As the few remaining Jewish settlers defied Israeli orders to leave the occupied Gaza Strip, evacuee Amram Elkayam was already hanging up a family nameplate on his new front door in Israel.
Elkayam was settling into a boxy beige and red trailer in Nitzan, the biggest new community in Israel born from the Gaza evacuation and one designed to house 3,500 of the 8,500 settlers being removed under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan.
Most of those arriving in Nitzan came voluntarily before Israel began forcible evictions as part of a pullout billed as “disengagement” from conflict with the Palestinians who want the occupied strip and West Bank for a state.
Most settlers were angry for their removal from spacious Gaza homes to a treeless trailer park on a sandy hillside in southern Israel, but many chose not to defy the government.
“We brought everything with us,” said Elkayam, who arrived on Monday from the religious farm settlement of Netzer Hazani.
“But this is not a real house. We will stay for two years and then the state will give us land and we will build a home.”
Uprooted settler families receive compensation of $150,000 to $400,000. Those who resisted could lose a big slice, but many still chose to wait until soldiers broke down their doors and carried them from their homes to register their protest.
Most Israelis back the pullout but a new opinion poll on Friday showed that 73 percent of Israelis also think the expressions of pain by most or all of the settlers are genuine.
The placid scenes in Nitzan were in stark contrast to images of settlers being dragged from their homes and rightist supporters battling eviction forces from redoubts in synagogues.
As the Gaza evacuation progressed, workers laid down grass and installed satellite dishes in Nitzan. Empty packing boxes lined the streets, and men set up swingsets for their children.
Dozens of cars in Nitzan still bore orange ribbons, the protest symbol for Israelis opposed to the Gaza pullout.
Nataly Shemony from Nissanit settlement, who is nine months pregnant with her third child, said she moved to Nitzan several weeks ago because she feared going into labor while homeless.
“Now I am much more relaxed,” she said as she hung laundry. “But I try not to watch TV. I did my move and I can’t see those pictures. I am trying to begin my new life with my children.”
Although many settlers vowed never to leave Gaza, demand for the Nitzan trailers soared ahead of the pullout from all 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank. But housing in the 90 square meter caravans is cramped for large families.
A drive-in burger shack has been set up. One of two synagogues erected hastily in a caravan is marked by a simple cardboard sign. Two more are planned.
Before even unpacking, the family of 21-year-old soldier Amir Cohen planted trees they brought from Gadid settlement.
“We even took olive trees as a symbol of peace,” Cohen said. “I hope this at least leads to peace because I don’t want anyone else to lose their homes.”