Emotions Mixed as Troops Force Gaza Evacuations

Col. Ronan Wolf of the Israeli Defense Forces talks about how the Israeli military is handling the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza Strip. Wolf says that many soldiers have mixed emotions as they interact with settlers on the difficult mission.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Israeli soldiers have been spending this week confronting settlers who don't want to go.

(Soundbite of shouting)

INSKEEP: That's the sound of Gaza settlers shouting at an Israeli general. All this week, we've been hearing different perspectives from Gaza, and this morning, we called an Israeli soldier, Colonel Ronan Wolf(ph). He commands a base camp for thousands of Israeli soldiers and police.

Colonel RONAN WOLF (Israeli Defense Forces): We build a very large tent site near Kibbutzim, it's near Gaza Strip, about 14,000 soldiers and police officers. In Israel terms, it's a very big base. Our main goal in this camp is to give the best conditions to these soldiers.

INSKEEP: What is the atmosphere been like day by day as people have come back from another day of doing this?

Col. WOLF: For the soldiers and for the police officers it's a very difficult mission. So when they come here at about 7:00 or 8:00, they get hot food, very good food and they have a very big canteen and fast food, satellite TV, several service stations, soft drinks, and everything to make their life better after their very difficult mission.

INSKEEP: After your 24 years in the IDF, you must have many acquaintances or friends who are among those who are going out every day.

Col WOLF: Yeah.

INSKEEP: What are some of the stories that you hear?

Col. WOLF: Very difficult to take people from their homes, small children and women, and people that live there in Gaza Strip about 10 years, 20 years, very difficult for them. But we prepared these people mentally, the soldiers are very strong. To this mission, we took senior soldiers, not younger soldiers and officers so the stronger--mentally strong to do this mission.

INSKEEP: What is the key to getting through this mission for your troops to succeed?

Col. WOLF: We let them cry, if they need. We let them hug, give a big hug to the men they take out, but all my soldiers, all the troops make it very, very good, this mission.

INSKEEP: You've been out to look around at some of these settlements as they've been evacuated. Is there a specific scene or a specific moment that you can recall from when you've been out talking to the troops, watching what they're doing that you think some ...(unintelligible).

Col. WOLF: Yes. When they was in Neve Dekalim--it's a big settlement--I saw about maybe 500 soldiers and the police officers with black hats and blue vests, they go very strongly to the main street. And small children call them very, very bad words, and it's like assault against--a stronger power against very weak people. But the other side, this is a mission and we have to do it.

INSKEEP: How did your soldiers respond when they were in the street and being called names by children?

Col. WOLF: They just ignore it. They take their eyes down and they ignore it. But when they have to take someone from his home, when they--some soldiers take women or men from his home, they give him a big hug and they hear the bad words, but they continue to do this mission.

INSKEEP: Do you think it's likely that of those 500 soldiers, there were probably some Israeli troops who more or less agreed with the kids who completely disagreed with this mission but are doing it because it's their duty and their job to do it?

Col. WOLF: Absolutely, yes. Even with--about half of the population support is against this decision. I'm sure that the the army, it's like that.

INSKEEP: We've been speaking with Colonel Ronan Wolf. He's a commander of a camp, a base for Israeli troops engaged in the withdrawal from Gaza.

Colonel, thanks very much.

Col. WOLF: Thank you. Good day.

INSKEEP: And the colonel is one of many voices we're hearing from Gaza this week. You can find a detailed map of the area being evacuated by going to our Web site, npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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