Israeli settlers wake up to eviction orders

 

Sometime after dawn this morning, young Israeli soldiers and police officers will start going door-to- door among Gaza's Jewish settlements to hand-deliver eviction orders.

Those of the occupied Gaza Strip's 8,000 settlers who have not yet taken voluntary leave of their homes will be politely informed they have 48 hours to get out.

At least that is the army's plan, the fruition of months of preparations for Israel's withdrawal from all 21 of the Strip's settlements plus four in the northern West Bank, all land which the Jewish state has occupied for 38 years.

But hundreds of Gaza's settler families have plans of their own - a last-ditch bid to thwart Israel's historic "disengagement", which they see as a betrayal of their biblical entitlement to this land.

While none will divulge their resistance strategies, some settlers plan to block the entrances to their gated communities today and say they will use peaceful means to convince the security forces of the "immorality" of the evacuation. And they are fortified by thousands of supporters, mostly young right-wing infiltrators who have flocked to the area in recent weeks and erected tent villages amid the sand dunes.

"We will definitely be trying to do things to talk to the hearts of the soldiers," said Avi Abelow, a businessman who has taken leave from his work in the West Bank settlement of Efrat to help the residents of Netzer Hazani agricultural settlement stage their sit-in.

"Many people here have served in elite army units and our fellow soldiers are our friends. Many of the soldiers don't want to be doing this, to be expelling the citizens of Israel."

Israeli security forces and settler leaders expect at least half of Gaza's residents to leave voluntarily over the next two days, to collect their six-figure compensation sums and resettle peacefully in new homes built for them in Israel proper.

Those who choose to remain beyond Wednesday will face eviction at the hands of some 42,000 troops who have been psychologically tutored for the operation, which is scheduled to last for several weeks.

The security forces could face resistance in some of the more hardline settlements where ultra-nationalist youths have barricaded themselves in and are receiving instructions from right-wing rabbis to disobey the law.

Anita Tucker (63), a New York-born celery farmer, is among those who plan to be carried out of their houses. She has refused to pack and has stock-piled two weeks' worth of food supplies in her home where she has lived for 29 years.

For Orthodox religious settlers like Tucker, the evacuation is a reward for Palestinian violence and a betrayal by the Jewish state, which has encouraged Jews to settle in Gaza since the 1970s despite the international consensus that all settlements on occupied land are illegal.

"How can you pull so many people out of their homes?" she asked. "When we are doing what the government wanted us to do. We moved here and we planted in the desert. They considered us heroes all along and we endured the rockets. Where is Amnesty? Where is the Red Cross?"

A drive around Gaza's 21 settlements shows that many residents have left before today's deadline. All the shops have closed in the past week and many families spent yesterday packing their belongings into large freight containers parked outside their houses.

The largely secular settlement of Pe'at Sade, whose 100 residents were attracted here by financial benefits rather than ideological conviction, was all but abandoned by the weekend.