Correction to This Article
An Aug. 23 article incorrectly said that Bar-Ilan University is in the West Bank. The school has a branch there, but the main campus is in Israel.

After 38 Years, Gaza Settlers Gone

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

NETZARIM, Gaza Strip, Aug. 23 -- After the final prayer service inside a synagogue here, the Israeli military evacuated the last of the Jewish settlements in Gaza Monday as hundreds of residents poured into streets and moved slowly through the neighborhood under a blazing sun, shuffling, chanting and carrying aloft ornate Torah scrolls and a large menorah that once stood on the synagogue's roof.

Israeli troops encountered no resistance as they guided the settlement's roughly 120 families onto tour buses for a trip to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. The members of the last community to leave Gaza will live temporarily in a college dormitory in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

"I am not desolate, I am not without hope," said Shlomit Ziv, 35, a middle school teacher who had been rearing eight children here. "The eternal people, the Jewish people, have gone through very, very bad times. But we're here now with a state, a beautiful state that sometimes makes mistakes."

Netzarim's evacuation concluded the most difficult phase of Israel's withdrawal from 21 Gaza settlements. Speaking to reporters, Maj. Dan Harel, head of Israel's Southern Command, said: "Right now there are no Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. The only Israeli citizens are the security forces."

At dawn Tuesday at the remote small hilltop settlement of Sanur in the West Bank, which was already abandoned by its residents, 6,000 Israeli police and soldiers moved in with what commanders described as overwhelming force to eject hundreds of protesters.

Israeli forces initially faced less resistance than anticipated. One protester using a bullhorn urged soldiers not to carry out their orders, while others occupied the settlement's synagogue.

Israel officers warned that they would be more aggressive than in the Gaza evacuations because Sanur was entirely occupied by protesters who had gathered to make a stand against Israeli security forces.

"We want to finish it as soon as possible," said army Maj. Ran Zur, a company commander whose battalion had faced the toughest resistance last week from Gaza settlers.

"These are not people from here," said army Lt Gregory Asmolov. "They just came to protest. Some of them are even criminals."

In Gaza, the operation progressed swiftly after its first day, and for the most part peacefully. Israeli soldiers will likely remain inside the settlements for another five weeks, dismantling houses, military installations and other remnants of a nearly four-decade presence. The Palestinian Authority will then take control of the land, about 20 percent of Gaza's territory.

The withdrawal brought into sharp focus the deep ideological differences between Israel's national religious movement, whose adherents believe settling the territories is a religious imperative, and more secular political parties that have come to view Israel's presence there as a threat to security and the viability of its Jewish majority.

Officials said 1,500 Israelis, most of them from the West Bank, sneaked into Gaza in recent weeks to serve as the foot soldiers of the resistance. In the coming days, Israeli soldiers intend to round up anyone who may be hiding inside the evacuated settlements.

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