Newcomers Moving to Gaza Ahead of Pullout

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

Gush Katif, Gaza ( - Hundreds of Israelis have been moving into the Gush Katif and other Gaza Strip settlements slated for evacuation this summer. They're hoping that more settlers will make the disengagement plan less likely to happen.

More than 9,000 Israelis are slated for removal from their homes in 21 Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank in July under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan.

The newcomers are not eligible to receive government compensation, however. To receive compensation, settlers had to be living in the targeted communities as of last June.

The army is concerned that a flood of Israelis moving or traveling into the area could make the evacuation process much more difficult. A year ago, there were an estimated 7,800 residents of the Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip. Today the estimates range from 8,500 to 9,000 Israelis.

There has been talk of making the entire Jewish area in the Gaza Strip a closed military zone following the upcoming Passover holiday, thereby preventing any more Israelis from moving into the area.

The army recently ordered the Interior Ministry not to register any more address changes for people moving into areas slated for evacuation, but that has not stopped primarily religious families from moving in anyway.

Knesset member Effi Eitam, a former Housing Minister in Sharon's cabinet and opponent of the disengagement plan, moved his family to the southern Gaza Strip settlement of Netzer Hazani two weeks ago in a show of solidarity with the settlers there.

In front of his small block house is a large, hand-painted sign reading, "Eitam won't move from here." The house is outfitted with only the bare necessities -- cooking equipment, a table and chairs and a cot that doubles as a sofa.

Eitam himself is there only on weekends but his wife Ilit and the youngest of their eight children, a 13-year-old son, are there all the time.

"I have a wonderful house on the Golan Heights," Ilit told Cybercast News Service. "We're not moving here for all our life. We're here to be part of the people, our friends."

Five years ago, amid talk that Israel would return the Golan Heights to Syria, tens of thousand of Israelis went there, virtually foiling any plans to give back the strategic plateau.

Ilit said she wants to show the same kind of support for the people in Gaza, but is nevertheless looking at the situation realistically.

"It will be very stupid of me to say me and my family [can change something]," she said. But she came anyway so Gaza Strip residents won't feel so isolated and to tell them that "the people in the Golan Heights, we are part of you," she said.

On the other hand, she said, "I believe and want to believe -- thousands and thousands of people will come here -- [and] change something in the mind of the government people -- change the decision. If thousands of people are coming together, everything can happen."

Ilit declined to say what action she might take if the evacuation does take place. But she did say that perhaps the newcomers' presence can help cool down the situation. Her husband was among those who worked to convince the security establishment to avoid the use of weapons during the evacuation.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Thursday that he wants to make the disengagement areas gun-free zones, by collecting settlers' weapons prior to the evacuation and preventing police and army from using their weapons.

Lina Gadot, 27, is another newcomer to a Gaza Strip settlement. She has two small children and a third one on the way. Hers was one of eight families that moved to the northern Gaza Strip settlement of Nisanit five months ago, Gadot said.

Because she is pregnant and does not want to subject her children to bad scenes, Gadot said she is not sure that she will be around when the evacuations begin.

"I'm happy I came," said Gadot. "It's very possible that it won't help," she said. "But we wanted to do what we could do and besides this to [encourage] the people."

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