Palestinians under withdrawal curfew

Khan Yunis refugee camp with on the horizon Israeli settlements and greenhouses. The land between has been razed and destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. (Arjan El Fassed)

Palestinian communities living near Jewish settlements are bracing themselves for a month-long Israeli-imposed closure set to start on Tuesday. Residents of the Maani area of Dair al-Balah, adjacent to the colony of Kfarm Darom in the central Gaza Strip, were lining up in front of the gate to their fenced in community on Monday morning, waiting for Israeli approval to enter ahead of the closure.

Abdullah Maani, 34, said residents were allowed out of the village for a few hours to buy food and supplies before the closure would be enforced, adding that they had yet to see any evidence of a withdrawal. “If we weren’t hearing it from the radio and television stations, you would think there is no withdrawal going on. From where we stand, there are no signs of withdrawal.

“The settlers in Kfar Darom seem to be going about their daily lives and we haven’t seen any dismantling of infrastructure yet,” said Maani, as he filed through a metal turnstile with dozens of other residents, waiting to be searched.

Stocking up

Nearby residents carried bags of potatoes and tomatoes, and gallons of water that they loaded off donkey carts. All vehicles are banned from entering the village. Israeli forces notified the Palestinians living near the illegal settlement of a month-long closure of their community this past Friday.

Earlier in the week, villagers from the northern Gaza Strip village of al-Siyafa, sandwiched between the settlements of Dugit, Eli Sinai, and Nisanit, transported cooking gas, vegetables, and an electric generator in preparation for a similar closure.

The two enclosed villages, in combination with the larger enclave of Mawasi southern Gaza, located within the Gush Qatif settlement bloc, have borne the brunt of Israel’s closure regime, which saw their villages sealed off from the rest of Gaza in the name of security for the settlers.

Closures have been particularly stringent in the past five years of the intifada, during which movement for local residents and access for international organisations has been extremely restricted.

Settler provocations

Palestinians living near the settlements, such as those in Maani, fear the settlers may resort to violence to protest against their removal. “We are afraid the settlers might do something to us, to harm us in protest of the disengagement,” said Abdullah Maani.

Kfar Darom is a bastion of hardline settlers, and Israeli forces expect to face much resistance in evacuating the isolated colony. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erikat on Tuesday called on Israel to resume final status negotiations, on issues such as Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, after the pullout from Gaza.

Optimistic thoughts

“From the day that we resume talks on final status issues I am sure it would take six months to reach a settlement,” Erikat said at a press conference in Gaza City. “The rule of law and the fate of people will be decided after the disengagement through ballots and not bullets.”

Gaza has been wracked by lawlessness in recent months, as armed groups and security forces jockey for credit and power ahead of January parliamentary elections. Most of the infighting has been within the ranks of the Palestinian Authority itself, often between disgruntled security officers and corrupt officials.

On Monday night, the Fatah-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades rallied throughout Gaza city’s streets, shooting their weapons in the air and declaring: “We shall never lay down our weapons”. On Tuesday, armed members of Islamic Jihad did the same, “reminding” Palestinians that it was they who forced the Israeli settlers out of Gaza.

Erikat said the PA hopes to reach an understanding with factions on the matter through dialogue under the banner One Weapon, One Authority.

Barrier protests

Meanwhile, in the West Bank village of Bilain, Palestinians continued their non-violent demonstrations against the separation barrier that is annexing 52% of their farm land, despite media attention focused on the ongoing disengagement from Gaza.

Young Palestinian girls led a group of 400 people, including Palestinians, Israeli and international activists, in a peaceful demonstration as they demanded access to their land.

“Settlers today are beginning to withdraw from Gaza. We are happy for the Palestinians there. But as that goes on, Israel is expanding settlements on our land here in Bilain, and those settlers leaving Gaza are being brought here,” the group said in a statement they read out, a copy of which was received by “This solves nothing, but rather moves the problem from one place to another. We need real answers that provide security for us all.”

Laila M. El-Haddad is a journalist based in the Gaza Strip. This article was originally published by and reprinted on EI permission.

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