JERUSALEM — Pragmatism won out over ideology Thursday as hundreds of Gaza settlers took a first step toward cooperating with the government's plan to evacuate the coastal strip and filed for compensation.
A representative of the settlers said families began the process of seeking government payments as a kind of insurance policy, but vowed to continue to fight the pullout, scheduled to begin in mid-August.
On Thursday, hundreds of settlers handed in forms requesting detailed assessments of their properties, said Itzik Spiegel, an attorney representing the settlers. Some of the requests were submitted on orange paper, the color symbolizing opposition to the pullout from Gaza and four West Bank settlements.
Itzik Ilia, deputy head of the Gaza settler regional council, said the families were submitting the forms because Thursday was the deadline the Supreme Court gave for requesting an assessment. But, he said, "It will only be a done deal when I leave ... with my family."
Haim Altman, a spokesman for the government administration overseeing compensation, said he was told to expect about 1,000 forms. No exact number was available at the end of the work day.
"I don't want to jump for joy at the moment, I don't want to say if it is good or not," he said.
9,000 people to be evacuated from homes
Up to Thursday, only about 400 Gaza and West Bank families had requested government compensation, and an additional 400 families were in various stages of talks with the government on relocating. In total, about 1,800 families — some 9,000 people — are to be evacuated from their homes.
Many settlers oppose the plan and have vowed to resist. At the same time, they accuse the government of not providing equitable alternative housing solutions and of offering unfair compensation. The government says the settlers' refusal to cooperate is making it difficult to provide them with acceptable housing after the evacuation, although rentals units, prefabs and hotel rooms already have been reserved.
Police, meanwhile, simulated the evacuation of a settlement at an exercise at an army base in southern Israel. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said 45,000 soldiers and police were to take part.
Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said police officers who live in the settlements will be excused from taking part.
Some soldiers have already refused to obey orders to participate in pullout-related activities, and the army is preparing for the possibility that dozens will follow suit when the evacuation begins.
Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting Thursday to continue coordination efforts. Palestinian Cabinet Minister Mohammed Dahlan said agreements are in place on issues like reopening the Gaza airport, building a seaport and starting reconstruction projects. He said discussions were still in progress about whether Israel would leave greenhouses intact after the pullout and what would be done with the debris of houses to be destroyed.
Mass march scheduled to sabotage evacuation
Settler leaders have called for a mass march to Gaza on July 18, an attempt to sabotage the evacuation by inundating the area with protesters.
Security forces were preparing for the possibility of sealing off Gaza to nonresidents as early as Sunday, a military official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made. In the event of a mass migration, they plan to immediately seal off the area, the official said.
Last week, the army briefly closed off Gaza to nonresidents so troops could storm a hotel and remove Jewish extremists who had barricaded themselves inside.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, soldiers killed a 17-year-old Palestinian and wounded his friend after they fired on a convoy of Jewish worshippers and soldiers who were leaving the Joseph's Tomb holy site near the city of Nablus.
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