[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Gazans begin a new chapter

By Orla Guerin
BBC, Gaza

A chapter in Middle East history has come to an end with Israeli forces leaving the Palestinian Gaza Strip after an occupation lasting 38 years. Following the chaotic scenes of the withdrawal, Orla Guerin reflects on what the future holds.

Palestinians carry away roof tiles from Neve Dekalim
Gazans have scavenged what they can from demolished settlements
The new Gaza is a place of scars and ghosts.

Early Monday morning Majdi Abu Samra came to look on the source of his misery - the former Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom.

He lived in fear for years, just outside the gates.

He wandered inside, a little uncertain.

Most Palestinians had never set foot in the settlements that sat on their doorstep.

Palestinian police were already installed, lounging on the steps of the synagogue, ignoring the sound of breaking glass from inside.

Faceless militants, masked and clad in black, were doing a victory lap on the back of a pick up truck.

Rebirth

When Majdi saw all this, the words came tumbling out.

To many Palestinians, the Israeli pullout is proof of one thing - that the militants are the best hope of getting a state
"For the past five years, since the intifada began, we lived like dead people," he told me.

"Overnight we have been reborn. We thank God first, and we thank the Islamic resistance."

And he is not alone in that.

The Bashir family slipped into Kfar Darom mid morning. Neatly dressed and hand in hand, mother and daughter, father and son.

"This is a victory for the resistance," Nafez Bashir said.

"Until last night my children were afraid. Now they are comfortable."

To many Palestinians, the Israeli pullout is proof of one thing - that the militants are the best hope of getting a state, that violence succeeds where politics fails.

And the future here will not be written without the involvement of the gunmen.

Looting

As the morning wore on, we followed the crowds to what had been the largest Israeli settlement - Neveh Dekalim.

A man in a dusty white robe grappled with a sink until his strength gave out
We had to guide our driver along the way.

"Can you believe I am going here," he asked, with a nervous laugh.

He has lived in Gaza all his life - it is a tiny area. But this was his first trip along the smooth asphalt roads that had been reserved for the settlers.

By now the entrance to Neveh Dekalim was choked.

It was the first traffic jam of liberation. Our car was blocked by a van with a battered red sofa strapped to the roof.

There were donkey carts laden with roof tiles and scrap metal.

A man in a dusty white robe grappled with a sink until his strength gave out.

An old woman - in traditional dress - struggled by, weighed down by electrical cable.

Wreckage

After 38 years of occupation, Palestinians were taking what they could from the wreckage of the settlements, driven by poverty, or rage.

Palestinians celebrated and scavenged in the rubble

A Palestinian colleague looked on, without surprise.

"We just got our land back," he said.

"What else can anyone expect?"

But a well-dressed passer-by beseeched us - in perfect English - to stop filming.

"Our people have nothing," he said.

"And they have suffered so much. But when the world sees these pictures, it will not understand."

The looting and scavenging were part of the day.

So too, the burning and destruction. Some tore at bricks and mortar as if this was a way to erase the past.

Jewish holy buildings were attacked, as Israel knew they would be, when it decided to leave them behind.

By mid afternoon, a poster had appeared on the front of the synagogue in Neveh Dekalim.

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian legend, was staring down.

How would the wily old leader have handled all this? I wondered.

No doubt he would have been better at claiming the credit.

And he would have been deeply suspicious at the idea of any free gift from Ariel Sharon.

There are many Palestinians who believe the Israeli prime minister has rid himself of Gaza with the sole aim of tightening his grip on the West Bank.

Concerns

This was the worry washing over Palestinians this week - that Gaza is all they are ever going to get.

The Palestinians of Gaza are afraid the world will forget this small print, and believe they are now truly free
Just inside the gates of Neveh Dekalim, we met a group of Palestinian officials, inspecting the area they are now supposed to develop.

Among them a softly-spoken engineer.

"All my life it was my dream to stand here," he said.

"But my happiness is not complete, because we are looking for full independence."

Instead of that Palestinians can still see the limits of their freedom.

It stops at the glittering edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel still controls their coastline, their airspace and official border crossings.

The Palestinians of Gaza are afraid the world will forget this small print, and believe they are now truly free.

Since the Israelis have gone, they can at least enjoy Gaza's best beach. Israeli restrictions had kept it off limits for years.

In recent days they have been flocking to the cool waters to escape the scorching sun.

But there have been drownings.

Some of the youngsters rushing to the shore had never learned to swim.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 15 September, 2005 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific