Gaza settlers start pro-evacuation group
By MATTHEW GUTMAN
Settlers in the Gaza Strip community of Rafiah Yam intend to establish their own branch of "Shuvi," an organization that has accumulated about 65,000 signatures urging Israel's immediate evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements.
The highly unusual move follows escalating tensions between moderate and radical settlers which peaked with fisticuffs last Thursday, when settlers allegedly representing the southern Gaza Strip's Hof Aza Regional Council raided a meeting of Rafiah Yam residents with Shuvi activists.
The Shuvi branch in Rafiah Yam would be the first openly pro-evacuation group to arise in any of the West Bank or Gaza Strip settlements â€“ although there are apparently hundreds of settlers who quietly support their own evacuation in exchange for financial compensation.
All of the approximately 7,500 Jews who live in the the Gaza Strips settlements would be evacuated with the passage of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement.
At last Thursday's meeting, six Shuvi activists piled into the home of Rafiah Yam resident and soon-to-be chairman of the local Shuvi branch Avishai Nativ. They joined nine other families from the Gaza settlements of Neveh Dekalim, Shalev, and Bdolah.
Nativ claims that settlers upset with his political position â€“ municipal workers among them â€“ raided his home at last week's meeting, poked video cameras in the windows, and detained his guests for almost three hours until they and their cars' license plates had been photographed.
"All we did," Nativ told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, "is have a democratic meeting and talk about subjects openly. I did not see anybody trying to prevent settlers from knocking on people's doors in Tel Aviv or Herzliya, or from holding hands in the human chain [protesting the disengagement plan] that linked hands from Gaza to Jerusalem last month."
A "foul atmosphere" has taken hold of the Gush Katif settlement bloc, said Nativ. "The regional council's threats and labeling of us as traitors has only proved to me that we must take an active role in leaving this place," he said.
Dorit Eldar, Shuvi's spokeswoman who attended Nativ's parlor meeting, said, "We are not at all interested in an escalation between the settlers. We only support the evacuation from Gaza in the way which least harms the lives and livelihood of the settlers. But I never expected things to get violent."
She counts the shoving matches and "my forceful detention" as violence.
Hof Aza Regional Council spokesman Eran Sternberg responded to the allegations with anger. "This is a publicity scam," he said. "Their entire claim against us was staged by Channel 2," which caught the scuffle on film. "The Rafiah Yam residents involved are the scum of this community, who besmirch all the other 8,000 residents here," Sternberg added.
Sternberg claimed that Nativ's willingness to evacuate is due to great debts he has accumulated, and a long-running dispute with the regional council. Furthermore, the spokesman called Nativ a "known criminal" who "has a record for violence with the local police station."
An incensed Sternberg added that the visitors at Nativ's parlor meeting "even parked in a provocative way," so far away from the curb that they hindered the transit of wide IDF vehicles through the settlement.
Some local families believe that members of the Hof Aza Regional Council, as well as some in Samaria, are threatening families not to speak to the press, or join pro-evacuation groups.