The pullout from the Gaza Strip would be Israel’s first removal of settlements from Palestinian land which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war. In return, Ariel Sharon hopes to cement his grip on larger West Bank enclaves home to 240,000 settlers. Many Israelis argue that protecting the 8,000 or so settlers is too costly financially and in human lives. Soldiers and settlers alike come under frequent attack.
The Gaza Strip measures just 360 square kilometres, with the 21 Jewish settlements taking up about 54 square kilometres. Sharon believes by quitting the Strip but keeping control of land, air and sea access, Israel will be safer. But the clashes that occurred when Israeli forces moved in last year to dismantle a settlement outpost in the West Bank are set to be repeated in Gaza. Israeli ‘Peace Now’ activists have dismantled so-called wildcat settlements, unhappy with what they have called government inaction. Ironically, Ariel Sharon can count on their backing for the Gaza withdrawal. As for the settlers, they and their sympathisers proved their considerable power with a human chain in July 2004. The chain stretched almost unbroken from the Jewish settlement of Nissanit in the Gaza Strip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site. The Wall also saw a protest on Monday night, with some settlers burning letters offering compensation if they leave Gaza settlements early.