For This Settlement’s Neighbors, It Was a Day of Joy
Palestinians for days had been staging marches and rallies to celebrate Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. But on Thursday, many in this village believed they had particular reason to rejoice.
All day long, they listened and watched as the neighboring Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom was cleared out by Israeli troops and police. Settlers screamed, struggled and barricaded themselves in the local synagogue for a long standoff.
All this was music to the ears of Palestinians living nearby. Kfar Darom had long been a particular thorn in their side.
Acres of Palestinian farmland were bulldozed by Israeli troops defending the isolated enclave, and Palestinian civilians in Deir al Balah often found themselves caught in clashes between the soldiers and Palestinian militants.
“All of us, we and our neighbors, are so happy,” said Huda Bashir, a mother of six. “The army used to invade our houses at night. It was dangerous to move anywhere, day or night. It was dangerous for the children to go to school.”
“Every Palestinian in the Gaza Strip, not only in Deir al Balah, is happy and delighted to see these occupiers leaving our land,” said Samir Azayza, another villager. “They used my land to make a road for the settlers to their greenhouses. I want it back.”
So high was the tension between Kfar Darom and its Palestinian neighbors that officials on both sides had feared the area might be a tinderbox for fighting during the Gaza withdrawal.
On Wednesday, Israeli troops had to intervene when supporters of the settlers marched out of Kfar Darom and pushed concrete blocks from a bridge onto the Palestinian road below.
Israel’s Channel One reported that authorities originally had planned to evict the settlers next week but moved up the operation because of the potential for violence.
Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were bracing for reprisals after a gunman Wednesday killed four Palestinian laborers in the West Bank. The Jewish settler accused in the attack, Asher Weisgan, was brought before an Israeli court Thursday, where he said he had no regrets about the shooting in an industrial zone outside the settlement of Shiloh.
“I am not sorry,” he told reporters outside the court in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva. “I hope someone murders [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon as well.”
The Palestinian victims, all West Bank residents, were identified as Mohammed Mansour, 48, and Bassam Tawase, 30, from near Nablus; Halil Salah, 42, from Kalkilya; and Osama Tawafsha, 33, from near Ramallah.
Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying it was meant to disrupt Israel’s withdrawal from the 21 settlements of Gaza and four smaller ones in the West Bank.
The militant group Hamas, meanwhile, repeated its warning that an informal cease-fire declared by Palestinian armed groups would expire at the end of the year.
In an interview Thursday with Israel Radio, senior Hamas leader Sheik Hassan Yousef demanded a number of actions by the Israeli government, including the release of Palestinian prisoners.