Palestinians See Positive Changes in Gaza
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's been 10 months since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and most of the rubble from the Jewish settlements remains there. Palestinian hopes that the area would be used for new houses or other projects have not been realized. And yet, Palestinians who live in Southern Gaza, say their lives have improved since the Israeli withdrawal.
NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Piles of rubble are scattered around what was once the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim. It was the largest in Gaza. The synagogue is a half torn-down shell. But near the entrance to the settlement in what used to be a boys' school, Al-Aksa University has opened a brand new campus, complete with gleaming chemistry labs and spotless classrooms, for some 2,000 students. A large building next door is under construction for more classrooms.
Muhammad Naji(ph) is the engineer in charge of the project. He was three years old when Israeli troops seized Gaza in the 1967 war.
Mr. MUHAMMAD NAJI (Engineer, Al-Aksa University): (Through Translator) Actually, I cannot find the words to express my happiness. It's actually like a mother that lost its son for more than 35 years and then she found him.
GRADSTEIN: Naji says there's a desperate need for housing for Palestinians in Gaza, and he hopes the rubble of the settlements will be cleared away soon so that new homes can be built. Israel and the Palestinians had negotiated a preliminary deal for Israel to pay Palestinian contractors to remove the rubble. But after Hamas came to power in the West Bank and Gaza after last January's Palestinian elections, the negotiations stalled and the rubble has yet to be moved.
Palestinians entrepreneurs have opened up more than a dozen small cafes along the beach near the ruins of Neve Dekalim. Twenty-year old Said Rabah(ph) and his older brother opened the al-Jazeera Coffee Shop just last week, having invested $1600. Rabah remembers the day the Israelis withdrew, and he and his friends rushed in to see what the settlements looked like. He says the withdrawal was a good thing.
Mr. SAID RABAH (Coffee Shop Owner): (Through Translator) Well, of course, it has good benefits. At least you feel safe, because we used to live next to the settlement. Day and night shooting, so many the people get hurt and get wounded from the Israeli shooting.
GRADSTEIN: Nearby, 26-year old Ameya Alghad(ph), dressed in a long, green dress that's now sopping wet, sits on the beach with her husband and daughters. Gaza has a largely unspoiled coastline of white sandy beaches. Alghad lives in the nearby town of Han-Unis. And while Israel controlled the area, the beach was off limits to Palestinians.
Ms. AMEYA ALGHAD (Gaza Resident): (Through Translator) Well, of course I feel very happy after the withdrawal, because in the past we couldn't come here. Now, we can come, me and my family, and have some fun, you know.
GRADSTEIN: But, she says, life is still not easy here. Her husband is an administrative employee of the Palestinian police force. But he hasn't been paid in four months because of the international sanctions against the new Hamas government. Mrs. Alghad said she's sold most of her gold jewelry to help the family make ends meet. She's hoping things will get better soon. But in any event, she plans to spend a lot of time, this summer, at the beach.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News.