Friday, July 13, 2007

As Shells Fall, Goods Go to Gaza at ‘Vineyard of Peace’


KEREM SHALOM, Israel, July 11 — Real life has a way of intruding into the airy absolutes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each side may deny the other’s historical legitimacy, or plot the other’s demise, but somehow, the gritty business of coexistence marches on.

For the past month, since the Islamic militants of Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, Israel has kept the main commercial crossing point at Karni shuttered, squeezing the life out of the limp Gazan economy. Israel bans contact with Hamas, and Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction, making border crossing etiquette more precarious than elsewhere....

Hamas officials say they want to start negotiations with Israel about reopening the formal crossings. Major Lerner said that Hamas had “a few things to do” first, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and freeing Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured and taken to Gaza in a raid more than a year ago.

But the ultimate test of pragmatism may come in September when the Hebrew calendar enters what is known in Jewish law as a “shmita” year. Then the fields of Israel are supposed to lie fallow, and observant Jews seek agricultural products grown elsewhere. Before the Hamas takeover, Israel’s rabbis had reached agreements with Palestinians to import vegetables from Gaza, Major Lerner said. Given the needs of both sides, it may still happen.

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