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Jewish settlers in Gaza doubt mass defection ahead of retreat (ISRAEL INSIDER) By Israel Insider staff and partners 02/01/05)Source: http://web.israelinsider.com/Articles/Politics/4915.htm ISRAEL INSIDER ISRAEL INSIDER Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Thirty-eight families in two small northern Gaza settlements have signed agreements to move to a village inside Israel, the government said Tuesday, a boost to its contentious Gaza pullout plan -- but at the settlements themselves, residents were wary about talking about their plans.

The families -- 19 families from Nissanit and 19 from Elei Sinai, both close to the Israeli border -- agreed to move a few kilometers (miles) northwards to Bat Hadar, a village next to the city of Ashkelon, the government said in a statement.

Set among the rolling sand dunes near the Mediterranean coastline, the settlements consist of neat single family homes, surrounded by swaying date palms and well kept gardens. Most of the residents say they would stay here if they could.

The 38 families represent a small part of the 8,500 settlers in the 21 Gaza settlements, all of which are to be removed in the summer. Government officials hope it´s the start of a wave, while settler leaders dismiss the announcement as a fabrication.

Though some settlers have organized as a group to press for proper compensation, many feel pressure from their leaders to keep their intentions to leave to themselves. The leadership promises stiff opposition to the evacuation.

At a Jerusalem demonstration on Sunday, about 130,000 settlers -- most from Judea and Samaria [the "West Bank"] -- and their backers pledged to go to Gaza and block the pullout, fearing it would lead to evacuation of some 150 settlements from the West Bank as well.

Elei Sinai resident David Saadon said he was one of the people who had signed the agreement to leave. The pact is a memorandum of understanding, contingent on parliamentary approval of evacuation and compensation.

"We need to be ready for the day after, so we have been acting in a responsible, considered way," he told Israel Radio. "If there is an evacuation, approved by law, then those who think we are acting prematurely will at that point have to start doing what we have been doing."

However, in Nissanit, a community of about 300 families on Gaza´s northern boundary, residents insisted they knew of no one who was planning to leave.

"This is the first I´ve heard of it," said Avinoam Nissim, a 52-year- old caterer who came to the community when it was established in 1984. "If anyone is leaving, I certainly don´t know who they are."

Unlike most of the Jewish settlements in Gaza, Nissanit and Elei Sinai are politically moderate. Many of the residents are secular, and local support for ideological hard-liners is weak.

Residents say that despite frequent mortar fire -- recently blunted by the deployment of Palestinian police in northern Gaza -- they still don´t want to abandon the settlements.

"We want to stay here," said Valeria Moasael, a 36-year old immigrant from Argentina. "We´ll leave if we have no choice, but we intend on staying until the very end."

Some settlers claim that reports of the 38 families wanting to leave are part of a deliberate government disinformation campaign aimed at sapping their will.

Elei Sinai resident Avi Farhan told Israel Radio he was skeptical of the news. He said he recalled reading a recent newspaper article that claimed all the settlers in Elei Sinai and Nissanit were preparing to move out.

"Today I hear that number has fallen to 38 (families)," he said. "This is part of the disinformation campaign, psychological warfare, the exploitation of a few families."

Farhan, a well known hard-line political activist in the 1980s, moved to the Gaza settlement from a village in the Sinai desert, destroyed when Israel returned the desert to Egypt in 1982. (© 2001-2005 Koret Communications Ltd. 02/01/05)

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