Opponents of Israel's Withdrawal Flow into Gaza
LIANE HANSEN, host:
If all goes according to plan, on August 15th, Israel will begin the process of pulling out of the Gaza Strip. With just more than two weeks remaining before the start of the withdrawal, tent encampments have sprung up in several Jewish settlements in Gaza. The residents are young Israelis, many of them from Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They say they have come to help resist the pullbacks from Gaza, and despite tightened Israeli restrictions on entering the Gaza Strip, their numbers are growing. NPR's Linda Gradstein has the story.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Aderrik Sohn(ph) sits at a picnic table under a large tarp in the Jewish settlement of Shirat Hayam. Along the Gaza beach, there are dozens of green huts with newly poured cement floors. Under the tarp in the center of the camp are refrigerators and cooking facilities. Sohn says she's been here for a week. She came after a three-day protest in southern Israel broke up when the government blocked the protesters from entering Gaza. Despite army roadblocks, she and dozens of others managed to sneak in and now, she says, she's here to stay.
Ms. ADERRIK SOHN: I'm here to say that we care, care about this land. This land is the land that our ...(unintelligible) God gave us, and it is our responsibility to come and to stay in this piece of land.
GRADSTEIN: All around her are teen-agers and families with young children who echo her remarks. Some say they snuck into Gaza hidden under piles of laundry. Others came in on foot, dodging army roadblocks at the nearby Kisufim Junction. Once they get in, they're helped by activists like Naja Matar(ph), a mother of six who moved to Gaza several months ago. All day, Matar fields calls from new arrivals asking for mattresses and others still outside Gaza asking how they can sneak in.
Ms. NAJA MATAR (Activist): (Foreign language spoken)
GRADSTEIN: `It depends on who's at the roadblock,' she tells a young woman on the phone. `If it's police, forget it. But if it's soldiers, sometimes they turn a blind eye. Or,' she adds, `you can try hitchhiking in with a family from here.'
Matar says she's got a warehouse in the largest settlement of Newe Deqalim filled with mattresses, used refrigerators, bottled water and dried food. She says the Israeli army has threatened to cut off supplies to the settlements here after August 15th, but she says they have enough to last as long as necessary.
Nobody knows just how many young people are living in these tent cities. The commander of the Gaza region this week said that 2,000 Israelis have moved into Gaza, either legally or illegally, in the past six months. They join the 8,500 resident settlers. Matar says the number is even higher, as many families are sharing their houses or hosting families in tents in the back yard. She is convinced that thousands of Israelis will manage to reach Gaza in the next few weeks, and they will make the withdrawal impossible.
Ms. MATAR: We are going to win because we have the numbers. We're going to bring those people here and the army, on August 16, will tell Prime Minister Sharon, `We can't do it.' And Prime Minister Sharon will call President Bush on August 16 and say, `President Bush, I tried, but my people do not let me do it. I can't do it. I'm resigning. I'm going back to my farm with my sheep. My people refuse to be my sheep.'
GRADSTEIN: In Matar's seaside back yard, half a dozen teen-agers lounge on couches placed outside under a tarp. They, too, have snuck in over the past few days or weeks. Tomar Kimpli(ph), a pretty, blond 17-year-old, came to Gaza two weeks ago just before the army imposed restrictions. She says the Jewish settlements in Gaza have become almost like a summer camp. What will she do when the army comes in three weeks?
TOMAR KIMPLI: We're going to pray very hard, and we are going to try to stop them.
GRADSTEIN: Kimpli insists there won't be violence from any of the new arrivals in Gaza, but Israeli officials say they're worried because many of these teen-agers feel passionately that the withdrawal is a colossal mistake. A few of the long-term settlers here have threatened to commit suicide rather than be forced to leave their homes. All of this amid 100-degree temperatures makes for a volatile situation. Linda Gradstein, NPR News.
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