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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005, 11:10 GMT
Gaza evictees settle in West Bank
By Raffi Berg
BBC, in Efrat settlement

Datya Yitzhaki [photo: Noam Sharon. All rights reserved]
Datya has promised her children they will one day return to Gaza
The unopened boxes, scattered belongings and household bric-a-brac did not seem to bother Datya Yitzhaki as she made her way out to her patio. She has seen it all before.

"We lived in caravans for 13 years," she said, recalling her time as a pioneer of Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.

In 1984, Mrs Yitzhaki was among the first of four families to move to Kfar Yam - one of an eventual 21 Jewish settlements in the territory, which is home to 1.5m Palestinians.

"When you start with nothing and make it your own, it's like bringing up a child," she said.

But for Mrs Yitzhaki and the six other families who joined the community, 21 years of home-building came to an abrupt end this summer when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and pulled the settlements down.

Most of her friends and neighbours went to Israel, not wanting to risk facing the trauma of being uprooted again.

For Mrs Yitzhaki, her husband and their three young children, the only answer to what she calls the government's betrayal, was to relocate to another settlement in the occupied West Bank.

'Battle for Israel'

"The government's plan to take care of the evacuees was a complete mess," said Mrs Yitzhaki.

She says there was no room for them in the hotels where other ex-settlers were accommodated. The Yitzhakis were put up by friends in Efrat, a predominantly religious settlement about 14km (8 miles) south of Jerusalem.

Regarded by most of the international community as illegal under international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49), which prohibits an occupying power transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory
8,500 Jewish settlers lived in 21 settlements in Gaza amid 1.3m Palestinians
About 450,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem
Israel argues international conventions relating to occupied land do not apply to West Bank because they were not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state in the first place

Within a short time, they purchased a four-bedroom apartment.

"Some of my friends from Gush Katif [settlement bloc in Gaza] didn't come to Judea and Samaria [West Bank] because they were afraid of what the future might hold," said Mrs Yitzhaki.

As the setting sun cast an orange glow over the Hebron Hills, Mrs Yitzhaki gazed out across the vineyards beneath her patio, a chill wind in the air.

"It's colder here, of course," she said, "and the view is very different, but it's all the Land of Israel."

Initially, Mrs Yitzhaki said she was not motivated to settle in Gaza for ideological reasons.

She moved there to co-ordinate trips to Gaza for the field study institute she worked for and out of a desire to learn more about the territory's little-documented wildlife and archaeology, she said.

She said it had only been when the "legitimacy" of settlements became a prominent issue among the Israeli left and the international community that her views on what constituted the Land of Israel hardened.

"I felt if you're in a battle for Israel, Gaza is the place to be, where the war for the land would begin."

Builder working in Efrat settlement
Efrat is growing, despite Israel agreeing to freeze settlements
Ironically for Mrs Yitzhaki, when the "war" came, it was the Israeli army in which she herself had served which forced her out - an experience which transformed her view of the military.

"They drove a tractor over my house," she says bitterly about one of the most revered institutions in Israeli life. "My life was destroyed by my own army."

The Yitzhakis have kept the keys to their house and left with the promise to their children that one day they would go back.

Harsh lesson

With over 6,000 inhabitants, Efrat is Israel's fourth largest settlement in the West Bank in terms of population, and it is growing.

On a hilltop opposite the Yitzhakis' new house, a cluster of caravans - home to dozens of young married couples - dot the skyline.

Resembling a trailer park, the dwellings will soon be replaced by the kind of new, permanent red-roofed houses which characterise Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But after the withdrawal from Gaza, the future of none of the remaining settlements, including Efrat, can be considered secure.

Paradoxically, Mrs Yitzhaki says it is this very possibility which compels her to stay in Efrat.

"The next stage of the disengagement is going to be Judea and Samaria," she said. "We're not intending to give up because it is land which belongs to the Jews.

"We might have lost the first battle but the war has just begun. Hopefully people learned their lesson and next time they won't give up so easily."

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