- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sought to heal a rift with Jewish settlers in an emotional televised address, as praying settlers rebuffed Israeli police who tried to serve eviction notices at the largest settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Sharon insisted again that holding onto Gaza is untenable for Israel, but recognized the “pain and tears” of the settlers. He added that the burden would fall on the Palestinians to show whether they would encourage peace or war.

The landmark withdrawal from the Gaza Strip “has caused bitter hatred between brothers and severe statements and actions,” he said.

“I understand the feelings, the pain and the tears of those who object. However, we are one nation even when fighting and arguing.”

The dispute was in full evidence yesterday as hundreds of opponents of the disengagement at Neve Dekalim locked the front gate and flooded in behind the metal barrier, carrying Torah scrolls and dancing in large circles.

As a column of police officers in black jumpsuits marched past the main entry to form a cordon outside, young activists heckled the security force and sang Israel’s national anthem. Several hours passed before settler leaders announced they had reached an agreement with police to refrain from entering the settlement to serve the papers.

“What we are seeing is the steadfastness of a public that still believes that through prayer we can nullify the decree,” said Lior Kalfa, the head of the Neve Dekalim council. “There is nothing more symbolic than morning prayer at the gates.”

The accord merely postponed the inevitable confrontation between settlers and police. A police spokeswoman said that the eviction notices were a mere formality and that security forces had no intention of clashing with the residents.

“We didn’t come to do something in force. This isn’t a day of evacuation; it’s a day of reconciliation,” said spokeswoman Shira Lieberman.

The police were rebuffed in several other settlements, but succeeded in entering Morag, an isolated enclave known for the ideological fervor of the residents.

Israeli television showed footage of a male settler rending his shirt while his wife tore up the eviction notice, saying, “This is what we think of you.” The Israeli military officer who served the papers bowed his head in recognition.

At Neve Dekalim, hundreds of youths blocked soldiers from entering the settlement from another entrance, shouting insults as well as appeals to the military personnel to disobey their orders.

Addressing the settlers directly, Mr. Sharon in his speech called the Gaza settlements a “glorious period” in Israel’s history that was about to come to a close. He promised not to abandon the evacuees and said the people of the country were proud of the 8,500 settlers who will be evicted.

But in Neve Dekalim, the appeal sounded disingenuous at the Yifrach household as belongings were packed into boxes.

“What beautiful words. What a rosy future we have,” Shoshi Yifrach said sarcastically. “It only annoys me that the words were so beautiful.”

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