Monday, August 15, 2005

Israel Begins Pulling Jewish Settlers Out of Gaza

Today, 40,000 members of the Israeli military and police delivered evacuation orders to the 9,000 radical Jewish settlers [right] who live in the Gaza Strip and successfully oversaw the evacuation of Ganim and Kadim, two settlements located in the northern Occupied West Bank. In northern Gaza, the majority of settlers have agreed to leave by midnight on Tuesday, with an ultra-radical fringe refusing to leave voluntarily. Settlers residing in Gaza's ultra-radical settlements, such as Neve Dekalim, today resisted Israeli soldiers and police who were attempting to deliver evacuation orders. Settlers used physical force and barricades in their efforts to halt the inevitable. Religious fundamentalist settler factions prayed for God to prevent the evacuation of Gaza, to no avail.

Settlers have two days to leave of their own volition, after which force will be used to remove them and they will then stand to lose up to one-third of their government-funded compensation package (of which a large part will be drawn from monies provided by the United States, to the tune of several billion dollars.)

Israeli Jewish settlers, many of whom also hold American citizenship, are dominated by radical ideologues [right] who believe that God gave all of present-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip to the Jews. This notion of Eretz Yisrael or "Greater Israel" also includes portions of present-day Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. Radical religious settlers believe that under no circumstances can any land be traded for peace and that the Palestinian Arabs should be forcibly expelled or exterminated, should they refuse to leave.

To view an excellent episode of PBS' Frontline that covers the radical Israeli settler movement (Israel's Next War?) and to see in-depth Interactive coverage, see:

In a speech to the Israeli public on Monday night, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon [left], the longtime champion of continued illegal Jewish settlement activity in Gaza and the West Bank, presented his case: "It is no secret that I, like many others, believed and hoped that we would be able to hold onto Netzarim and Kfar Darom forever, The changing reality in the country, the region, and the world required a different assessment and a change in [my] position...This act is essential for Israel. Believe me, the pain I feel with this act is the full realisation that we must do it," Sharon said. "We cannot hold onto Gaza forever, more than a milion Palestinians live there... crowded in refugee camps, poverty and hotbeds of hatred with no hope on the horizon..."

Sharon vowed to use the "harshest response ever" against Palestinian militants, should they decide to attack settlers or the Israeli military and police forces. "The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will redeploy in defensive lines behind the security fence. Those [Palestinians] who continue to fight us will be met by the IDF and the security forces in their full force. The world is waiting for the Palestinian response-a hand stretched out to peace or the fire of terror. To an outstretched hand we will respond with an olive branch."

For more on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech, see:

Approximately one thousand radical settlers and their supporters planned to march toward the Gaza Strip today in protest of the impending withdrawal. The Yesha Council of Settlements, the major representative body for West Bank and Gaza settlers, planned a massive demonstration today in Jerusalem today to protest the withdrawal. However, only a few hundred people showed up, a drastic decline from the estimated 100,000 that gathered in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago and the tens of thousands that prayed at the Western Wall recently.

For more on the response of Israel's radical right to the Gaza withdrawal, see:

Today, 100 Jewish extremists attempted to storm Jerusalem's Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, the site of the ancient Jewish Temple and currently the location of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest sites. It is believed that the radicals hoped to ignite violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, in a bid to disrupt or even halt the Gaza withdrawal with violence. Israeli police dispersed them before they could enter the Haram, arresting one person.

For its part, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) of President Mahmoud Abbas has deployed 7,500 police to prevent militants from attacking Jewish settlers, soldiers, and police. A rejuvenated HAMAS [right] has vowed to continue fighting against Israel, even after the Gaza withdrawal is completed. However, at the moment, the militant organization seems to be more focused on maintaining its strong base of support in Gaza City and throughout the Gaza Strip.

For more on HAMAS' public statements about the state of its after operations after the Gaza withdrawal, see:

The U.S. government has said that it is cautiously optimistic about the chances for a renewed peace process after the Gaza withdrawal is completed.

For more on the U.S. government's views on the chances for new peace talks, see:

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