August 15, 2005 in Nation/World

Gaza settlers insist on refusing ‘evil plan’

Amy Teibel Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A settler kisses the scrolls of the Torah in the synagogue in the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom on Sunday. There are no packing boxes, no containers, no deserted homes.
(Full-size photo)

At a glance

History of Israeli settlement in Gaza

June 1967 – Israel captures the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol declares that the coastal area will “never be returned to Egypt.”

Late 1967 – Eshkol plans the establishment of Jewish settlements in Egypt to form a Jewish buffer zone on Israel’s southwestern flank. The idea meets with government opposition over fears of attacks by Palestinians in the area and the lack of water sources.

June 1970 – Government passes initial decision to establish settlements in Gaza.

1972 – Israel begins establishing two army posts in Gaza, which later become the communities of Netzarim and Kfar Darom.

1977 – More Israeli civilians are allowed to move into the army installations, and new settlements are established.

1982 – Israel evacuates the settlement of Yamit in the Sinai as part of its transfer of the territory to Egypt under a peace agreement, moves some of the removed settlers to Gaza.

1987 – First Palestinian uprising begins in Gaza. Israel responds by establishing new settlements.

Sept. 13, 1993 – Israel and the Palestinians sign the Oslo accords, clearing the way for Israel to pull out of parts of Gaza.

December 2003 – Sharon presents plan to dismantle all Gaza settlements and four in the West Bank. By this time more than 8,000 Israelis live in 21 Gaza settlements.

October 2004 – Sharon’s withdrawal plan is approved in the Israeli parliament.

Today – Israel begins withdrawal.

KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip – There are no packing boxes, no containers, no deserted homes. Not even precious photo albums have been packed or taken away for safekeeping.

It is here, in the hard-line settlement of Kfar Darom, its population tripled by outside sympathizers, that Israeli authorities expect to meet the most militant resistance to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

As of midnight Sunday, it is illegal for Israeli citizens to live in the Gaza Strip. Early this morning, security forces were set to head to Gaza’s 21 Jewish settlements, giving the 8,500 residents 48 hours to leave or be forced out.

Kfar Darom is a zealously religious community of 500 people, isolated from the other settlements and separated from the Palestinian town of Deir el-Balah by a line of walls and fences.

Founded in 1946 as a kibbutz, it was evacuated after a three-month Egyptian siege during the 1948 Mideast War. After Israel captured the Gaza Strip in 1967, the army built a post on the site. In 1989, a group of civilians moved in, believing the biblical Abraham once grazed his cattle here.

Signs around the settlement proclaim that Kfar Darom “shall not fall again.”

Many of Gaza’s Jewish residents believe they fulfilled a promise by God by settling the land. Palestinians say the Israelis have no right to be in Gaza at all and call their presence a form of colonization.

Kfar Darom’s residents are not the only settlers saying they will not leave voluntarily. Where they do stand out, however, is in the unified and unwavering front they have put up against the pullout.

The secularist settlement of Peat Sadeh was a virtual ghost town Sunday.

In Netzer Hazani, about a fifth of the 80 families had packed and were ready to go, despite opposition to the pullout, founding member Anita Tucker said.

A resident in Neve Dekalim, Moshe Engel, predicted that by midnight Tuesday – the deadline for leaving voluntarily – 30 percent of his community would be gone.

No families have left Kfar Darom, and people’s homes stand unchanged, with not a single item packed, said Sarah Friedman, a former resident who returned from her family’s home in a West Bank settlement to support her one-time neighbors. “The people of Kfar Darom aren’t moving,” she said.

Yaakov Goldberg agreed. “No one here plans to cooperate with such an evil plan,” he said.

Residents of the town said they would resist removal – but without violence.

Chana Barat, paralyzed from the waist down when a sniper shot her 3 1/2 years ago, hoped her condition would be a deterrent.

“I won’t fight off a soldier who enters my home with sticks, rifles or swords,” Barat said. “But the soldier will be battered emotionally, his conscience seared.”

Friedman, a native of Miami, said she would show children’s toys to soldiers, hoping to soften their hearts. She is living in a tent with her three children, aged 2 months to 4 years.

“People asked, why did I come here and expose the children? I am saving this country for my children,” she said. “My children were not born here to be uprooted and become homeless.”

Kfar Darom attracted particularly large numbers of supporters from outside Gaza whose show of solidarity was complicating the government’s evacuation plans.

Camps in two fields housed 1,000 or so supporters in wood-framed structures with wire mesh. Lines of hand-laundered shirts, pants and ritual fringes hung inside and outside the tents as Kfar Darom’s devoted supporters prepared for the showdown.

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