Gaza settlers wait for the inevitable

Residents of the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzer Hazani and their supporters have placed their final hopes in the Divine in order to prevent what is now inevitable.

“Nezer believes with complete faith in the Holy One, Blessed be He,” says a large banner on the gate of the religious orthodox settlement whose 80 families woke up on Monday morning to changed status, their presence in the Gaza Strip now officially illegal under Israeli law.

Monday marked the first day of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, with teams of soldiers and police officers slated to fan out throughout the Gaza Strip’s 21 settlements to hand settlers notices telling them to quit their homes.

Those who have not left after 48 hours face being removed by force.

Some settlements, most secular, were resigned to their fate and accepted the notices. Others locked their gates, prompting tense stand-offs with the evacuating forces.

As Netzer Hazani slowly woke up, a growing crowd gathered at the gate waiting for the soldiers and police to bring them their evacuation notices. Inside the settlement, located in the north-east of the Gush Katif settlement block, nothing seemed to indicate the settlers were facing the beginning of the end of Israel’s 38-year-old occupation of the Gaza Strip.

“Nezer Hazani forever”, read one banner, while another simply proclaimed “Gush Katif forever”.

The settlement gate is painted orange—the colour of the anti-withdrawal movement—and affixed with orange ribbons and blue-and-white Israeli flags that wave in the hot summer breeze.

Dozens of families with little children and babies gathered on the grass near the settlement’s main entrance to watch their leaders block the gate with two private cars and a heavy bulldozer, in anticipation of the arrival of the evacuating forces.

Men wrapped in Jewish prayer shawls danced at the gate and recited psalms.
Single army jeeps that drove by caused people to spring to their feet and run to the gate, but these were false alarms.

The soldiers arrived at noon.

“Don’t let them pass under any circumstances,” someone shouted over a megaphone.

The soldiers negotiated with the settlers for 30 minutes, asking for peaceful access into the settlement. They were forced to turn their buses around and depart without delivering the evacuation notices.

The onlookers clapped their hands in triumph as the crowd dispersed, dancing in celebration, toward the synagogue inside the settlement.

Anita Tucker, a 59-year-old Brooklyn-born mother of five and grandmother of 11, says she has no intention of leaving Netzer Hazani by the Wednesday deadline.

She continues her life as if one of the most dramatic moves in Israel’s 57-year history—the first evacuation of settlements built on land Palestinians claim for their future state—is not on her doorstep.

“Just on Friday, I picked 150 boxes of celery and I also planted 2 000 new heads of celery,” she says.

She has lived in Nezer Hazani for 29 years. She arrived with the first few families who built the settlement in 1976 as the first civilian Israeli settlement created in the Gaza Strip after the 1967 war that saw Israel capture the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

She says she has not packed one bag, but in an indication that others have come to accept their evacuation as a fact and that their promised non-violent resistance to the evacuating forces is mostly symbolic.

Most other residents say they have packed only their most valuable belongings, while leaving the rest for the Israeli soldiers to sort out after they are carried out of their homes.

A small number of families plan to leave before the August 17 deadline expires, but most vow they will stay on.

None have a clue to what temporary housing they will be moved.

The settlement wants to move as one unit to a different, agricultural location, but unlike in some other settlements, no agreement has been reached with the government as yet.

“We have no idea to where we will be evacuated. It is complete uncertainty,” says Yosef, a friendly 19-year-old guard at the settlement.—Sapa-DPA

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