NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza – With only four communities remaining this weekend, Israel’s evacuation of Gaza’s 21 Jewish towns is nearly complete just six days after the withdrawal operation officially began.
For many here, it was a week of emotional departures, furious protests and, in some cases, violent confrontations – a week that will be immediately recorded in the books of Israel’s ever-turbulent history.
Following is a photo essay of the evacuation this past week of Neve Dekalim, the largest town in Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish neighborhoods. Dekalim, until now, bustling with life, was considered the ‘capital’ of Jewish Gaza.
ALL PHOTOS WORLDNETDAILY
MIDNIGHT SUNDAY: Evacuation deadline swiftly approaches
Israel’s evacuation of Jewish communities from Gaza and parts of Samaria officially begins with the complete closing of the Gaza Strip, barring all civilians from entering the area. Residents are warned they have 48 hours to depart on their own accord; afterwards, anyone remaining will be considered illegal and will be removed forcibly from their homes.
The families of Neve Dekalim respond to the closure by blocking army vehicles headed toward their community. Some throw themselves atop military convoys, begging soldiers to refuse orders.
“Don’t uproot us. Refuse orders,” one woman screams as she stands in front of an army Jeep.
Teenagers, including nonresidents who managed to infiltrate the area the past few weeks, gather around two army trucks and begin pounding at the windows.
“Jews do not evacuate Jews,” a crowd of about 80 children chants.
No one is reported hurt in the Dekalim clashes. The IDF neither responds nor sends reinforcements to the scene.
MONDAY: Eviction notices, moving trucks blocked
In the morning, soldiers and police officers attempt to enter Neve Dekalim to distribute final eviction notices, warning residents they must depart, but the evacuation forces are halted at the main town gate by hundreds of residents who sit at the entrance and sing to the police.
The Jews of Katif chant soft harmonies to forces amassed outside the Dekalim gate in full battle gear, fortified by army vehicles and policemen mounted on horses.
After a two-hour standoff, police commanders at the front gate claim they will leave. But a second police force infiltrates the community through a back gate at its industrial zone and attempts to go house-to-house to deliver the eviction notices.
Residents quickly make their way to the breached entrance and form a line to block the police from advancing.
Following a few brief scuffles, the police decide to stand down, apparently after being ordered not to inflame tensions ahead of Wednesday’s forcible evacuation. Instead, the police hand the eviction notices to settlement leaders who promptly discard them.
Throughout the day, several empty moving trucks drive around Dekalim and park outside homes. Residents earlier had again temporarily blockaded community entrances to keep out the moving vans.
Moving trucks enter Neve Dekalim
With only 24 hours remaining until their presence in Dekalim is considered illegal, only a handful of residents move out. About two-thirds of the 467-family town remain and say they will not leave. Close to 70 families had departed the past few weeks, while more than 1,000 protesters managed to infiltrate the neighborhood in hopes of stopping the withdrawal.
TUESDAY: Tears, fears and ‘Hava Nagila’
Neve Dekalim residents once again amass at the front gate to their community, blocking moving trucks from entering and prompting more than 1,000 security forces to enter the town.
It is the first time evacuation forces are present in the community.
Police and soldiers form several human chains and attempt to slowly advance against hundreds of residents blocking the Dekalim entrance. A standoff between security forces and residents ensues, with both sides refusing to budge.
Reacting to the large military buildup inside their community, residents of all ages cry and plead with the forces not to expel them.
“Please, please, don’t take my home away from me,” one woman cries.
“How can you do this to us? This is where we live. Don’t listen to your orders,” pleads a teenage boy.
A father and his children huddle together and weep for several minutes when they first see the troop buildup. Several residents, crying, throw themselves onto soldiers.
The confrontations prompt several soldiers, both men and women, to break down into tears. Some of the crying soldiers take a break for several minutes, while others are escorted away entirely.
Some members of the media openly wipe tears from their eyes, including an Israeli television correspondent broadcasting live.
Riot police are dispatched to the scene and are directed to push back the lines of residents to clear the way for the moving trucks to get inside. Violent protests quickly erupt, with officers and residents pushing each other.
More than 50 protesters are subdued violently and arrested. Some residents and at least one police officer are lightly-to-moderately injured in the clashes.
A few activists light tires on fire and place two large, burning garbage bins in the middle of the road. Several news anchors broadcast live in front of the burning garbage bins and claim settlers are violently resisting orders to evacuate.
A water cannon is brought in and fires torrents of water at the Katif protesters, pushing them several meters away from the entrance.
Finally, settlement leaders on loudspeakers call for residents to retreat.
Some residents recognize their town will soon fall.
“It’s pretty much over,” Dekalim resident and prominent Gush Katif activist Rachel Sapperstein tells WND. “This evil plan by Sharon has worked. Everyone here put up an incredible, peaceful battle. And we lost.”
Later in the day, hundreds of Dekalim residents file into the main synagogue, where prayer services are held and several new Torah scrolls are dedicated.
At about 7 p.m. local time, five hours before the deadline for all residents to depart, evacuation forces split into teams of eight officers and go house-to-house to warn resident to immediately leave. The troops are greeted by singing families, who each starts to sing in their private dining rooms. Loud songs can be heard flooding the streets of Neve Dekalim. Wild celebrations break out inside and outside houses.
Not a single resident of Neve Dekalim departs.
WEDNESDAY: ‘Please, please don’t take away my home’
The deadline to vacate Dekalim passes. Protests breakout, with residents and teenage protesters blocking buses brought in to hole off residents slated to be forced from their homes. Rumors persisted throughout the day Neve Dekalim will be the first community evacuated.
Hundreds more security forces stream into the town and arrest upwards of 75 residents and protesters who attempt to block roads.
At noon, forces begin evacuating residents, who are escorted by Israeli officers onto buses that remove them from homes many have lived in for upwards of 30 years. Some residents are removed forcibly, carried away kicking and screaming.
All day, settlement leaders hold negotiations with police forces to ensure there will be no violence. Negotiations end with settlement leaders calling on residents here to leave peacefully.
Soldiers form groups of 20 men and women each and go door-to-door to warn residents to leave their homes immediately. Some families reluctantly walk out of their homes, tears streaming down their faces. Others put up resistance.
Members of one Dekalim family, the Friedmans, are dragged kicking and screaming from their house and are forced onto an awaiting bus.
“My home! My home! Please, my home,” Mrs. Friedman yells.
Another family stands on their balcony for more than eight hours, singing and waving Israeli flags until Israeli troops surround the house and drag them out.
Similar scenes unfold throughout the community.
Before departing, some residents smash the insides of their homes to bits, other light their houses on fire, refusing to leave any property to the Palestinians.
THURSDAY: Jewish Gaza ‘capital’ falls; settler leaders admit defeat
The remaining families of Neve Dekalim are evacuated.
The international media report a ”standoff” between Israeli troops and ”activists” here who have ”barricaded” themselves inside the main synagogue, even though the activists – teenagers from throughout Israel and around the world – had been entering and leaving the structure freely.
Israeli forces take advantage of a massive prayer service in which most of the protesters indeed are inside, and raid the synagogue, removing all occupants.
Israeli evacuation forces move onto other communities largely expected to put up some resistance.
Settler leaders for the first time concede defeat to WorldNetDaily.
Debbie Rosen, Gush Katif spokeswoman, says, “It’s clear the beautiful communities here have been lost. The evacuation will end with the Jews leaving Gaza. It’s pretty much over.”
Dror Venunu, director of the Katif Development Fund, comments, “This is a sad, sad day for me and for the rest of the Gush Katif residents. And it’s a sad day for the Jewish people.”
Knesset Member Benny Elon, one of the most prominent anti-withdrawal leaders, tells WND, “It’s over. We lost the battle. [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is getting what he wanted, and Israel is leaving Gaza. The area will next become the center of terrorism against us. But we can still win the war. Next Sharon will try to evacuate Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. We will not let this happen.”
FRIDAY: Neve Dekalim is a ghost town
Rows of houses that once contained 467 Jewish families are now deserted, debris strewn across lawns and along the sidewalks. Many front doors are wide open, windows smashed through.
Inside evacuated homes, kitchen counters, closets and bathrooms lie in ruins, broken to pieces by Jewish residents.
Several houses still are fully furnished, containing the belongings of residents who refused to move from their homes and instead were forced this week onto buses that brought them out of Gaza for the last time. Israel has said soldiers next week will empty out the remains of the homes and will return any property left behind to owners, although former area residents are skeptical.
A tour through Dekalim’s town center finds restaurants and stores abandoned. Counters inside the main food shop are empty.
The city’s recreation and community center is abandoned. The municipal building, which houses city offices and some area businesses, has been locked.
Neve Dekalim, the ‘capital’ of Jewish Gaza, has been evacuated.