- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

JERUSALEM — Above a banner picture of stern-faced Israeli soldiers marching on Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, the mass-circulation daily Ma’ariv threw in a slogan to rally readers: “We’ll get through this together.”

That was news to Israelis for whom the media-saturated forced evacuation from the Gaza Strip seemed a distant development — eliciting sympathy, perhaps, but little sense of solidarity.

“It’s like we live in different worlds, Tel Aviv versus Gush Katif,” lawyer Dedi Cohen said in reference to the main Gaza settlement bloc and the scene of often violent confrontations between die-hard settlers and the security forces who came to remove them.

“Over here, we are living our lives as usual, while the Gaza settlers see themselves as fighting for their lives. With all due respect, I think this withdrawal was inevitable, the only sane thing to do,” said Mr. Cohen, a Tel Aviv resident.

The first evacuation of settlements on land that Palestinians want for a state might have been a dramatic moment for Israel, but at the height of the operation, its commercial television channels switched from live coverage to daily soap operas.

There was no sign of the massive traffic disruption that opponents of the pullout had long threatened. As security forces and settlers scuffled in the Gaza heat, it was another day at the beach in Tel Aviv.

Israelis continued to line up at Ben Gurion International Airport for the annual summer exodus to vacation spots abroad.

Polls show a narrow majority of Israelis support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s vision of “disengaging” from conflict with the Palestinians by leaving the Gaza Strip and a corner of the West Bank, territories occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.

But ultranationalists call the pullout a betrayal of Jewish claims on biblical land and a reward for Palestinian violence.

Nevertheless, images of sorrowful settlers being dragged out of their homes have stirred emotions in a Jewish state, which still clings to the frontier ethos with which it was founded.

“These are people of spirit and faith who, encouraged by the governments of Israel, went to a desert strip, planted a tree and created a blooming garden with their sweat and blood,” the biggest Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said in an editorial.

Yet another Israeli ideal is stronger still: mandatory military service and the belief that troops are above politics. The sight of some settlers cursing and pummeling hapless conscripts has curdled sympathy among many Israelis.

Army veterans often have bitter memories of long stints of dangerous duty in Gaza guarding the settlers.

Oren Naidek, a chemical factory supervisor in the northern city of Haifa, said soldiers should not be on the receiving end of settler violence.

“It’s repugnant,” said Mr. Naidek, who described himself as a “reluctant supporter” of the Gaza withdrawal.

Also tempering the perception of settlers’ trauma is the fact that those evacuated will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in government relocation payouts — a windfall given that their Gaza enclaves were heavily subsidized for decades.

Making light of a plan that has polarized the Jewish state on ideological lines, a pair of radio disc jockeys ran a sketch in which they pretended to be settlers at a supermarket debating what size eggs are best for pelting police evacuation teams.

But a television satire that mocked right-wing activists marching to Gush Katif in a bid to bolster settler resistance was panned as poorly timed and in bad taste.

“It seems that, even for those who are gloating over the evacuation of settlers, watching a parody of their struggle had an uncomfortable vibe,” wrote Ma’ariv reviewer Asaf Schneider.

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