August 13, 2005

Settlers mark somber Jewish Sabbath in Gaza

By Jonathan Saul

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Jewish settlers held
fast to their faith on Saturday on perhaps the last Sabbath
many will celebrate in the occupied Gaza Strip.

"The name of our neighborhood is called 'Faith' and it
reflects how we feel," said Tamar Meir, 46, of the Neve Dekalim
settlement. "Only the Lord can decide things and I look forward
to celebrating the Sabbath here next year."

Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan,
Israel intends to issue eviction notices to the 8,500 settlers
in Gaza early on Monday and begin removing those who refuse to
leave on Wednesday.

Government figures show that more than half of the settlers
have applied for state compensation, signaling they would go

But in Neve Dekalim, many of whose 2,600 residents are
religious and stake a biblical claim to Gaza, only a handful of
shipping containers are parked outside settlers' homes, an
indication that few intend to leave voluntarily.

Cakes and flowers adorned settler Ronit Avitan's table on
the Sabbath with her many guests celebrating the sacred day
with a sense of hope.

"I hope this will not be our last Sabbath here and while
the situation does dominate our conversations, we are carrying
on with our lives. The government cannot take that away from
us," she said.

Among her Sabbath guests was Moshe, a 17-year old activist
from the West Bank settlement of Ginot Shomron. Like hundreds
of other pullout opponents, he managed to slip past Israeli
soldiers into Gaza to reinforce settlers who refuse to go.

"I am sleeping in a bomb shelter at the moment but I am
here to help shore up the settlements and stop the government's
plans. I believe they will bring disaster for Israel," he said
while munching on roasted nuts.

In a show of defiance, settlers in Neve Dekalim said they
plan to inaugurate a Jewish ritual bath on Tuesday.

This year, Sabbath runs into the 9th of Av fast, a
traditional mourning period marking the destruction of the
biblical Temples in Jerusalem.

"This period is full of meaning for us but we are resolute.
I believe we are like David and the government is like Goliath.
We have to prevail," Meir said.

The World Court has described as illegal the settlements
Israel has built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Around 240,000 Israelis live in the enclaves among 3.8 million