GUSH KATIF, Gaza – A group of forty Americans, led by a New York state lawmaker, moved here for three days this week as part of a larger trip that will bring over a thousand U.S. citizens to protest Israel’s planned withdrawal this summer from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

American mission tours a Katif settlement

“We are here to show solidarity and compassion,” the group leader, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, told WND. “These Jews who have moved here over thirty years ago with the assistance of Israel are being kicked out of their homes simply because of their nationality, not by their enemies, but by a Jewish government. It is an unconscionable thing to do, and we must stand with them.”

The group stayed in the Katif area, the largest Gaza settlement block slated for evacuation this summer, and visited over 30 communities. They ate, slept and worked with the settlers, and were given tours of homes, schools, synagogues, greenhouses and restaurants scheduled to be handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the next few months.

“It’s important for people to visit Gaza and see that the perception people have of settlements and settlers is so far off base,” Hikind said. “Many think these are militant people living in tents and caravans in the heart of Palestinian population centers. No. The people here are so down to earth and represent all the best of the Jewish people – love of the world and of Israel, dedication to God, determination to build a thriving community. And the caravans? Look around. These are beautiful neighborhoods, designer sophisticated homes, and they were built from barren land.”

The group this morning toured several of Katif’s renowned greenhouses, which feature some of the most advanced agricultural technology in the world, including high-tech temperature regulation and insect-free produce.

A greenhouse in Gaza (photo: Alex Traiman for WND)

Gaza settlements are teeming with large fruit and vegetable plants that supply Israel with nearly 70 percent of certain kinds of produce.

The Israeli government has been conducting negotiations about handing over the Gaza greenhouses to the Palestinians as part of the disengagement plan.

“This is my life’s work,” explained Anita Baker, one of the pioneer farmers of Gush Katif. “These greenhouses are unrivaled anywhere and we’ve been developing and improving them for all these years. Suddenly we are supposed to just get up and leave? This withdrawal is criminal.”

The American mission also toured Netzarim, a settlement less than 3 miles south of Gaza City that has come under repeated mortar and Qassam rocket fire by Palestinian terrorists. They visited elementary schools with mortar-proof window shutters and stopped by a large synagogue hit in December by rockets during morning prayer services. No one was killed in the attack.

With Palestinian suicide bombers having trouble infiltrating Israel because of the security fences in the West Bank and Gaza, terror organizations have been stepping up rockets attacks against Jewish settlements. Analysts say Hamas will likely increase attacks as the Gaza disengagement drawn closer so they can claim to their supporters Israel retreated under fire.

“The goal of the terrorists is to declare victory for the withdrawal, and this victory is being handed to them by [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon,” said Hikind.

Hikind argued the areas in Gaza being vacated may be used by terrorists to stage attacks against Israel, and he warned that Palestinian groups will view the retreat as a vindication for terror tactics.

A confidential Hamas memo written by Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, and obtained last summer by WorldNetDaily, stated the terror group views Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal as a capitulation to terror and is planning to continue its “armed struggle” against the Jewish state until “all territories” are in Palestinian hands.

“The withdrawal, if it is implemented, is an important achievement by the Palestinian people, its intifada and armed struggle, its determination and great sacrifice, and confirms the willingness, correctness and usefulness of employing an armed struggle and its ability to attain political objectives,” writes al-Zohar.

“We will emphasize our people’s right to resist the occupation [outside the Gaza Strip] so long as the occupation of the land and the aggression continue, with the understanding that withdrawal from Gaza is not the end of the story and occupation is still present in the rest of the lands and that not all rights and holy sites have been returned yet,” the memo stated.

The American group includes two state supreme court judges, a doctor and the director of a bank.

Their arrival earlier this week prompted an initial sensation when parts of the mission were interrogated by Israeli border police at the country’s international airport. Their passports were confiscated and they were told Gush Katif is “a closed military zone” with restricted entrance. After 30 minutes of debate in which Hikind explained the purpose of his trip, the group was released and their passports were returned.

“It felt like an act of Third World domination,” said Michael Friend, a member of the delegation. “It was disgraceful. I am a Jew entering my homeland.”

Hikind says this week’s mission “is only the beginning. There will be another group of Americans, this time a thousand of us, coming in the very near future. Christians, Jews, all who care are welcome. Sharon as I speak is preparing Israeli soldiers to throw men, women and children out of their homes. It is undemocratic, and [we] Americans will not stand by and be silent.”

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.