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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

48 Are Arrested as Israelis Clash in Gaza Pullout - New York Times

48 Are Arrested as Israelis Clash in Gaza Pullout - New York TimesAugust 17, 2005
48 Are Arrested as Israelis Clash in Gaza Pullout

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Aug. 17 - Israeli soldiers moved into this Jewish settlement in larger numbers early Wednesday morning in an effort to persuade reluctant residents to leave their homes voluntarily before they would be forced out.

In the face of opposition from outside demonstrators, the soldiers moved into the town in columns in the hours before dawn, their stated motive to help residents pack up - just hours before they had orders to remove the settlers.

On Tuesday, settlers and sympathizers threw stones and eggs at soldiers and police officers here in an emotionally searing confrontation over the government's order to vacate this and other Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, which Israel captured 38 years ago.

At least 48 demonstrators were arrested in the clashes on Tuesday as officers poured into Neve Dekalim and tried to ensure that moving vans could enter for residents who wanted to leave.

The scene seemed a foretaste of what was expected after dawn Wednesday, when the Israeli Army intended to move forcefully into many settlements in order to complete the civilian pullout within a week.

The senior Israeli Army commander in Gaza, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, said his troops would be concentrated here, in the largest settlement in Gaza, which has been the focus of resistance to the decision to pull out of all 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 small ones in the West Bank.

Since Monday it has been illegal for Israeli civilians to be here, and Tuesday was the last day when settlers could leave on their own, with their belongings.

Officials say half of Gaza's 9,000 settlers have already left, and General Harel promised that those who agreed to leave by midnight would be permitted to return to pack their belongings. Those who wait and are taken by force will receive less government compensation for the move than those who obey the law, officials said.

Neve Dekalim has become a focus for the religious and generational dissent to the pullout order, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says is necessary for Israel's future security.

A high-ranking police officer said the intention was to present the settlers with overwhelming force, even if the officers are unarmed, in order to make serious resistance seem impossible. In preparation, many of the demonstrators here have taken refuge in the synagogue.

Many of the smaller settlements, especially in the north, are already empty, or nearly so.

By Tuesday morning, the army had detained nearly 1,000 Israelis who tried to enter the closed military zone of Gaza and, while the settlers and protesters slept, soldiers cut down the gates to the settlement.

As the police tried to enforce the law, the protesters, many of them young, devout and living in settlements on the West Bank, feared that the evacuation of Neve Dekalim was about to begin and confronted the officers. The most serious incidents occurred when one young man threw a caustic liquid, probably ammonia, into the eyes of a police cameraman, and another tossed urine on a woman police officer and paint on a senior commander.

Two officers and two civilians were injured. Those arrested were taken out of Gaza to face a court in Beersheba, where many were released on bail.

But the confrontation appeared to steel the will of the authorities to put an end to the emotional and oratorical drama here, which is inevitably taking a toll on young soldiers in Israel's draft army and even on professional police officers.

Young protesters constantly engage officers in taunting conversations about their willingness "to expel Jews" and to "act like Nazis," then urge them to disobey their orders.

One young soldier, guarding a bus against protesters who spent some of the day trying to slash the tires of official vehicles, said she found the conflict draining. "It's not what I trained for," said the woman, 19, who would identify herself only as Anit. "This is hard on all of us. They're full of passion."

Later, soldiers moved into the settlement to knock on doors, to reassure those settlers who wanted to move, and who were prevented from doing so by the protesters, that they would be regarded differently from those who refused to move, and their belongings would receive special attention.

Soldiers have been training for weeks for this operation, practicing on each other the forced removal of angry civilians. Israel's total exit from Gaza will take weeks, with the last soldiers due to leave in early October.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has stationed troops near the settlements and called on the 1.3 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip to refrain from violence. Hamas and other militant groups, jostling for credit for having pushed the Israelis out, have said they would not disrupt the withdrawal "as long as there is no aggression."

Aharon Franco, the deputy Israeli police commander, said in an interview that two-thirds of the settlers here had moved or wanted to do so before they were forced out, and that it was the obligation of the police to enable them to do so.

"Apart from the wonderful local residents, there are thousands of youngsters here from all over the country, and they're wandering around with nothing much to do," he said. "And every vehicle that comes along - they've got spikes and they stick them in the tires."

Elsewhere in Gaza, smaller settlements were quieter, with some essentially empty as of Tuesday. In Bedolah, Rabbi Matti Elon arrived from Jerusalem to offer the remaining families solace. David Zigdon, 35, was moving and helping his parents, Yossi and Einav Zigdon, to move. They have been here 26 years. "I remember when there was nothing here but sand," Mr. Zigdon said. "I'm very angry and very empty."

The family grows vegetables, and new cardboard boxes were stacked against a wall, reading, in English, French and German: "Sweet Pepper. Produce of Israel. Class I."

At the back the family was burning its old Volvo, the black acrid smoke rising into the humid sky, setting a tree on fire. "We don't want the Arabs to have it," Mr. Zigdon said.

Then the gas tank exploded, like a mortar.

Other possessions were thrown on the fire, and some neighbors tried to burn their houses, which the Israeli Army will bulldoze in any event by mutual agreement with the Palestinian Authority, which says the single-family houses do not suit the needs of their people. After the Israelis withdraw fully, the Palestinians will have control of the settlements.

Yishai Yehuda, 23, a friend who came to offer solidarity with the settlers, said: "They are a special family. All their lives are here. They are devout. These people are so strong, so faithful. They are the people who will lift Israel higher."

The Zigdon family had spray-painted a letter on an inside wall of their house. It was addressed to the Israeli Army and the police: "Here we sat, ate, laughed and cried. Soldiers and policemen, our house is your home, like your mother's, the smells of the food and the songs of the Sabbath, which the State of Israel is taking away from us, with our memories and those of hundreds of friends whom we hosted here. We are leaving with our heads down. The crown has fallen from our heads. We the Zigdon family want to be remembered and not forgotten."

The letter ended, "With our condolences to the people of Israel, the Zigdon family."

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