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Israeli Militants Poised to Resettle Gaza After Assault

As Israeli troops fight their way into Gaza, scores of determined settlers are prepared to enter in their wake.
 
 
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Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" is reported to have overwhelming support among the Israeli public, but few are as enthusiastic as the former residents of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. As tens of thousands of Israeli troops descend on Gaza in an apocalyptic frenzy, scores of determined settlers are prepared to enter in their wake. 

The Gaza settlements were dismantled in August 2005 as part of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan. In a single stroke, the Israeli army removed 8,000 people from the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the southwest corner of the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border and from four smaller settlements in northern and central Gaza.  

In spirit, many of the Gaza settlers never left the coveted Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean coast. Despite ample compensation from the Israeli government, many have chosen to live in nearby caravan camps in desert towns between Ashdod and Ashkelon, clustered with families from the same settlement of origin. Most of the settlers didn't pack before they were escorted out of their compounds, not believing that the Israeli government would permanently expel them. Some have posted the road signs identifying their old settlements in their camps.  

The evacuees have reportedly suffered from high rates of divorce, drug abuse and other problem behavior. Imbued with messianic zeal, for the last three-and-a-half years, they have been mobilizing to resettle the land they believe is theirs by divine right.  

Settler activists are counting on their historically strong ties to the Israeli military, with some units composed entirely of settlers, to help in their fight. Indeed, some soldiers and reservists currently in Gaza were there three years ago living in cherished settlement communities. On Monday, an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described the bittersweet reactions of soldiers who had lived in Gaza settlements and are now back in uniform, noting, "Some see it as a first step toward returning to their former homes."  

Earlier this year, Haaretz reported on settlers' plans to follow the Israeli army into Gaza. Boaz Haetzni, a leader of the settler movement, explained, "In our estimation the 'big operation' is only a matter of time; we will follow them in. We will not ask for permission from anyone. The [settlement] groups will be ready ... These core groups will do exactly what the group that re-established Kfar Etzion did after 1967. They will return to the lands where they existed in the past and will rebuild them."  

Kfar Etzion was the first Israeli settlement established in the West Bank after the end of the Six Day War and is now part of a large bloc of settlements connecting Jerusalem to Hebron.  

In August, settlers and their supporters commemorated the third anniversary of the Gaza evacuation at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. The event featured music, prayers, testimonials and updates from volunteers assisting the Gush Katif "refugees." A flyer promoting the event highlighted a biblical passage: "And the threefold cord is not easily broken" (Kohelet 4:12), a reference to the strength of the bond tying the Gush Katif settlers to one another and to the support they receive from the broader community of supporters in Israel and abroad.  

The program was similar to "A Tribute To Hebron," an event held at the Great Synagogue in late December. This event, organized by www.thelandofisrael.com, was a fundraiser for the Beit Hashalom settlers, who were evicted earlier in the month from their illegally occupied house in the heart of Hebron. The night included live music, comedy sketches and a speech by former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon, a prominent leader of the settler movement. 

 
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