Bill Gates (Courtesy NPR.org)
JERUSALEM – In a revelation that surprised many here associated with the deal, it emerged this week the charitable foundation of Microsoft founder Bill Gates largely was responsible for transferring to the Palestinians the high-tech Jewish greenhouses of the Gaza Strip prior to Israel’s evacuation of the area.
The greenhouses, passed in a private charity deal last summer, reportedly have been stripped and looted by Palestinian gangs and Palestinian security officers hired to protect the structures.
“I wish I would have known it was Bill Gates who paid for the greenhouses. I would have sent him a thank you letter,” Ahmed Al-Masri, current manager of the Gaza greenhouses, told WorldNetDaily.
Prior to Israel’s August withdrawal, the residents of Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish communities ran greenhouses known for producing high-quality insect-free vegetables. The Gush Katif gardens featured some of the most technologically advanced agricultural equipment and accounted for more than $100 million per year in exports to Europe. The greenhouses also supplied Israel with 75 percent of its own produce.
The hothouses, worth several hundred million dollars, were passed to the Palestinians in September in a $14 million deal brokered by former World Bank President James Wolfenson. According to reports, Wolfenson personally contributed $500,000 of his own money and the rest was ponied up mostly by American Jews, including billionaires Mortimer Zuckerman and Leonard Stern.
But an article in Forbes Magazine stated the $29 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest charity, provided most of the money – $10 million – to purchase the greenhouses.
The magazine pointed out the donation falls outside the main focus of the foundation: global health. Gates is not known to involve himself in Mideast diplomacy or charities associated with Israel or the Palestinian territories.
A foundation representative told WND, “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed $10 million to facilitate the transfer of the greenhouses. This was a unique grant, made quickly and quietly because we believed it was in the best interest of all parties and would enhance the peace process.”
Zuckerman, a real estate mogul who owns U.S. News and World Report and the New York Daily News, told WND, “We were advised the Gates Foundation wished to keep their gift anonymous. I am happy to acknowledge their contribution if confidentiality is not of concern to them now.”
Major players involved in the greenhouse transfer say they were shocked to learn Gates was behind the financing.
Al-Masri was not aware of the donation until he was contacted by WND yesterday.
Officials from the Palestine Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Agency for International Development involved in the greenhouse transfer said they did not know Gates money funded the deal.
Also unaware was Eitan Haderi, a former Gaza Jewish farmer who represented the Gush Katif community in the greenhouse transfer.
“I am stunned. No one on our side had any idea Bill Gates paid for the greenhouses,” Hadei told WND.
But Gates may not have got his money’s worth. According to reports, the greenhouses were looted by gunmen following Israel’s withdrawal. Computer equipment and, in some cases, entire greenhouses were stolen. The theft has put out of action about 70 acres of the roughly 1,000 acres left by the Jewish communities, according to Al-Masri.
“The looters took their time to dismantle the greenhouses and to uproot entire greenhouses and carry them away,” Amid al-Masri previously told reporters.
Another round of looting struck the greenhouses in February when Fatah gunmen hired to protect the greenhouses abandoned their posts because they had not been paid. Witnesses reported some of the security guards themselves participated in the looting.
As WND reported, Palestinian farmers have had trouble reproducing the bug-free produce previously generated by the Jewish owners. The Palestinian owners reportedly asked the U.S. governmental development group USAID to hire former Jewish Gaza greenhouse owners as consultants for their declining vegetable businesses.
Al-Masri yesterday said the Gaza greenhouses are fully functioning and are producing at full capacity. He also said most of the stolen greenhouse equipment has been recovered by the Palestinian Authority police. His claims could not be independently verified before press time.