|As the August 17th deadline for Israeli settlers to leave Gaza and parts of the West Bank approaches, Israel has become more polarized and tensions are running high as some settlers have vowed not to leave. In the first of two reports, Jeff Swicord looks at the resistance to the withdrawal from Gaza.|
Mid-July on a farm in the Negev region of southern Israel: nearly 20,000 demonstrators gather under the hot sun. Their plan is to march to Gush Katiff, one of the Gaza settlements Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to give back to the Palestinians in mid-August.
Although polls indicate a majority of Israelis support the Gaza withdrawal, the action has angered large segments of Israeli society and emotions are running high.
Nineteen-year-old Eliana Marcus says Palestinian rockets couldn't chase away settlers and the Israeli government shouldn't either. "This thing looks like we are running away. This is our country. This is our house. God gave it to us. It is not ours to leave or to give it up."
Avi Farhan's family is one of about 1,500 that must leave their homes here in northern Gaza by August 17th. This is the second time Avi will have been evicted from his home. He lost his house in the Sinai settlement of Yamit when Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1982. He says, "When we were thrown out of Yamit, me and my wife and eldest daughter, we left in a walking crusade to Jerusalem with the national flag from Yamit to Jerusalem."
He was approached at that time by an aide of then-Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon about creating a settlement in Gaza. After being shown several possibilities, he chose this site now called Alei Sinai in the Northern Gaza strip within sight of the Mediterranean.
Avi has mixed feelings about resettlement. He says, "I was shown all kinds of possibilities for a new settlement. They showed me Nissanit, there was nothing at that time here, nothing -- just trees. I was shown Alei Sinai, Dugit, and even further south. All these places which are state land. I saw it in the maps in Tel Aviv. And then I came here with the people from the army to see what I already saw in the maps."
He was the first to build in this settlement. And eventually it grew to over 1500 people. He claims this land was never occupied by the Palestinians and was part of a United Nations mandate since the time of British and Ottoman rule.
Avi adds, "Before Oslo, we lived together, Jews and Arabs, as neighbors in peace."
Avi and some of his Israeli neighbors say they will not leave, even if they face being forcibly removed. "We remain here. If Israel wants to leave, let her leave," he said.
Like many settlers, Avi feels his basic human rights are being violated. And some have even gone as far as to use the term "ethnic cleansing." "You have to look at our basic human rights, set by the philosophers Hobbes, Rousseau, Descartes, and others," says Avi. "It's the right to property. We have property here. We were uprooted from the Arab countries. A million Jews were expelled from Tripoli in Libya."
Recently Israeli troops began practicing forced removal of settlers from their homes. Up to 50,000 troops and police will be involved in the operation, with 14,000 directly involved in removal.