A Settler Who Won't Leave Gaza

Despite the government mandate, not all residents of the Gaza Strip intend to move out. Celery farmer Anita Tucker has lived in southern Gaza for 29 years. She tells Scott Simon why she plans to stay.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Anita Tucker and her family moved from Brooklyn to Gush Katif in southern Gaza 29 years ago. It was then a barren coastal land sloping into the Mediterranean. Today the family owns a farm there where they raise celery. We spoke with Anita Tucker slightly before the Sabbath.

Mrs. Tucker, what brought you there to Gaza...

Mrs. ANITA TUCKER (Celery Farmer, Gaza Strip): Well...

SIMON: ...29 years ago?

Mrs. TUCKER: ...my husband and I came as a young couple. And we went to the Ministry of Agriculture, and they suggest that we come to this area and look at the possibility of an agricultural place to live in. And we drove down from Beersheba with our three kids--four, three and two--and from what I saw was absolutely bald sand dunes. There was absolutely nothing here: not a fly, not an insect, not a weed--absolutely nothing. I said to husband, `Let's get out of here! What am I, crazy?'

SIMON: Yeah.

Mrs. TUCKER: But while we were discussing it, my three kids started sliding down the sand dunes, and they saw the sea, and they didn't want to leave; and that's basically the reason that I'm here.

SIMON: Yeah. How do you pick up and move after 29 years?

Mrs. TUCKER: I think it's a terrible joke, a terrible insult because I have a farm that the amount that they're offering us are 60 percent of the actual value of our farms as they are. And tomorrow if I have to build a farm at age 59--we won't mention that--it means that I have to take loans for another 40 percent. It means I'm going to have to have two or three years to build my farm again. It means that I'm going to have to look for new markets, new ge--build up my monotone, my good name again.

SIMON: Anita, what are you going to do if the Israeli army comes to your place on Monday morning and says, `Sorry, Mrs. Tucker, you've got to move'?

Mrs. TUCKER: I hope I'll be sitting down having a cup of coffee, just as I do every day, and I'll invite the soldier in to sit down and have a cup of coffee. He might even be a friend of one of my sons, who are also officers in the army. And I'm going to look them in the eyes and then say, `Why are you doing this thing? Why do you want to take me out of my home?' And he'll shrug his shoulders, I think, and say, `I have no idea.' And I think when his eyes meet mine and he has no idea why he's doing this, I think he's just going to say, `Let's have coffee. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not doing this.' And I really truly believe that's when--what's going to happen.

SIMON: Let me ask you a question I imagine you've--you might have run through your mind--what if you ask that soldier that question and he or she says, `Well, Mrs. Tucker, because the democratically elected government of Israel headed by Ariel Sharon, who's nobody's idea of a cream puff, has decided that you and your neighbors have to move for the future peace and security of Israel. And I'm in the army, and I follow orders, and I'm here to do it.'

Mrs. TUCKER: Well, unfortunately, we've seen similar things happen in history many times, and we know that democratically elected governments make the laws; those laws are not necessarily democratic. And I think in this case, that's true. And we've seen it in history many times.

SIMON: Do you know any people among your neighbors who are moving?

Mrs. TUCKER: Well, actually, of the 80 families living in my small town, 17 families of the 80 families will be moving to temporary quarters on the 15th.

SIMON: Have you talked to any of your neighbors who are leaving? Have they shared with you their reasons?

Mrs. TUCKER: I think--well, the ones that I have spoken to have all told me that the reason that they're doing it is they can't hold up to seeing a Israeli soldier--who may be their own child, best friend--asking them to leave their home of 30 years. It's something that they feel they can't stand up to emotionally seeing this unethical thing happening. And I--you know, the craziest thing is that I planted new plants today, and so I hope that there's a chance that I will pick my celery in another two and a half months and have something to eat.

SIMON: So in your case, celery really is a root vegetable, isn't it?

Mrs. TUCKER: Yup, absolutely. Absolutely.

SIMON: Anita Tucker, a celery farmer living with her family is Gush Katif.

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