- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

TEL AVIV — Settler activists from illegal hilltop outposts in the West Bank are relocating to Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip to prepare for clashes with security forces when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon orders an evacuation of Israeli citizens there.

The activists, most of whom are in their 20s, already have faced soldiers in the past two years. Several were involved in a scuffle yesterday over the removal of two trailers on a hilltop near the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

The confrontations reflect a gradual radicalization of the settlers and their supporters as they realize that they cannot stop the Gaza Strip disengagement plan through conventional political activism.

Arik Yitzhaki, a Gaza Strip settler organizing a rebellion against the evacuation, said the West Bank activists are familiarizing themselves with the Gaza Strip terrain. The settlers are planning to seal off roads and cut the electricity and telephone lines of Israeli security forces, he said.

“We want to make it clear that it will be impossible physically to carry out the disengagement,” said Mr. Yitzhaki, who added that plans call for tens of thousands of supporters to block the move.

“It’s not only the police that are doing training exercises. We are practicing how to face down the police. It’s going to be a civil rebellion.”

Last weekend, about 4,000 teenagers from the West Bank visited Gaza Strip settlements to familiarize themselves with the area. Mr. Yitzhaki said trailers and tents would be prepared to house the influx of anti-disengagement activists.

Although the mainstream settler leadership is more moderate than Mr. Yitzhaki, who describes his compatriots as the “bad children” of the settler public, the move from political demonstrations to confrontation is felt throughout the community.

The settlers’ umbrella leadership body, the Yesha Council, last month endorsed the use civil disobedience to block the evacuation. The settlers are preparing for hundreds, if not thousands, of their followers to be arrested.

The settlers argue that Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan is illegitimate because the prime minister’s electoral mandate came from right-wing voters opposed to the plan. The settlers say they would abandon their opposition only after a new vote or a national referendum has taken place. Mr. Sharon has rejected those options.

Naftali Wertzberger, a legal adviser to the Yesha Council, said he is part of a forum of lawyers and law students being organized to provide legal aid to the demonstrators, including a 24-hour hot line and booklets with legal advice.

“There should be a feeling that someone who is arrested won’t remain alone,” he said. “They should be escorted legally along the entire path.”

In the West Bank yesterday, hundreds of police and soldiers clashed with protesters at the Givat Shalhevet outpost. Fifteen settlers were detained for questioning, and an off-duty soldier was arrested on charges of encouraging security forces to refuse the evacuation order while dressed in his uniform.

It was the first instance of a soldier being accused of dissuading comrades from following evacuation orders, but settler activists say as many as 4,000 soldiers have signed a petition declaring their intention to refuse evacuation orders.

Shaul Goldstein, a member of the Yesha Council, said he had warned army generals of the growing phenomenon.

“The address is written on the wall,” he said. “We are against refusing orders, but that is what is happening on the ground and we must stop the momentum.”

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