Army Deadline Threatens Gush Katif Hothouses

Agricultural equipment, plants and technology, worth millions of dollars may be destroyed if the government sticks to its deadline for volunteers to finish removing the property this week.

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 00:05

Hundreds of volunteers have been working from dawn until dusk in Gush Katif, but "it is impossible to get everything done in time," said Debbie Zimmerman, who worked for two days in Gadid and Atzmona for two days.

The army has said it will destroy hothouses and equipment that volunteers and soldiers are not able to take apart and pack, or the government might abandon it to the Palestinian Authority (PA) through the World Bank, according to Ayal Agrovitch, who mans the volunteer center for LeMa'an HaChai ("for the sake of my brothers").

The former community of Atzmona stands to suffer the biggest loss. A large and sophisticated packing plant and dozens of hothouses with tens of thousands of plants and flowers were the main business of the community.

The IDF also plans to send about 4,000 troops to collect all possessions and equipment that has been left in the communities, which only three weeks ago were home to more than 8,000 Jewish residents.

Agrovitch praised the army for sending hundreds of soldiers to help the volunteers. "The air force is sending 300 men this week, and the IDF has provided us with food and transportation from all over the country," he added.

But some volunteers complained that the army could provide more manpower. ”The government used them to destroy and maybe it is time for the IDF to regain its integrity" by helping more, said one volunteer.

The army has overcome the problem of theft which was rampant immediately after the demolition of homes, according to Lema'an HaChai organizer Shai Engel. He said local Arabs took trucks through torn down fences and stole equipment, but soldiers now are in full control of the area.

Volunteers who have Israeli identity cards and are physically fit to work may reach LeMa'an HaChai at 02-6522582/3 or 052-5219389.