Under Fire, Israeli Settlers Say They Won't Leave Gaza

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Neve Dekalim, Gaza Strip (CNSNews.com) - Residents of this Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip say they are continuing their daily routine despite mortar attacks from nearby Palestinian Authority-controlled areas and what appears to be the absence of a solution to the problem.

Over the past two months, more than 140 mortar shells have been fired at the 17 Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip - most in the last several weeks - causing considerable damage and several injuries.

Dozens of Palestinians have been injured in Israeli retaliatory shelling of Gaza areas under PA control.

The international community has called on Israel to stop any expansion of its communities located in disputed territories, with the eventual aim of uprooting and evacuating them all together.

'Settlements not the problem'

But Jewish residents there say they expect to stay. From their point of view, settlements are not the problem.

Pointing to the neat houses and gardens, Yitzhak Elya, deputy head of the regional council, said it was clear people were investing money and effort in their homes. That's a sign they believe they will stay on, he added.

Neve Dekalim (a beautiful place of palm trees) is a vibrant community, similar in style, vegetation and climate to towns in south Florida. From some points in the community it's possible to see the Mediterranean Sea, a short distance away.

"I'm not afraid," said Shaul Yitzhaki who works in a small restaurant. "The situation changes from day to day but not just here but in all the land [of Israel]."

Elya, whose front porch was hit by a mortar shell earlier this week, said the real issue was not the settlements, but the existence of Israel.

If Israel actually had a "partner for peace," perhaps compromises could be made regarding the removal of some of the communities. But in reality, the Palestinians don't want Israelis in Gaza, or in any other part of Israel-proper either, he claimed.

"Therefore it doesn't matter if there are settlements."

Elya's wife still doesn't know why she decided to walk to the back yard of her home rather than enter through the front door when she arrived home on Tuesday. As she did so, a mortar shell landed at the doorway.

The couple became grandparents on Wednesday, Elya said, adding that they wouldn't have been celebrating if she had tried to enter the front door the previous day.

After the mortars fell, the Israeli army fired at the source of the attack. In that counter-attack, a four-month-old Palestinian baby was killed by shrapnel.

Debbie Rosen, a Neve Dekalim resident who moved to the area from Jerusalem 16 years ago said she, her husband and their six children have no intention of packing up and leaving.

"We've raised a new generation now. This is their home," she said.

One of her daughters' teachers was killed in a terrorist attack on a school bus several months ago. Rosen said that the loss had been a severe shock, but had not deterred them.

'Children are used to terror'

"Unfortunately, [the children] are used to terror here. They have lost their innocence," she said. They have even learned to recognize the sounds of war and can discern what kind of fighting is going on."

Oddly enough, despite the mortar fire and retaliatory attacks, Rosen said, the communities still have good relations with their Arab neighbors. Some 1,500 Palestinians enter the Jewish areas every day to work in the greenhouses and farmlands.

Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt in 1967. At the time it was one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Nevertheless, there were some 10,000 acres of sandy, undeveloped land along the Mediterranean Sea known as the Gush Katif.

Elya said the Palestinians shunned Gush Katif because they considered the sand dunes useless for farming, said Elya. Today, the Israeli settlements there produce agricultural produce for export, in specially insulated greenhouses.

Despite a positive attitude, the Israeli settlers are not optimistic that a solution to the crisis with the Palestinians will be found any time soon.

Rosen said she doesn't feel good about the situation and doesn't see any solution to it.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who visited the area on Wednesday, offered an unusual suggestion when asked what would do to better protect the settlements.

"I'm going to pray," Ben-Eliezer replied.