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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Gaza diary 5: Hakeem Abu Samra
In the fifth instalment of his diary for the BBC News website, Hakeem Abu Samra, a 47-year-old Palestinian Authority employee living in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, thinks ahead to the future and what he could do with land on which Jewish settlers lived that he hopes to reclaim.

Hakeem Abu Samra (picture courtesy Hakeem Abu Samra)
Palestinian government employee
Married with four children
Lives in Beit Lahiya

We've heard reports the pullout may not take as long as originally expected. It's great news for us if true, it means the dream becomes a fact sooner than we hoped.

Now the settlement is empty, the Israeli army began demolishing a few houses yesterday afternoon and early evening.

We couldn't count how many were demolished. We heard the sound of explosions, the noise of buildings collapsing.

The army are still patrolling around the settlements and there are helicopters in the air.

The soldiers used both bulldozers and dynamite. It was very loud, even from where we are two kilometres away.

I was so happy to hear it, we almost couldn't believe that it would happen so fast.

Now we are looking to what happens afterwards. Once military control has ended there will be a special court appointed by the Palestinian authorities.

It will ask people who owned land near or inside the settlements to prove their ownership with papers, then they will get it back.

I think this may start as soon as next week, because people are waiting impatiently to go back.

I'm not concerned about corruption, the process will be under the supervision of the World Bank representative and also the Egyptians.

We need to be tough against such things, we need that land for our people, we live in a very populous area. We need the land for building new homes and rebuilding our culture.

I think most people condemned the shooting which happened in the West Bank. The PA, Abbas and also the civilians.

We had a very bad feeling about what happened, all the factions condemned it and threatened to react, although they are committed to keep quiet as they do not want to give Israel a chance to stop the withdrawal.

Sometimes people have to pay the price, but we hope this will be the last price we pay for the withdrawal.

Yesterday we were not so busy here, but I saw something interesting as I was travelling around in Gaza City.

Some painters were drawing pictures and slogans on the main streets, writing about the withdrawal and about how it will be Gaza first, with Jerusalem and other places next.

It's the start of a "clean Gaza" campaign, along with the white walls being painted - as I mentioned yesterday.

Yesterday Islamic Jihad had a marine celebration, using small boats in the harbour, very close to Israeli boats.

Islamic Jihad militants wave flags at sea rally to celebrate Gaza withdrawal near Gaza City
Islamic Jihad militants held a sea rally to celebrate the withdrawal
It was peaceful, it was just a big show celebrating the withdrawal.

But perhaps the most interesting thing I saw yesterday was the footage of Israeli settlers in Gush Khatif burning the Israeli flag.

To me it meant a disengagement between the settlers and the Israeli government, which under Sharon had always supported them.

It's the first time I've seen the settlers burn a flag. It's usually always burnt by Palestinians.

I think it's just a final sign of the end of the settlements in Gaza, because we believed they would never leave.

I have started thinking about my land. I still have my papers, signed by the British government. Old documents made from old paper dating from 1936. I keep them safe.

I have no doubt in my mind that I will get back my land.

I have been thinking about a project for it. I have in my mind a tourism village for people to visit. But this will mean money and investment - international investment.

The Palestinian Authority also has plans for land near the border where I live, so I will need to ask them what plans they have for the area. They could make it an industrial zone, in which case I won't be able to pursue my idea.

Still, if my dream is achieved, I wouldn't mind if Israelis come and stay - as long as there is peace. They could come back anytime as guests.

Your comments:

Because Israel's government is elected, the Palestinians need to convince at least 51% of the Israeli voter's that a Palestinian-ruled Gaza can be a good neighbour. If the territory remains in a state of lawlessness and a haven for terrorists, then a majority of the voters will not be convinced. A withdrawal from the West Bank will not get the approval of Israel citizens.
Mike Thompson, Lunenburg, Mass, US

Dear Hakeem, I hope your wish of peace and prosperity would be realised. It all depends of the Palestinian people. The PA has billions of dollars in their coffers from donations from USA, Europe etc. Do you think they are going to use it wisely? And will Hamas give up their guns?
Mihaela Soar, Auckland, New Zealand

Responding to Nick from Krakow...yes it would 'nice' if the Israelis did not demolish the settlement houses . Well, on the whole, they're not....but left it to the Palestinians to decide what to do with them. In many cases, the Palestinians have decided that they require different types of accommodation. Demolition is an option for the Palestinians, not Israeli policy.
Paul K, Manchester, UK

I think it is almost too little too late and the sight of the crying settlers makes me so angry, do they cry for the Palestinian people whose homes are bulldozed and land stolen on an almost daily basis? I do not think so. How can it be up to the Palestinians to make a peace when the most heavily armed state in the world continues to attack their towns and cities. It is an illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and it is time for the Israelis to go - at least they get compensation.
Sally, Manchester, UK

I have been watching and listening to the news and I feel really sorry for the people that have to leave Gaza. But, I wish that they would stop referring to it as the land promised to them by God. The time of that promise was hundreds of years ago, and the reality is that the land that they lived on i.e. Gaza was and still is Palestinian land. I hope that there will finally be peace.
BNA, New Jersey, USA

With Ariel Sharon extending an olive branch of peace to the Palestinians by withdrawing from Gaza, it's great to see things finally moving towards peace, kudos to Mr Abbas. But one things O don't understand is the need to demolish homes. There are thousands of refuges without homes, maybe the PA and the Israelis could come to an agreement, if not charitable, then maybe monetary. There is no need for the demolition of family homes, be they Israeli or Palestinian.
Mohamad Daya, Perth, Western Australia

I think it's wonderful. I'm so happy to see the Palestinians finally getting back some of what has been taken from them. I'm sure many of the Israelis from the settlement are good people, but what the resistant ones are putting those soldiers through - after all they've done for these citizens - is disgusting and erodes any sympathy I had for the remaining few. Congratulations Palestine and I hope it's the beginning of much more that you'll be having returned to you.
Alix, NY, NY, US

I feel for the Israeli settlers losing their homes, but at the same time wonder if others had the same empathy for Palestinians who lost everything when the state of Israel was created. I do hope the pullout of settlers in Gaza is a positive step forward and am glad to hear of this next step on the road to peace. Hopefully Palestinians in Gaza will be able to show everyone what wonderful people they truly are!
MB, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

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