Leaving Gaza: One Family's Story

Israeli military officials say that by midnight Tuesday, about half of the almost 9,000 settlers in Gaza had left voluntarily. Yehiam and Tzippi Sharabi came to the Gaza settlement of Gadid 23 years ago, and left the area Tuesday.

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Thousands of Israeli police and soldiers moved into Jewish settlements in Gaza today and began forcibly evicting settlers who had refused to leave their homes. In the largest Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim, there were scuffles, and dozens of protesters were arrested. Police say an Israeli woman protester set herself on fire outside the Gaza Strip. She suffered serious burns. Military officials say that by midnight last night, about half of the almost 9,000 settlers in Gaza had left voluntarily. NPR's Linda Gradstein followed one family from the Gaza settlement of Gadid.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

When Yehiam and Tzippii Sharabi came to this agricultural settlement as one of the founding families 23 years ago, the first thing Yehiam did was plant 10 palm trees. Yesterday, he dug up those trees, now more than 10 feet tall, and loaded them onto a flatbed truck as he prepared to leave Gadid for the last time. Yehiam, a wiry man with gray hair and an easy smile, is a farmer who's raised chili peppers here for 20 years. He's not given to displays of emotion, but this time was different.

Mr. YEHIAM SHARABI: (Through Translator) They're throwing me out of my house. It's really hard. You know it's going to come, but when it does, it's still really hard. I can't even talk right now.

GRADSTEIN: The Sharabis have five children ranging in age from 11 to 26. One son, Duron(ph), is a soldier. Like all of the soldiers who live in the Gaza settlements, he was given a furlough both to help his family pack and so he would not have to force his neighbors to leave. Late Monday night, several of the kids went to the beach in Gaza for a last swim. The adults sat outside on the porch reminiscing. At 1 AM, Yehiam decided to make a last barbecue for the kids and their friends. As they eat, there's intermittent gunfire between soldiers and Palestinians. The Sharabis barely notice it; it's become so common. Just the day before, Palestinians fired two mortars at the settlement. One damaged a house, but there were no injuries. The Sharabis don't talk much about their Palestinian neighbors in Khan Yunis just a few miles away. Their anger and frustration at leaving seems focused on the Israeli government, but just before getting in the car to leave, 25-year-old Hela(ph) takes a long wooden beam and breaks all of the windows in the house.

(Soundbite of windows breaking)

GRADSTEIN: Although all of the houses here will be destroyed, she says she needed to just let out her anger. In the afternoon, the 73 families of Gadid held a farewell ceremony in front of the synagogue. Unlike other settlements where there were violent evictions today, the settlers here agreed to leave peacefully. After the speeches, they sang the Israeli national anthem and then a religious song about the coming of the messiah. Many of the residents held each other crying for several minutes.

(Soundbite of crying)

GRADSTEIN: Yehiam then carries the Torah scroll from the synagogue and puts it in his car. His wife Tzippi sits in the back yard for a last few minutes.

Mrs. TZIPPI SHARABI: (Through Translator) We came here with the intention of staying here for the rest of our lives. We never expected that after 23 years anyone would tell us to pack up and build a new life somewhere else. All the significant years of our life we've spent here. We gave birth to our children here, raised them and now we have to leave.

GRADSTEIN: But she says the past 20 years have not been in vain.

Mrs. SHARABI: (Through Translator) We believe that everything comes from God. I think we made an important contribution here in building the land of Israel and adding to the love of the land of Israel and the people of Israel.

GRADSTEIN: The Sharabis then get into their cars and drive slowly out of the settlement. Thirty miles later as the sun sets, the Sharabis arrive in their new home in Nitzan in southern Israel, a town of prefab houses erected over the past few months. As they unload, Yehiam takes out a mortar that landed on one of his greenhouses, a souvenir, he says with a smile. The new house is less than half the size the one they left, but it's temporary, and within two years, using their government compensation, they hope to build a larger house nearby with many of their neighbors from Gadid, but for now, the first thing they do is replant the palm trees.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News.

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