July 31, 2005

Israel sees forced removal for half Gaza settlers

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel fears that half of the Jewish
settlers slated for evacuation from occupied Gaza next month
will stay put rather than agree to relocation, forcing troops
to remove them, a cabinet minister said on Sunday.

Some 9,000 settlers are to leave Gaza and a corner of the
West Bank next month under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan
to "disengage" Israel from fighting with the Palestinians.

Although Israeli ultranationalists condemn the pullout as a
betrayal of Jewish claims on biblical land and a reward for a
Palestinian uprising, the government has reported a quiet hike
in the number of settlers applying for relocation packages.

But Housing Minister Isaac Herzog, speaking as Israel
unveiled a caravan park to provide temporary housing for Gaza
evacuees, said half of the settlers were likely to stay on,
defiance fueling fears of confrontations during the pullout.

"Our working assumption is that around half of the families
will, on the morning of the evacuation, still have forgone
(state-funded relocation)," Herzog told Army Radio. "We are
doing everything for this figure to be much less."

As of last week, official figures showed about 750 of the
1,800 families due to be evacuated from Gaza and the West Bank
had applied for state funds amid government efforts to persuade
more to sign up.

Hundreds of ultranationalists have set up tent encampments
in Gaza settlements, to reinforce resistance to evacuation. The
YESHA settler council has called for non-violent protests only,
but Israeli officials say some mavericks could turn militant.

Officials argue that many settlers have failed to apply for
compensation because they fear the condemnation of their


Failure to leave the settlements during a 48-hour grace
period after eviction notices are served on Aug. 15 could prove
costly to recalcitrant settlers, cutting into packages totaling
several hundred thousand dollars per family.

Under law, settlers still at home when security forces come
to remove them, beginning on Aug. 17, will forfeit the right to
receive a grant, ranging from 14,000 shekels to 27,000 shekels
($3,100 to $6,000) per family to cover moving expenses.

They will also risk losing another grant -- 4,800 shekels
($1,060) for each year of residence in a Gaza or northern West
Bank settlement after the age of 21. For a couple with 20
years' residency, that could total almost 200,000 shekels

A Disengagement Authority official said there have been
secret contacts with settlers who have yet to apply officially
for government funds.

"Secret contacts will remain secret. There have been a lot
of telephone calls and meetings, but to what extent this has
led to applications (for compensation), that's a different
story," he said.

Palestinian welcome Israeli withdrawal from occupied land
they seek for a state but suspect Sharon of planning to leave
them tiny Gaza while keeping West Bank settlement blocs.

The World Court has determined settlements Israel has built
on land it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war are illegal.
Israel disputes this.