Jury still out on withdrawal

A Palestinian worker removes roof tiles as he dismantles a home on Aug. 3  in the  Gaza Strip settlement of Pe´at Sadeh. (Brian Hendler)

A Palestinian worker removes roof tiles as he dismantles a home on Aug. 3 in the Gaza Strip settlement of Pe´at Sadeh. (Brian Hendler)

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (JTA) — The man handling the Israeli government’s controversial plan to evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank hopes it’s for the best — but he says that only time will tell. At the least, Yonatan Bassi told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in a conference call Tuesday, less than a week before the evacuation is slated to begin, the government has done all it can to ensure that the process goes smoothly. “I hope we did everything we could do in order to be prepared for the very difficult things we are facing in the coming days,” said Bassi, head of the government’s Disengagement Authority. Officials are making final arrangements to evacuate settlers who do not leave voluntarily before the operation begins. To date, 200 families have left the West Bank and another 100 have left the Gaza Strip, Bassi said. Of the remaining 1,700 families, he anticipates that 70 percent to 80 percent will leave peacefully between Aug. 15 and 17, when Israeli forces will enter the territories. The rest will be removed by force. “The people there are under very heavy pressure from the leadership and rabbis not to be ready to evacuate,” Bassi said. “There are a lot of families that are ready to speak with us but are still afraid.” The larger problem for the Israeli Defense Forces, he said, will be dealing with the 2,000 or so anti-withdrawal activists who have entered the settlements in the past two months in hopes of spoiling the evacuation. Anyone who refuses to leave will be taken out by four soldiers, Bassi said, two holding the person’s arms and two holding his or her legs. Bassi sounded exasperated at times by the details of his task. When asked about the process of disinterring graves in Gaza Strip ceremonies, he noted that there was only one cemetery, adding that one was certainly enough. The disinterred will be reburied at a new cemetery in Nitzanim, inside Israel, during the fifth week of the evacuation, Bassi said. The process is being coordinated with rabbis and the families of the deceased. More than 200 hotel rooms have been reserved in some of the country’s best hotels to house settlers in the first weeks after the evacuation, Bassi said. They will be given excellent food and will be treated with the best care before they’re forced to make permanent living arrangements, he said. The Disengagement Authority has arranged for psychologists and other volunteers to assist the settlers in adjusting to their new lives. Particular attention is being paid to adolescents because of rumors of mass suicides and other desperate measures to stop the withdrawal. Bassi said he believes that other Israelis should treat the uprooted settlers as heroes. “They are the victims of the situation because Israel wants to remain a democratic state,” he said in response to one questioner, who suggested that settlers were being treated poorly. “They as victims must be heroes, and we are doing a lot of effort to ensure they understand it.” But Bassi refused to say whether the withdrawal is in Israel’s best political interest. Some warn that it will spark a new surge of attacks if Palestinians view it as confirmation that terrorism pays. “Maybe in 10 years time, we’ll know if it is a mistake or not,” Bassi said.

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