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Friday, August 12, 2005

Tens of Thousands Protest Gaza Pullout - New York Times

Tens of Thousands Protest Gaza Pullout - New York TimesAugust 12, 2005
Tens of Thousands Protest Gaza Pullout

Filed at 3:26 a.m. ET

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- Tens of thousands of anti-pullout protesters filled a square in downtown Tel Aviv, vowing that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank will not happen. Most settlers, however, were leaving a key village in northern Gaza.

The demonstrators filled the square in front of Tel Aviv city hall, named after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was gunned down there after a peace rally in 1995. Protesters carried signs criticizing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, architect of the pullout, which begins next week.

The theme of the demonstration was ''Gush Katif and Samaria, I pledge (allegiance),'' a slogan painted in black on an orange background of many of the signs in the crowd. Orange is the color adopted by the protesters to symbolize their struggle against the pullout.

Gush Katif is the main block of settlements in Gaza, and Samaria refers to the northern West Bank, where four settlements are to be removed in the government's ''disengagement'' plan.

At the beginning of the rally, veteran settler activist Pinchas Wallerstein chanted the slogan, and the crowd replied in unison.

Settler leader Bentsi Leiberman vowed that opponents would block the soldiers with their bodies when the pullout comes, but reiterated that the disobedience would be passive.

''Disengagement will not be carried out,'' he said to the roar of the crowd.

''We will not allow Jews to be expelled from our land,'' he said.

Settler leaders say they will send thousands toward Gaza next week in an attempt to reinforce the 8,500 settlers there. Many are expected to leave before the Aug. 17 deadline, but others plan to stay and offer resistance.

On Thursday the military stopped giving permits to friends and relatives of settlers to enter Gaza, charging that many visitors have remained behind.

Security was tight. About 2,000 police patrolled the area of the demonstration, and each protester was carefully checked before entering the square. Weapons were banned, and police X-rayed bags, using airport-style machines mounted on trucks.

President Bush endorsed the withdrawal in an interview broadcast Thursday on Israel TV. ''The disengagement is, I think, a part of making Israel more secure and peaceful,'' he said.

Sharon has said repeatedly he will not back down from his plan to remove about 9,000 Jewish settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank in a massive military operation scheduled to begin Aug. 17.

Many have already left.

Nissanit, a community of about 1,100 people at the northern edge of Gaza, was nearly deserted Thursday.

The furniture, windows and even the red roof tiles had been removed from many of the houses, leaving them empty shells, their yards filled with boxes and broken hunks of plastic furniture.

Two women hugged and cried in the middle of the street. A few people filled pickup trucks with the last remaining boxes and chairs they needed to move.

''It looks awful. It hurts my heart to see the houses like this,'' said Yossi Elus, a 30-year-old electrician from the settlement, as he removed air conditioning units for his neighbors.

Over the past few weeks, Elus dismantled more than 50 air conditioners as the families in this secular community began leaving.

Though he deeply opposed the pullout, Elus did not want to risk losing up to a third of his compensation package by staying here after the deadline to protest, as the government has threatened. He moved his family earlier to a house he is renting in the nearby Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Eli Kabooli, 46, stood in his empty house, the floor littered with wires and white plastic molding, looking around for anything left to salvage.

His wife and two children moved Wednesday, but they only starting packing a week ago.

''My wife couldn't start earlier,'' he said. ''She'd pack and she'd cry.''

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