“We will not leave” – the message is clear from a group of Jewish settlers in the Gaza settlement of Gush Katif. They want none of the compensation offered by the Israeli government. In exchange for their departure, each family would be paid between 200,000 and 350,000 US dollars. Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan, 8,800 settlers living in Gaza and four West Bank settlements would have to leave their homes. The cabinet has already approved penalties, including prison terms, for those who might resist.
The disengagement plan is expected to be accepted by parliament in a crucial vote later today. But Sharon will need a wide margin of victory to silence his vociferous opposition. Some far-right opponents walked out of the Knesset in protest yesterday.National Religious party leader Ephraim Eitam: “Maybe technically tomorrow there will be a majority and of course it’s a very sad and dangerous day for the state of Israel but I’m sure that this government will not last long.” Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, hundreds of left-wing activists demonstrated in support of the disengagement plan, carrying torches, and chanting: “Get out of Gaza, now!” “We don’t have to be in the Gaza Strip, it’s not ours, it’s not even a land of our fathers or mothers, we have nothing to do there. We have nothing to do with one million two hundred Palestinians,” said one protestor. Sharon argues pulling out of tiny Gaza would make Israel easier to defend and allow it to seal its grip on larger West Bank settlements.