Though Some May Resist, Gaza Settlers Are Packing Up

On Aug. 15, it will be illegal for the 9,000 Israelis in settlements in the Gaza Strip to stay

New York Times

August 2, 2005

RAFIAH YAM, Gaza Strip, July 31 - Kobi Hadad is beginning to pack up, with the help of his son, Lior, sent home from the Israeli Army for that purpose. Mr. Hadad, a founder of this agricultural settlement of 27 families on the dunes at the southern tip of Gaza, says he has grown more emotional: he understands that the end of this long chapter of his life is coming, and soon.

On Aug. 15, it will be illegal for the 9,000 or so Israelis in settlements in the Gaza Strip to stay. Some already have left. Soldiers will go from house to house asking the others to leave, and some will do so. On Aug. 17, the army and the police will begin to pull the remaining settlers out of Gaza, forcibly if necessary, and then destroy their homes.

Kobi and Yaffa Hadad will wait until the soldiers come to their door. "It's our protest," he said. "We want the people of Israel and the government to know that we're not going voluntarily, that this was forced on us. We won't lift a hand against any soldier, and we'll try to prevent anyone else from doing that. We'll obey the law, even if it doesn't smell very democratic."

But the Hadads and the other families of this settlement, Rafiah Yam, still do not know where they will go. Negotiations for everyone in the settlement to move together to an agricultural kibbutz near Haifa have stalled because of Israeli government opposition, which puzzles and angers Mr. Hadad.

The government says that the land at the kibbutz, Neve Yam, is worth too much money compared with the land here, and that the kibbutz, founded in 1939, has large debts. Mr. Hadad is not sure why any of that is the government's business.

Rebecca Ohana of Neve Yam said: "We're happy to take them as members. But the government says no, and I think they're doing a bad job for them and for us."

The government says it has offered other housing, but Mr. Hadad, 45, said it was next to a road and would not allow him to farm and earn a living.

He says he is depressed. "I'm not sleeping well - I'm beside myself," he said, his eyes bloodshot. He is smoking a lot, and this man, who is a security officer for his settlement and always carries his M-16 and a pistol, says he breaks down at odd moments. He described standing at a checkpoint last week with his Palestinian workers. The soldiers were playing the radio, and a famous song by Arik Einstein came on, called "Mother Earth."

"Under my sunglasses, I couldn't help it, in front of my workers, I started to cry," he said quietly, embarrassed. "It's a song that tears at me."

In another Gaza settlement of 80 families, Netzer Hazani, Sam and Bryna Hilburg keep up their large orange house and their lawn and garden. Mr. Hilburg, 55, is going to a gym three times a week - he is paid up for the whole year, he said - and the Hilburgs, too, have children sent home from the army to help. But they have no intention of leaving until the police and soldiers come to take them away.

Nor do they know where they will go, except that it will not be to the West Bank. "We've had our share of being pioneers," he said. "We built this from nothing 26 years ago."

But the Hilburgs seem a little bit relieved, too, though they do not admit it. They have come to understand that their life here - where they came in 1979 and raised six children, and where their son, Yochanan, a navy commando who was killed on a 1997 mission in Lebanon, is buried - is coming to an end.

"We feel more like it's happening," Mr. Hilburg said. "We can see the army doing all its preparations, but the army seems to be the only organization prepared for this. None of the civilian agencies really seems ready."

The 80 families here have grown to 100 since the announcement that the settlers would have to leave, he said proudly, as others from Israel have moved here out of solidarity. But then he admitted that at least 19 of the 80 families had come to terms with the government, which asserts that half of the families in Gaza have quietly filed compensation claims.

Mr. Hilburg does not blame them. "Everyone has to find their own way of solving the problem," he said. "But the rest of us all want to go together. And more than half of us will be here when the soldiers come, if they do come."

Neither he nor Mr. Hadad expects a revolution from a demonstration planned for Tuesday, which the Yesha Council, the main settlers' organization, has called to try to bring thousands of Israelis to try to march to Gaza, which is now a closed military zone. The army and the police are sending thousands of their members to prevent the demonstrators from entering the zone.

Bryna Hilburg described going through the new checkpoints the army has set up, allowing only Gaza residents to pass - like the checkpoints Palestinians often must pass. "I find it very degrading," she said, "and then I come home and see it all looks so permanent, and I tell myself that what I've just been through can't possibly be."

She stopped, sighed and said quietly: "Whatever will be will be. If I have to show my ID card, I'll do it. If they come to rip me out of my house, I'll be ripped out of my house. This is my home. This is where I am, where I feel I am. We're not choosing to leave. We're being thrown out."

There's a lot of sadness, she said, and she sees her friends gaining weight. "There is a certain amount of depression," she said. "When the rug's pulled from under your feet, it's hard to keep your balance."

Mr. Hadad has moved his mare, Dana, out of Gaza. He drove behind the horse carrier until it left the zone. As he stopped, he said, he heard the horse begin to scream. "I heard her scream for 15 minutes," he said. "I hear her screaming still. It echoes inside me like my own scream, which I can't allow myself to do."