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Evacuation is surrender to many Israelis

KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip—Aside from a few precious heirlooms, Yossi and Tovah Hadad haven't packed a thing. The soldiers are coming for them on Monday and they haven't packed a thing.

They will not box up the books and the pictures, the dishes and the kids' clothing.

To them, that would be tantamount to surrender—capitulation to what they call Palestinian terrorism and to the Israeli government that brought them here and then, in their eyes, sold them out.

Yossi: "If they tell me to burn my house and I can stay here, I will burn my house. That is how much we want to stay.

"But believe me, I cannot pack my things. We hope the things will come with us, but I cannot pack. Really. Physically, I cannot pack.

"And I cannot fight the army, because the army is me. I was a commander in Lebanon, and we still stand shoulder-to-shoulder here every night. You ask, `What will you do?' I will be here. I cannot pack and I cannot fight. I will just be here. That's all I can do."

To enter Kfar Darom, you drive through sand dust and stark, baking sunlight. Past the pillboxes and the tanks, one of which rotates its turret and lowers its gun and trains it on your car, just in case. Under the Israeli flag, around the barbed wire and through an iron gate that slides open, slowly.

Now you're in a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. Kfar Darom is home to 365 people, but not for long.

This is complicated business, this Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which starts Monday. It is the stuff of governments and agencies, of frustrating negotiations and wrenching decisions.

The same government that recruited Israelis and financed their outposts in overwhelmingly Palestinian territory is now ordering them to leave and financing their removal and resettlement.

Yes, the international community never recognized this occupation, and the impoverished and long oppressed Palestinians profoundly resented it. Yes, much of the world supports the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and considers it an overdue, necessary step toward peace.

But also yes, many Israelis and the majority of Palestinians view this move as an Israeli retreat, a victory for the Palestinian militants who launched frequent attacks on the settlers and on Israelis just over the border.

And yes, real people made real homes here, with the encouragement and support of their leaders, and their point of view deserves an airing, too.

Yossi and Tovah Hadad are two of those people. They have six children and they live in a small, two-story concrete house, concrete being a substance of apparent permanence. Like the majority of Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank, they are orthodox Jews.

There are flowers outside, and books—many, many books—and family pictures inside. On a Friday afternoon, the aroma of meat and carrots and spices fills the place, a Sabbath dinner in the making.

Several friends and acquaintances have arrived recently to help them through the trauma. Thousands of such outsiders have filtered into Gaza recently, and they'll make it even more difficult for Israeli authorities this week.

The settlers also plan to make it difficult emotionally. Some will attempt to melt the hearts of their soldiers, now their adversaries, with the sheer normality of the domestic scenes the troops will be interrupting.

Tovah, who still harbors hope of a reprieve but sent away her most treasured heirlooms: "In our hearts, we really believe that God will do something because we really believe that God thinks we are doing the right thing here.

"We always knew who the enemy was—the Arabs, who were trying to kill us. But now it is the soldiers. They're telling us to leave. It is really much more complicated now. This is the place we're supposed to be, but it's much harder now."

Yossi: "If they come, there will be no violence, not here. We will tell the army and the government, `Think again about what you are doing.' This is our power.

"We know how to fight and we know it's the wrong way. These are our brothers. My son, he will be in the army in one year.

"It will be most hard for the soldiers to come into the house, see my wife cooking, me studying, the girls in the shower. I want the government to please think again about this.

"Israel is going to do a wrong thing for the Israeli people and they are doing a wrong thing for the United States, too, because you don't negotiate with the terrorists. The terrorists win.

"All over the world, they are saying, `Look, terrorism works. The Israelis are leaving.'"

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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