the south."

Then there was the human element.

The community of Nitzan is only about 15 miles away from some of the former Gush Katif communities, but a world away. Some 600 families, about a third of those evacuated, still live there in temporary housing. Even though they have planted trees and flowers, some still call it a refugee camp.

Bureacratic delays have prevented some 85 percent of those removed from Gush Katif from rebuilding their homes -- like Hilburg and and his wife, Bryna, who live on nearby Kibbutz Ein Tzurim.

Hilburg, a former U.S. Marine and a Vietnam veteran, was a successful farmer for more than 25 years in Gush Katif. Now he works in the local grocery store.

The Hilburg's son, Yohanan, was an Israeli naval commando. He was one of 12 killed in a Hezbollah ambush in south Lebanon in 1997. He was buried in Gush Katif and his remains were moved and reburied when Israel left Gaza. His mother said she feels she didn't do enough to allow him to stay in his final resting place.

"I should have done something. What was that thing I don't know," Bryna said. "I had the feeling that maybe Yohanan was angry with me, because I didn't take care of him."

His father said the cemetery couldn't stay.

"We actually thought that what would save Gush Katif was the cemetery," Hilburg said. "But of course, you can't do that."

For now, the Hilburgs are planning to make their home in Israel. Their heart's desire is one day to return to Gush Katif.

The talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators could address another potential eviction of tens of thousands of Jews from the West Bank. Given the lessons of Gush Katif, it's hard to see how Israelis could withstand another withdrawal.

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Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

CBN News Reporter

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