Hashem al-Ara, 51, or Abu Muhammad as he is commonly known, has lived with his family for several generations in the area of the Muasi in Gaza. The Muasi is right next to Khan Younis, the city closest to Neve Dekalim where most of the searing images of the pullout are coming from. This is what he has to say about the disengagement and the settlers that are being removed:
I see the pictures of the people leaving Neve Dekalim and it reminds me of the day when Israeli bulldozers came, without warning, went on to our lands and destroyed thousands of dunams of agriculture and ripped us from the land. To us land is honor, and to hurt the land is to hurt our honor. Since then, more than twenty years later, I go every day, close up to the fence and look at my lands and see how it is and what’s happened to it.
We had 70 dunams of land. On the day that Neve Dekalim was built, bulldozers came and took about half of the land, more than 30 dunam. They bared the soil and built a fence along the length of the western part of the settlement. But my land is not just in the western part, it extends to the eastern part as well. They stripped that part too and we watched them use its sands to build.
They took our land, they built on it, and even used its sands for the construction of the settlement and we had no power. You stand for 20 years, looking at the land you had slowly disappearing while things are built upon it, but not for us. It’s a sight I don’t wish on anybody. So I understand that it is painful for the settlers that they are forced to leave. Particularly those that were born here. Not their parents who came and stole our land. But thanks to Allah, land always returns to its owners.
I remember that most of the land was covered with apple orchards. There were many palm trees as well, dates, and all sorts of species. Palm trees as high as 20 meters, some of them 70 years and older, that my father planted. There were some vegetables and also some guava. But mostly apples, amazing apples. Green American apples that were slightly tart and delicious. I remember the size of the apples. I can still feel and taste them in my mouth. A simple life that in an instant was destroyed.
Until today, when I look in the direction of Neve Dekalim and see the gate I remember the apples that are buried there underneath it.
If you go to the western gate of Neve Dekalim, before the square there’s a large water well there. Right next to it is the trunk of a tree. That tree is about 70 years old. My father’s cousin planted that tree.
We have legal records, documents from the time of the British, and we have never forgotten that these lands were stolen from us. Every day we would go and look at the land. Up until now we always considered it a closed matter. Every day we would say “Allah will make up to us what was stolen from us.” But now we have new hope.
We’ll be happy to get the land back, even if today it is land that has been built upon. But since as far as we are concerned it is land that we have always considered lost anyway, we won’t object if the Palestinian Authority wants it for public use. If they build a school for our children, they can enjoy it and learn in it within a few months. If it is for the public good, we will not object.
Despite the constant harassment by settlers and the lynch that some of them did recently, I prefer to think of the future. Every time there was a problem we would call the IDF liaison and an army unit would come and calm things down. Now we are going in, I pray to Allah, to a period of peace and security—they in their country and us on our lands that have returned to us.