IDF issues letters telling settlers to leave their homes
Gaza Strip settlers will be required to leave their homes by midnight on August 14, at which time voluntary evacuation will end and the presence of Israeli civilians in the Gaza Strip will be considered illegal, according to a letter distributed by Israel Defense Forces officers to residents of Gush Katif, six days ahead of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip.
The purpose of the letter, signed by GOC Southern Command Major General Dan Harel, is to persuade residents to leave their homes as soon as possible. "Through the years, the IDF has protected the settlers in Gaza out of a sense of partnership, responsibility and national mission. We will also carry out this task out of a sense of partnership and deep understanding of your pain. However, the IDF, as the army of a democratic country and under the authority of the law, will carry out this mission in its entirety," the letter read.
It informs residents that on August 17, security forces will arrive to remove settlers and others who have stayed past the deadline and "who will require the security forces to come into conflict with them in order to enforce the law. I am certain that your commitment to the law and responsibility to the unity of the people will guide your protest. I pray for the peace of all of us, Israeli citizens, the residents of the Gaza Strip, the IDF and the Israel Police," Harel wrote.
Residents received a second letter yesterday with a detailed schedule for the evacuation, from Brigadier General Guy Tzur, chief of staff of the Southern Command. According to this letter, security forces will arrive at residents' homes on the morning of August 15, to present them with evacuation orders. Residents who choose to leave by midnight on August 16 will receive assistance if needed.
"You will have at your disposal assistance from soldiers and moving companies in packing up your household. Those who choose to leave during the voluntary evacuation stage can depart with their cars. Property left in homes before August 16 is to be placed in the center of the rooms. The IDF will make an effort to remove all private and personal possessions, without consideration for the number of containers and trucks required," he wrote.
Tzur wrote that residents who leave after August 17 "will not be given the possibility to return to their homes and help in packing their property. According to the Disengagement Law, they will lose a significant portion of their economic benefits."
A statement released by Gush Katif spokesman Eran Sternberg said, "These letters are a new low to which the security establishment has descended. The sense of partnership and understanding on the first page is replaced on the second page by threats of financial terrorism against residents who will do what is natural and stay in their homes."
More than 100 of the 1,600 families of Gush Katif have left so far, most moving to communities in the south, including Nitzan. "I have another 100 orders in the coming days," said Amnon Levy, the owner of the moving company evacuating most of Gush Katif's homes.
Military sources said yesterday that, at the request of the Gaza Strip settlers, the IDF had transfered 57,000 crates to assist in packing up their homes. The army sees this as a sign that many settlers will leave by August 17 to avoid clashes with security forces.
Officers in the Southern Command reached an agreement recently with eight Gaza Strip settlements for voluntary evacuation. Under this arrangement, most residents will hold a short public farewell ceremony and then leave the area.