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Israel Has Few Assurances for Gaza Settlers

As Pullout Nears, Relocation Plans Remain Unclear

By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 13, 2005; Page A11

NETZER HAZANI, Gaza Strip -- Three months before Israel is scheduled to evacuate all 8,200 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, the government does not know where it will relocate the families, according to Israeli, Palestinian and settlement officials.

It has processed financial compensation papers for just one family, the officials said, and has conducted only one substantive meeting with Jewish settlers on the planned withdrawal.


Moshe Reuven and his son, Aviram, on their porch in a Gaza settlement. "The government has decided to uproot people from their houses, but has not given an answer on how, or where, we'll live afterwards," Reuven said. (Molly Moore -- The Washington Post)

"This is what is shocking about this whole situation," said Moshe Reuven, 49, a greenhouse farmer who participated in the settlers' first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week. "The government has decided to uproot people from their houses but has not given an answer on how, or where, we'll live afterwards."

As the planned summertime removal of settlers from all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small settlements in the West Bank nears, settlers and the government are entangled in a chaotic and emotional scramble that is hardening animosities among settlers and setting government agencies in conflict with one another.

For months, settlers refused to discuss their future with government officials, hoping Sharon's disengagement plan, as it is called, would be derailed. Sharon and the Knesset, the country's parliament, set a summer pullout so the school year would not be disrupted for thousands of children. But the Israeli Education Ministry is continuing to register students for classes in Gaza settlement schools next fall.

"We have not gotten any instructions as to the date of the withdrawal -- when, and if it will take place," said Michal Zadoki, a ministry spokesman. "So we are continuing as usual, until we receive new instructions."

This month, some settlement leaders broke ranks with their regional governing council and met with Sharon, asking him to expedite decisions about where the Gaza settlers would be moved. Other settlement groups, driven by ideology or the desire for greater compensation, continue to refuse to talk with authorities.

Israeli officials said they hoped the vast majority of settlers would leave on their own by July 20, after which anyone remaining would be forcibly evicted. An Israeli security official said that about 15,000 Israeli police and soldiers, many of whom are undergoing special training, would participate in the evictions, which are expected to take about a month.

Yet the government does not know where it will relocate the settlers or their expansive greenhouses, which provide one of the primary livelihoods for residents of Gaza settlements. The government has run out of time to prepare permanent housing and must look for temporary accommodations, such as mobile homes, according to settlers and government officials.

"We don't know where to go or what will happen the day after," said Debbie Rosen, a mother of six and a spokeswoman for the Gaza settlers' governing body, the Hof Azza Regional Council, which opposes the disengagement plan and any discussion with the government over the settlers' future. "We're going to fight to the last minute."

Others express relief about the prospect of leaving settlements that have been the target of hundreds of shooting, mortar and rocket attacks during the 4 1/2-year Palestinian uprising.

"It's not the end of the world," said Dvora Zigdon, 43, a mother of seven children ranging in age from 4 to 25. "I came here expecting it to be [a resort] with villas. But I've been wanting to leave since the intifada began."

She and her husband plan to find an apartment outside the Gaza Strip near Sderot, where her husband commutes to work every day as headmaster of a religious school. "I have responsibility for my children," she said. "Those who don't make plans -- it's not responsible towards your family."

Lawmakers approved Sharon's annual budget, which included funds for the disengagement, at the end of March. Until then, many settlers had held out hope that the withdrawal plan would be killed.


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