A Traumatic Week Ends in Gaza
Hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, Israeli troops Friday finished evacuating one of the few remaining Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, again enduring shouts of “Nazis!” and “Cowards!”
In a small-scale repeat of previous days, holdout Jewish settlers and their supporters in the community of Gadid, in what had been the main Gaza settlement block of Gush Katif, gathered on rooftops and lighted trash fires as troops arrived to tell them they had to leave, and to evict them by force if necessary.
The landmark Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, after 38 years of occupation, appeared to be in the mop-up stage, with inhabitants removed from nearly all the 21 Gaza settlements.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the pullout, declaring the Jewish settlements in Gaza a security liability. Over the decades, about 8,500 settlers had come to live among more than 1.3 million Palestinians, taking up residence in heavily fortified Jewish enclaves, with thousands of Israeli troops protecting them.
The forced evictions began Wednesday, after police officers and soldiers urged residents to leave voluntarily.
Three Gaza settlements, including the ideological stronghold of Netzarim, were to be emptied early next week. Israeli news reports said the settlers had agreed to leave, offering only passive resistance.
Four West Bank settlements are also being abandoned. Two already have been emptied of inhabitants, but the other two, Sanur and Homesh, could be venues of confrontation next week. Inhabitants and outside protesters have pledged to do all they can to hold off eviction.
As in other Gaza settlements, resistance from residents in Gadid was greatly augmented by angry young demonstrators from the West Bank. At one point during Friday’s confrontation, a resident rabbi asked the outside protesters to calm themselves but was shouted down.
A day earlier, in the settlement of Kfar Darom, holdout militants battled troops on the roof of the synagogue. Protesters threw oil, garbage and paint-filled balloons at the troops, who had to remove them by force.
By the end of that standoff, some Israeli riot police officers and soldiers were frantically stripping off their fatigues because their skin was being burned by caustic liquid, probably paint thinner, that had been hurled at them.
Sharon, according to Israeli news reports, was extremely angered by the behavior of young demonstrators, calling them “barbarians.”
Despite the turmoil of the previous day and the extremely negative Israeli public reaction to the actions of militant holdouts, the few remaining Gaza settlers appeared determined to make a symbolic last stand.
“Instead of fighting the enemy, I am evicted from my home,” Boaz Gutrher told arriving troops in Gadid. He told soldiers with the evacuating forces that he had fought with the Israeli army in Lebanon.
In another emotionally charged scene broadcast on Israeli television, a female settler angrily confronted soldiers as she tried to pry off the mezuza, a talisman attached to the doorways of Jewish homes, while her little boy screamed in fear at the arrival of the troops.
“You will never be a soldier for the enemy!” she shouted at her weeping child. He continued to cry.
Small children have been prominently featured in evacuation scenes, some captured on live television and radio. Settlers have thrust toddlers or infants at troops, yelling, “Go ahead -- deport this child!” Many mothers with babies in arms were led away by troops, sometimes struggling briefly but usually stopping before a female officer stepped forward and offered to take the child from them.
Among Palestinians, the Israeli pullout from the Gaza settlements was greeted with joy, but also created complications for the 7-month-old government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The militant group Hamas has claimed credit for Israel’s Gaza withdrawal, saying it helped drive the settlers out with a campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks.
Abbas, who has been in Gaza since the withdrawal began, told a cheering crowd Friday that the Israeli decision to relinquish Gaza was a result of Palestinian “sacrifices.” He spoke at the war-damaged Gaza airport, which Palestinians want to repair and reopen. Israel has not yet said whether it will permit that.
Israel, meanwhile, began demolishing homes in vacated Jewish settlements. Under an agreement brokered with the blessing of the United States, Israeli troops will carry out the demolition and Palestinians, under contract, will dispose of most of the debris.
A massive bulldozer knocked down about two dozen homes in the Gaza outpost of Kerem Atzmona on Friday.
Israel and the Palestinians agreed that the settlers’ villa-style single-family homes should be demolished because they were impractical in Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated areas.