Aug. 16, 2005 – Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces have fuflilled their government's promise, distributing eviction notices to Jewish settlers still holed up among more than 1.3 million Palestinians in the densely populated Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharonâ€™s controversial plan to withdraw settlers and disengage military forces from Gaza was put in motion yesterday as scores of large containers were delivered to Gaza settlements to help residents move their belongings. The Israeli government has offered the settlers monetary compensation and expressed willingness to provide them housing in other parts of Israel as long as the settlers leave before the midnight Wednesday deadline. Many fear an influx of settlers into the West Bank as a result of the Gaza transfer.
By all accounts, IDF personnel met stiff resistance and vocal, passionate opposition in most places, though reports of scuffles and violence were minimal.
According to the Israeli military (IDF), troops hand-delivered copies of the eviction notice to about 100 Jewish homes. However, in most spots residents and their supporters blockaded entire settlements, so soldiers reportedly handed notices to local officials.
The letters were signed by Major General Dan Harel. They threaten that forcible evictions will begin on Wednesday. The letter adds a note of condolence: "The IDF and the Israeli police share in the sorrow and pain you are feeling and expressing."
Some settlers appealed to the soldiers, begging them to refuse orders and join the settlers at the barricades. Others called the soldiers "Nazis" and likened them to the Gestapo of Hitlerâ€™s Third Reich.
The Israeli government reports that about half of Gazaâ€™s 8,500 or so settlers have already left or will be moved out by Wednesday, but thousands of extremists have taken their places to defend the settlements.
Police told reporters today that they captured hundreds of Jewish Israelis trying to sneak into the Elei Sinai settlement in the northern Gaza Strip, presumably to fortify the settlersâ€™ ability to hold out there.
Today IDF soldiers reportedly dismantled and seized the gates of Gazaâ€™s largest settlement, Neve Dekalim, which has been central to efforts at resisting the disengagement plan.
In a rare acknowledgment of the specifics of Palestinian suffering in the occupied territory of Gaza, Prime Minister Sharon said in a TV appearance Monday that Palestinians "live in uniquely crowded conditions in refugee camps, in poverty and despair, in hotbeds of rising hatred with no hope on the horizon."
Sharon appealed to settlers to leave peacefully as the best hope of ensuring security for Israelis, repeating his recent mantra that Israel "cannot hold onto Gaza forever."
Some Palestinian Gazans expressed uncommon if hesitant optimism Monday. After 38 years of Israeli occupation â€“ including decades of encroaching settlements and prohibitive checkpoints â€“ they look forward to increased breathing room, though they will still be confined to Gaza, which Israel has surrounded with a fence and tightly controlled entry and exit points.
A fisherman told the Washington Post that he looks forward to finally taking his boat into waters the Israeli navy previously reserved for Jewish fishing vessels. "Hopefully, after the pullout, things will improve significantly in terms of fishing, and also in terms of other freedoms," Mohammed Hisseh said.
Another man, Khalid Faleet, told the Post he expects the return of nine acres near Khan Younis confiscated by Israel.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have acknowledged the Gaza disengagement as an important step, but have called upon the removal of settlements from all of the Palestinian territory Israel seized during the 1967 war, including the West Bank and the area now considered East Jerusalem.
Building settlements on occupied land is illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, as ruled by the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice.
Hamas leaders have gone so far as to claim Israelâ€™s withdrawal as a victory for the Palestinian resistance.
So far, Hamas and other Palestinian militias have refrained from attacking settlers or IDF troops involved in the disengagement.
In a possible sign of future tensions, however, Hamas reportedly turned down an invitation from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian National Authority to hold a unified celebration of the IDFâ€™s disengagement, the Telegraph reports, opting to hold a separate event. The two parties are in bitter competition for control of the Gaza strip and its numerous Palestinian municipalities.
But since it could be months before Israel permits Palestinians access to vacated areas of the Gaza Strip, no celebration dates have been pinned down.