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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 August 2005, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
'Today Gaza - tomorrow East Jerusalem'
By Lucy Williamson
BBC, Gaza

Go down to the beach in Gaza at night, and you will find plastic tables set out on the sand.

Palestinian rally to celebrate Israel's pullout from Gaza
Palestinians are pleased at the pullout - but want more
Children will be bobbing around in the black water, small groups of friends will be enjoying supper, gossip, a "shisha" water pipe on the sand.

From there you can watch the lights of the fishing boats strung out along the horizon. Sitting like this, Gaza is beautiful.

Here - with your back to the refugee camps, to the hotels full of journalists and aid workers - you get a hint of what Gaza could become. But it will need more than just land.

There is a mantra you hear floating across the city at the moment.

You hear it from the mouth of the Palestinian leader. You see it on banners. And you hear it from ordinary people in shops and restaurants.

The resistance exists because of the occupation, and the occupation still exists - in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
Militant leader
Today Gaza - tomorrow East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

You hear it from the militant groups too.

It has been the slogan at daily rallies by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others.

The chant to accompany lines of masked men marching with their weapons through the streets of Gaza city in celebration at what they see as a victory in their campaign of violence.

'Resistance will continue'

Even through the balaclavas, I could see the looks of surprise.

But then, I didn't fit in - I was a woman, and I didn't have a gun.

The uniformed militants did a double-take as I weaved through the lines. We were there to speak to one of them - how on earth, I wondered, would we find him?

Palestinian rally to celebrate Israel's pullout from Gaza
Militants are not the only ones celebrating
He was near the front, barely breaking a sweat in the August heat.

"The resistance exists because of the occupation," he said, "and the occupation still exists - in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, so the resistance will continue until we kick out Israel from all our land."

The group's political leader was bringing up the rear - wearing a broad grin and a baseball cap with the group insignia.

People have been busy here over the last few weeks preparing the flags and paraphernalia to accompany the celebrations.

"I feel happy," he told me, "but not that happy - the borders are still closed, the sea is still controlled by Israel. We're looking for more than that."

People here are worried that Gaza will be the sum total of their state: a territory 25 miles long, crammed with nearly one-and-a-half million people, two-thirds of whom, the United Nations says, live below the poverty line.

Business woes

There are three working televisions in Loai's TV repair shop.

All are showing pictures of the Israeli withdrawal.

Loai watches with half an eye.

"Yes, I'm happy," he shrugs, "But we need the borders to be open."

Palestinian rally to celebrate Israel's pullout from Gaza
Gaza's population is young, and growing fast

He gestures to the broken television sets piled up around the walls of his shop.

"I can fix them," he tells me, "But not without parts from Israel. Even a small part can take a month to arrive. The man who owns this set here just bought a new one in the end. He said his kids were too desperate to wait for the parts."

Television is important in Gaza. Being a news junkie here is part of life under occupation.

But even Loai is struggling.

Before the Palestinian uprising five years ago, his monthly income was the equivalent of 300. Now, he says, the man making 100 is doing well.

The economic crisis in Gaza stems mainly from one place - the Karni crossing point into Israel.

It is the only way for Gazans to get the goods they need in, and the goods they make out, but since the uprising, there have been frequent closures and long systems of checks.

It makes running a business here unpredictable and has scared away many potential investors.

Unemployment is 40%. And the population is growing.

Watching settlers leave

People here hope things will change but there are few signs of it yet. If Israel keeps restricting cross-border traffic the celebrations here could be short-lived.

But a quiet joy is slowly stirring in the hearts of Palestinians.

Mohammed opens the curtains of his dim, cool living room just north of Gaza City.

The window frames the red-roofed houses and observation posts of the Jewish settlement he has lived alongside for some 30 years.

Whatever people's hopes and fears for the future of Gaza, only the land itself matters.
He has farmed his land under the eyes of Israeli soldiers, and raised his children in the crossfire between them and the Palestinian militants.

From this window, he says, he watched the settlement grow, now he's watching as it disappears.

He remembers how his wife used to wake their sleeping children to run from the gunfire, and hugs his three-year-old grandson, Little Mohammed. That won't happen now, he says.

Whatever people's hopes and fears for the future of Gaza, only the land itself matters.

It matters as a symbol, it matters economically, and it matters as a home - over half the people here consider themselves refugees from towns now in Israel.

The call to prayer has just begun outside. Looking out of the window over the rooftops of Gaza City, you can see the sand dunes stretching away towards settlements - now empty.

Soon even the buildings will be gone. And the wisps of sand that blow along their empty streets will belong to the Palestinians.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 20 August, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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