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Settlers in uproar over Nitzanim plan (JERUSALEM POST) By MATTHEW GUTMAN AND GIL HOFFMAN 02/04/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107400722608 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Revelations by The Jerusalem Post that MK Zvi Hendel helped set up a legal team bidding to win control of prime beachfront real estate in southern Israel, as a safety net for Gaza settlers if they lose the battle against disengagement, sparked mayhem within the settlement leadership Thursday.

The forum that Hendel, the only MK who lives in a Gaza Strip settlement, helped initiate late last year, called the Legal Forum for the State of Israel, is tasked with providing settler activists with speedy legal counsel in case they are arrested resisting disengagement. It is also lobbying the government to "copy" several Gush Katif settlements, if the pullout goes ahead, along the Nitzanim Beach, a stretch of pristine land between Ashdod and Ashkelon.

The effort to secure such a territorial safety net inside Israel threatens to split the anti-disengagement movement between National Union MK Hendel´s "pragmatic camp," prepared to contemplate the unpalatable consequence of losing the battle for Gaza, and hard- liners who view any discussion of leaving the Strip as surrender.

A night after two prominent officials of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip – Hof Aza Regional Council head Avner Shimoni and council spokesperson Emily Amrusi – told the Post that they likened the forum´s efforts to taking out an insurance policy, council stalwart Pinchas Wallerstein slammed the Gush Katif-to-Nitzanim notion.

"From my point of view," Wallerstein told the , "we cannot cooperate with any element that discusses the issue of cooperating in the transfer of Jews to different locations, before a national referendum takes place. It would mean cooperating with the transfer of Jews from their homes."

Wallerstein stressed that the council "has nothing to do with this legal forum."

On Wednesday evening, Shimoni had said that while "we continue to fight for Gush Katif... who says the government should be allowed to cripple us and then rob us too?" Shimoni declined to be interviewed on Thursday.

Hendel, a resident of the Ganei Tal settlement, told the Post earlier this week that "yes, I am for Gush Katif. But if we lose this struggle, we need to do something to ensure that we stay a community on the day after [the disengagement]." On Thursday night, however, Hendel backpedaled. "There is a limit to the hutzpa, psychological warfare, manipulations and lies," he said in a statement. "I am prepared to stand up to the test, and even if I will be offered a billion shekels, I will stay forever in Gush Katif."

Ironically, as Hendel distanced himself from the forum´s bid for Nitzanim, some Gush Katif settlers said the plan to relocate en masse if disengagement could not be thwarted might be the best way to reduce the psychological trauma, keep communities whole and ensure an appropriate alternative place to live.

Ita Frieman, the 55-year-old daughter of Holocaust victims who was the first to don the Orange Star of David badge and sparked a firestorm in Israel by linking the plight of the settlers to Jews in World War II Europe, told the Post that she would "struggle until the end" to stay in Gaza. But if the fight were lost, she wanted to be sure she´d have somewhere adequate to go. And so, she said, the settlers should "fight against the disengagement as if there is no Nitzanim and fight to get to Nitzanim as if there is no anti- disengagement campaign."

Datia Yitzhaki of Neveh Dekalim said that the residents of Gush Katif "are afraid for our future." While she, too, was determined to stay put, she said that if disengagement prevailed, "we need to know that there are solutions for the day after."

The Legal Forum, which consists of some 100 lawyers, working pro- bono, is also trying to ensure that the government´s Evacuation- Compensation Bill, set to go before the Knesset next week, does not unnecessarily harm the settlers. The forum was first assembled four months ago, when its secretary-general, Nehi Eyal of the Tekuma faction – the faction of Hendel and fellow settler MK Uri Ariel – called a meeting of prospective lawyers.

"Today we are not beholden to any single party," Yitzhak Meron, one of the lawyers lobbying for Nitzanim, told the Post on Thursday, adding that the forum´s primary goal at the outset was to "stop disengagement."

But he and the other lawyers realized, he said, that it was "just as important that the settlers are not robbed of their rights, which is to live in respectable circumstances after the disengagement."

On the right flank of the anti-disengagement camp, one leading activist called on Hendel to quit his Knesset post for intimating that settlers were willing to consider living anywhere other than the Gaza Strip.

Tzion Ohayon, a settlement activist from Kfar Darom, called the very consideration of Nitzanim beach as a potential home "a very grave move. I want to note that we are not at all connected to any such move, which so harms our struggle. With all due respect to everyone else, we can handle these dialogues and talks later. Now is the time to struggle against the disengagement."

Ohayon said he saw a schism forming between the more ideological settlers and some in the settler establishment´s anti-disengagement campaign, affiliated with the Hof Aza Regional Council. "They seem willing to roll over. We are not," he said. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 02/04/05)

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