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16 Aug, 2010 10:12

West Bank withdrawal holds fears for settlers

It has been five years since Israel pulled out from Gaza, leaving the Strip to the Palestinians.

It was hoped the withdrawal would lead a path to peace, but instead the move sparked criticism over the Israeli government's handling of the process.

Political analyst Dr. Hani al Basoos sees the situation as an on-going Israeli occupation of Gaza.

“The tensions are still high, because what we have in Gaza yet is still an Israeli occupation. What happened in 2005 was not an end to the occupation, but a redeployment for the Israeli army and the tensions have increased in the past three years,” al Basoos told RT.

And with Tel Aviv reportedly considering a similar move in the West Bank, Israelis living there are far from happy with the plans.

Israelis had hoped that by withdrawing 8,000 settlers from Gaza they would be extending an olive branch to the Palestinians. But most underestimated the violence – and heartbreak – that would follow.

“The soldiers came. They went to the window and shouted. I said why don’t you come and knock on the door like normal people,” Yafa Levran, former Israeli settler from Gaza, recalls how she had to leave. She now lives in southern Israel. “They told me ‘You’re under arrest,’ you were supposed to have left Gaza already. The soldiers were crying, the children were crying, I was crying. I looked at Gaza, I looked at the sea. I said ‘That’s it, it’s over.’”

Yafa Levran lived in Gaza with her husband and nine children for 16 years. Until the last moment they refused to pack up and left with nothing more than the clothes on their back. The sign to their house was the only thing they brought with them.

Five years ago, most Israelis supported the withdrawal, but today, more than half think it was a mistake. Throughout Israel, there are some dozen communities where Gaza refugees are still living in temporary housing.

And now in settlements across the West Bank, people are afraid that the same fate awaits them. Shaul Goldstein has been mayor of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc for 11 years. He is furious with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu who, in his latest bid for peace, allegedly offered the Palestinians 90 per cent of the West Bank if they agreed to direct talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is under pressure to give an answer in the coming days.

“If the government of Israel would decide to go out of Judea and Samaria, for me is like committing suicide,” Shaul Goldstein said. “How can we defend Israel on the width of 12 kilometers? How can you defend Israel if Judea and Samaria will become Gaza. Terror state and the world will send flotillas and flotilla by the air, not by the sea where we can stop [them].”

The Israeli government spent more than $2 billion evacuating 8,000 settlers from Gaza.
It would need to remove nearly fifty times that number from of the West Bank – a financial and logistical nightmare.

“If the numbers and location were different, we could reach a decision to let the settlers stay there. But most of the settlements are deep inside – they were put there in order to make it difficult to create Palestinian sovereignty,” explained Shlomo Svirsky, academic director of the Tel Aviv-based Adva Centre.

Today, more than ever, Israeli settlers in the West Bank have the sympathy of the Israeli public.

And while the Israeli government contemplates another withdrawal, Yafa Levran is still waiting to be reimbursed for her home. She was promised a new life, but is still living in a caravan five years later.