Gush Katif, Gaza Strip (CNSNews.com) - Farmers in the Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Katif are planting and tending their crops, even though they may not be around to harvest some of those crops when the time comes.
One farmer said she keeps on planting as a personal form of protest against the upcoming "disengagement," the word used to describe the forced removal of some 10,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
The evacuations -- for security reasons, the government says -- are supposed to begin in less than a month.
Anita Tucker grows celery in hothouses on eight dunams (two acres) of land. Each dunam holds 20,000 plants. Trays of two-inch high seedlings were waiting to be planted in pots in the sandy soil that Tucker's Arab neighbors described as "cursed" when she first moved to the area.
She plants each week of the year, ensuring a weekly crop of mature celery, she said, and things are no different now.
"I'm doing what every farmer does every day of his life," said Tucker.
"Every farmer shows faith when he plants because he has no idea what the market is going to be; he has no idea what the weather is going to be like; he has no idea whether he's going to get disease or not and he still plants. It's crazy!
"Why does he still plant? Because he knows if he wants to have something to eat in another two-and-a-half months, he's got to take this chance and he does it 'cause that's the way he makes his living," she said.
Tucker said that continuing to plant is also a "form of protest" against the government's plan to uproot the Gaza Strip settlements, a plan she considers immoral and unethical.
"We did what the government asked us to [do]. We came. The government sent me here," said Tucker. Her son gave the first cherry tomatoes to government minister Yitzhak Rabin at a ceremony in 1977, she said.
"He declared this is an integral part of the State of Israel," she said. "So figure it out."
Agriculture provides the economic backbone for 18 of the 21 Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip, located primarily in the southern area known as Gush Katif.
About $120 million worth of flowers and produce are exported from Gush Katif each year. Sixty-five percent of organic vegetables and 60 percent of the herbs exported from Israel each year come from Gush Katif.
There are about 400 farmers in Gush Katif, some 200 of whom work in hothouses. Some 90-95 percent of the farmers in the Gush Katif don't know what will become of them, said Yossi Tsarfati, manager of the agriculture industry in Gush Katif.
"What will the government do with us? It's not fair. We don't know where we are going. The best question is, 'Why we are going?'" said Tsarfati.
A spokesman for the SELA (the Hebrew acronym for the government agency set up to assist residents of Gush Katif) said that 588 of the approximately 1,500 families in Gush Katif have applied for compensation from the government.
Another 168 families from the northern West Bank settlements also have applied for compensation. Of that combined total of 756, 120 families actually have received money, said the official who did not want to be named.
Twenty-six families in the small Gush Katif settlement of Peat Sadeh have agreed to move to the farming community of Mavkiim together, he said.
"We can't find a solution for those who don't talk to [us]. For those who talk to us we must have cooperation," he said, and that applies especially to the farmers.
"I'll give you my identity number and you call [SELA] and see if they have a solution for me," said Tsarfati. "If they do, broadcast it on the television."
Shlomo Wasserteil from the settlement of Ganei Tal owns 35 dunams (almost nine acres) of hothouses, where he has about one million plants. The government offered him a "solution" that applies to him - but not to the entire community. What kind of solution is that? he asked.
"They really want to take care of me, to help with my private problems," said Wasserteil. "I'm not expecting that they'll take care of me and not my neighbor. I'm expecting that they'll take care of all of us...
"It's a matter of values," Wasserteil said. "The main point is, it's impossible to tell one person 'yes' [we can help you] and 'no' to another."
"If I was from Tel Aviv [Israel's commercial center] I wouldn't have a problem with this because I wouldn't care about my neighbor, like my neighbor wouldn't care about me," said Wasserteil.
"Here it's not that way. Here we are concerned for one another. We support one another, take care of one another," he said.
A secondary problem, he said, is that there is no way to move entire farms in the next three weeks. Nothing is prepared. The government should be moving residents from one place to another, he said.
The spokesman from SELA said there is talk of an agreement in which 73 of the approximately 100 families of Ganei Tal would move to the same community. But it involves moving the families temporarily to an interim community before they finally settle into their permanent places, he said.
All the options for the farmers mean that their land will be somewhere other than where they live - a 20-30 minute drive from home, said the spokesman.
Tucker said the solutions being offered are not acceptable.
"They have a solution for three families in [one place] and two in [another]... but what about everyone else? Right here in Netzer Hazani we're 80 families," she said.
"It's not appropriate for the kind of crops we have. It will probably take them two to three years to build up their farms...We'd like to have our farms near our houses like we do now."
But no such arrangements are being offered, she said.
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