Gaza settlers defiant as eviction looms

Israeli forces find way blocked at most sites

August 16, 2005|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip - Israeli soldiers delivered eviction notices yesterday to thousands of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip, warning that they would be forcibly removed starting tomorrow, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the evacuation he ordered "was vital for Israel" but "the most difficult and painful step of all."

Soldiers and police found their way blocked at most settlements and either negotiated with settlement leaders for a small number of officers to enter by the end of the day or, as was the case in Kfar Darom, remained outside the settlement gates.

In many of the 21 Gaza settlements, large numbers of residents have left. Others are packing their belongings and will probably leave by the end of today, before forced evictions are to begin.

As of tomorrow, army officers say, large numbers of soldiers and police will push their way past the fences, using armored vehicles if necessary, and evict every civilian.

The settlers of Kfar Darom chose to ignore Sharon's words and the looming deadline, carrying on with their lives as if nothing was about to change.

Fresh bread arrived at the settlement grocery store, which was open for business with shelves well stocked. A group of settlers planted dozens of nectarine and fig trees. Lawns were mowed. Young men in prayer shawls said their morning devotions at the settlement's synagogue

"We have faith in God. We are fully confident that things will not be as smooth as Sharon expects them to be," said Yaakov Goldberg, 31, a physics graduate student who has lived in Kfar Darom for four years with his wife and four children.

`Messy as normal'

Less than 48 hours before the deadline for troops to enter the settlement, Goldberg proudly displayed his unkempt home.

"Look, no boxes. Everything is messy as normal," he said, opening the door to his cramped three-bedroom house. His wife, Leah, was loading laundry in the washing machine. His children colored on the floor.

Dozens of empty soda bottles were filled with tap water, and he had stockpiled a two-week supply of food in the cupboard for what could be the settlers' long struggle to resist their pending eviction.

At the settlement council's headquarters, residents hoisted mattresses and large plastic water tanks up to the roof, where many of the extremists expect to make their last stand.

Settlers who chose to stay beyond tonight's midnight deadline could lose up to a third of the monetary compensation promised by the Israeli government.

Officials said two of the four West Bank settlements targeted for evacuation - Ganim and Kadim, each with about 170 residents - were empty as of last night.

But no one in Kfar Darom seemed to be planning to leave, making it probably one of the most difficult settlements for the government to evacuate.

Residents here oppose Sharon's plan on grounds that it violates God's wish for the Jews to settle lands including the West Bank and Gaza.

Yesterday, as Israeli soldiers began knocking on doors in other settlements to hand out eviction notices, there was widespread resistance. Protesters blocked the entrances of their settlements, burned tires and formed human chains to stop army vehicles.

In a sign of the strong opposition in Kfar Darom, troops decided not to bother handing out the eviction notices here. Officers had been told by the settler leaders that they would not be welcome.

"We viewed the eviction order as something so severe that we will protest it strongly. Kfar Darom is determined to continue," said Asher Mivtsari, the settlement spokesman.

Historical significance

Among many Israelis, Kfar Darom has historical significance. Established more than 70 years as ago by a Jewish farmer who bought 65 acres for a fruit orchard, Kfar Darom held out against invading Egyptian forces during Israel's 1948 War of Independence before it was abandoned. Then, during the 1967 Middle East war, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and re-established a community.

Surrounded by platoons of Israeli soldiers, barbed wire fences and machine gun towers, Kfar Darom has also been one of the settlements most targeted by Palestinian militants. Five residents have been killed in attacks in recent years.

Reaching out to the opponents of his withdrawal plan last night, Sharon said Kfar Darom was a settlement that he "believed and hoped that we could forever hold on to."

"However, the changing reality in this country, in this region, and in the world, required another reassessment and changing of positions," he said.

"Gaza cannot be held on to forever. Over 1 million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation. They live in incredibly cramped refugee camps, in poverty and squalor, in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon."

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