On-Camera Protests Mask Off-Camera Tears

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Kfar Darom, Gaza Strip (CNSNews.com) - As the international media focused its attention on the standoff between Israeli security forces and hundreds of young people at the synagogue in Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip, another sad drama was quietly playing out at the homes of the community's residents, mostly behind the scenes.

On Thursday, the second day of evacuations under the disengagement plan, thousands of soldiers flooded the community of some 70 families and began to remove residents from their homes. Just days before, Kfar Darom residents had refused to packing, insisting they would not be leaving their homes.

But by the end of Thursday, many of them had been removed from the community, the army said.

Along the quiet, green alleys, groups of soldiers and police knocked on doors of homes, slowly leading people out.

Most of the residents insisted on being carried out of their homes as a sign that they were not leaving of their own free will but were being forced to leave the community that many have called home for 16 years.

Security forces waited patiently outside for the families to prepare themselves, entered in small groups to escort or carry each member out separately, and sometimes helped by carrying luggage, too.

A young couple, Naara and Guy Stashefski, long-time residents of the community, were carried from their home.

Guy, a medic, was wearing his Magen David Adom (Red Star of David -- Israel's equivalent of the Red Cross) jacket. "It's my house, it's my house," he cried as four soldiers carefully and slowly carried him from his home holding him under his knees and arms.

A pregnant woman also was carried out. "Where is your heart?" she asked the female soldiers who carried her away.

Another young woman who left the Stashefski's house cried and carried a prayer book, then collapsed to her knees after taking a few steps and had to be carried away. Naara's father also was carried away by soldiers.

Soldiers stood guard outside each evacuated home to prevent re-entry.

But that didn't stop one woman from trying. She pushed past a soldier, stood inside the entryway of the house, made a phone call, then disappeared into the house to collect a few items she had forgotten.

She emerged a few minutes later, locked the door and left -- as reinforcements arrived to make sure she was not re-occupying the home she'll never see again.

Rabbis sent to comfort

Soldiers and police were specially trained to implement the disengagement, which officials said had gone much more quickly than they had anticipated.

In Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom, security forces demonstrated restraint and patience, not only with residents, but also with demonstrators, many from outside the community, who delivered a fair amount of verbal abuse.

Over the last two weeks, several rabbis came to stay in Kfar Darom to comfort and to strengthen the people, said Rabbi Aaron Eisenthal. He and Rabbi Avraham Shiller, both from the Golan Heights, circulated in the community on Thursday, acting as intermediaries.

"They (the government) step on them (the residents) and then throw them out," said Eisenthal of the overall situation. "No one is helping them (the residents) or supporting them. They are only telling them they have to leave and that's it."

According to Eisenthal, sometimes the soldiers acted with sensitivity and sometimes they didn't. "It depends on the commanding officer," he said.

Shiller agreed: One time, he said, soldiers entered the house of a terror victim -- a woman whose husband had been killed in a terror attack -- and didn't even know who they were dealing with.

Kfar Darom, which lies several miles off the main road into the Gush Katif, suffered a number of terror attacks. Hannah Barat, a mother of 12, was paralyzed in a shooting attack.

"Even if they succeed in pulling us out of our homes, we have won," she said earlier this week.

Gavriel Biton, the father of Eliashiv Biton, 16, and six other children, was killed by a roadside bomb that detonated near a bus carrying children and teachers to school in November 2000.

Eliashiv, his arm around the shoulder of his friend Moshe, walked weeping through the crowds of soldiers and reporters gathered at the synagogue standoff on Thursday.

"We won't leave here so fast," he said of the protestors in the synagogue. "My father died here... We want to stay together. They won't break us."

Across the street from the synagogue, children peered out the upstairs window of the Cohen family's home. Three of the Cohen children lost legs or parts of their legs in the terrorist attack that killed Eliashiv's father.

"They were doing fine until this tragedy," said Dr. Peretz Cohen of Jerusalem, of the Cohen children. (He is not related to the family.)

Dr. Cohen was sent to the settlement two weeks ago by one of Israel's health funds to be the community's doctor because residents of Kfar Darom were no longer permitted to travel to the clinic in Neve Dekalim due to restrictions imposed ahead of the disengagement.

"It's surreal. How did we get to this place?" he asked, standing on the sidelines of the synagogue standoff. Cohen said he was at the Sinai settlement of Yamit, from which Israel withdrew years ago, following a peace treaty with Egypt in the early 1980s.

"It's sad to see this again," he said, "even if it's not the same. It's not the last time."

After hours of watching protesters, the latter undeterred by the hot sun, an Israeli police anti-terror squad swarmed into the synagogue where the most militant anti-disengagement protestors had barricaded themselves.

One hundred and sixty protestors were arrested, officials said, and 31 policemen and soldiers were lightly injured in the melee, as protestors threw paint, dirt and acid at the forces.

By Friday, 11 of the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank had been completely evacuated. Another six were emptied of residents, but military sources said they believed that anti-disengagement protestors could be hiding out in some of them.

On Friday, the army was evacuating the settlement of Gadid. Security forces will suspend their evacuation operations on Friday afternoon, take a break for the Sabbath, and resume work on Sunday.

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