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Middle east

Gaza settlers, an unresolved problem

Video by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-08-03

In 2005, Israel pulled out of the Gaza strip as part of a disengagement plan that left Israelis divided. Four years on, nothing has really changed or improved for former settlers in the region, some of whom consider themselves refugees.

Four years ago this month, the Israeli government began pulling out all of its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip.


At the time, a majority of Israelis supported the withdrawal but it was fiercely opposed by the 8,000 settlers, most of which were located in Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza, along with their supporters in the West Bank and within Israel.


The withdrawal was also responsible for completely reconfiguring the Israeli political scene with the-then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in facing a spilt within his own Likud party, deciding to form a new centre-reight party called Kadima.


But four years on, many of those Gaza settlers are still without permanent homes and a number are without jobs.


Their predicament has only served to harden attitudes within the Israeli settler movement, something Likud leader and Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is very aware of as he confronts increasing pressure from Washington to begin withdrawing from the West Bank.


In marking the anniversary, Mr Netanyahu vowed that Israel would never again embark on unilateral withdrawall. "To our regret, Gaza has become a base for Hamas-led, Iran-sponsored terrorism.. with thousands of rockets and missiles being fired at us."


The prime minister said he was committed to a "full rehabilitation" of the evacuees "in order to enable them to rebuild their destroyed lives."


But a recent state auditer's report found the Gaza settlers "paid a heavy personal price" while describing the government's handling of the evacuation as inept.


Former Gaza settler, Rachel Saperstein is one who has loudly criticised the government, having swapped her Gush Katif villa for life in a caravilla; a cross between a trailer and a prefabricated home.


She told France 24 that they were "refugees" since "a refugee camp means people who're not working, people who've been taken out of their homes, people whose pride has suffered terribly and people who feel the government has betrayed them."


Israeli analysts say the settlers' plight has fuelled extremist elements within the West Bank settler movement.


"The extremists because of the Gaza pullout are much extremist then they used to be more and the moderates much more silent in the condemnation of extremism," says Yair Sheleg, a senior researcher on the settlement movement for the Israeli Democracy Institute. "So in the end, we'll go from a cold civil war to more and more a 'hot' civil war between the people."


In the wake of the Gaza withdrawal, the far right-wing Youth for Israel movement was formed which encourages high school students to spend their summer vacation in reoccupying illegal outposts demolished by the army in the West Bank.


France 24 filmed a group of such students, many of who had families living in Gush Katif at the time of the pullout.


"The government hasn't learnt their lesson from Gush Katif," 16-year-old Shai Rubenstein told France 24. "We see missiles are still falling and that it was a huge mistake and still the government continues with the same policy of destruction in the West Bank."


And as the government considers the future of its settlements, many are praying for the decision to be in their favour.

Date created : 2009-08-03