Gaza Settlers Divided as Pullout Looms

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As Israel prepares for next month's withdrawal from Gaza, some Jewish settlers continue to insist that they won't leave. But others are resigned that they will have to give up their homes.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon this week declared the Jewish settlements in Gaza a closed military zone, meaning only residents can enter without permits. Israeli officials said this move is designed to prevent an influx of protesters vowing to resist Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, which begins next month. While some settlers in Gaza insist the pullback won't happen, others are preparing to leave their homes. NPR's Linda Gradstein visited three settlements in Gaza and filed this report.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

The closure on the Jewish settlements in Gaza rocketed Avi Farham back to 1982 when he was the mayor of the Jewish settlement of Yamit evacuated by Israel as part of the peace treaty with Egypt. Farham refused to leave his home in April of that year, and Israeli soldiers came to evict him and his family.

Mr. AVI FARHAM (Former Mayor of Yamit): (Through Translator) The soldiers saw my three daughters there who were 12, 10 and seven. It was a very, very different thing for the soldiers to see children standing there in their own home and to be given the order to move those children--it was very difficult for them.

GRADSTEIN: Farham said the soldiers refused to obey the order, and in the end, the commander himself was forced to carry out the eviction. Today, Farham's daughters, two of whom live with him in the Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai, have children who were their age during the evacuation of Yamit. Farham, now in his mid-50s, has built a house on the beach on the northern Gaza Strip. He says he can't believe the government plans to evict him again. He's made no preparations to leave and says he doesn't intend to. And he hopes that a mass refusal by Israeli police and soldiers will make the Gaza pullout impossible.

On the surface, life in the Jewish settlements in Gaza looks normal. A luncheonette in the largest Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim is crowded with patrons, some locals and some with army permits who have come to Gaza to show solidarity. American-born Rachel Saperstein has just published a book about the difficulties of life in Gaza. She moved here eight years ago from Jerusalem to help settle part of what she describes as the land of Israel. Her husband was wounded in a terrorist attack a few years ago. Like Farham, Saperstein, too, believes the withdrawal will somehow be canceled.

Ms. RACHEL SAPERSTEIN (Author): There is a huge amount of anxiety. There's a terrible sense of depression. It breaks my heart to see men, Israeli men who put their lives on the line for Israel, to see them crying.

GRADSTEIN: In the settlement of Ganatal(ph), Asoff(ph) and Braka Asiss(ph) have already begun dismantling their greenhouses where they grow geraniums for export. They've already applied for government compensation and have been given an empty plot of land outside the nearby town of Ashkelon to build new greenhouses. Braka and Asoff moved to Ganatal 21 years ago. They've raised their four children here, and she says it's hard to leave.

Ms. BRAKA ASISS (Jewish Settler): It is an end of a period of my young life. And then the other thing will be another thing and it will be very different.

GRADSTEIN: Asoff shakes his head sadly at his wife's words. He doesn't want to talk or even think about the future. And like many here in Gaza, just a month before the withdrawal is set to begin, he still hopes God will intervene to stop it. At the same time, he says, he hopes to start building his new greenhouses outside Gaza next week. Linda Gradstein, NPR News.

SIMON: And it's 18 minutes past the hour.

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