Israeli authorities set up roadblocks across southern Israel and cut off bus service to the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip yesterday as they began final preparations to begin dismantling all 21 settlements inside Gaza.
Israeli troops were to seal off the Gaza settlements at midnight last night, marking the start of the withdrawal, the first time Israel will pull out of land Palestinians want for a future state. Two days later, soldiers will begin forcibly removing those settlers remaining in the 21 Gaza settlements.
As of yesterday, thousands of residents -- reinforced by an estimated 4,000 visitors from outside Gaza -- remained inside the settlements, vowing to resist their eviction. Other opponents of the pullout have threatened to hold massive demonstrations against the plan and to run the roadblock on the Gaza border to create chaos and torpedo the plan.
Police spokesman Avi Zelba said that authorities set up a cordon of roadblocks in southern Israel yesterday to prevent the opponents from interfering with the pullout. Only residents of southern Israel and those with a legitimate reason for being there will be allowed to cross, police said.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres gave a pep talk to troops stationed near the Gaza border, telling them their coming task was crucial to protecting Israel's democracy.
"The settlements must be evacuated; they cannot stay here," he told reporters. "I understand that there are feelings. I have sympathy [for the settlers], but they cannot replace a national choice."
Settlers also made last-minute preparations of their own. Settler leaders sent out instructions on how to break the morale of soldiers sent to carry out the eviction orders, according to the Yediot Ahronot daily.
The settlers were told to give the soldiers children's drawings and to take pictures of the troops, telling them that history will remember them for their crimes, according to Yediot.
Settlers also planned to seal off their communities early today to prevent soldiers from delivering eviction notices.
The army closed the checkpoint into the Gush Katif cluster of settlements in southern Gaza to everyone but residents weeks ago, but thousands of protesters still managed to infiltrate. The army said yesterday that as many as 4,000 disengagement opponents might be inside the settlements; Settlers said the figure was much higher.
"I think that's a sign that a lot of soldiers are also protesting in their way by letting people come in," said Anita Tucker, a resident of the Netzer Hazani settlement.
Brigadier General Dan Harel, the military commander in charge of the pullout, said the infiltrators would have no impact on the pullout.
"They won't prevent us from carrying out the disengagement at the time, moment and way that we see fit," he told Army Radio.
prayers and singing
Meanwhile, hundreds of settlers gathered at the Gush Katif cemetery singing traditional prayers of redemption as part of a ceremony commemorating the Tisha B'Av holy day marking the destruction of the Jewish Temples. The cemetery's 49 graves are to be moved as part of the pullout.
"Go to the holy patriarchs, the holy matriarchs, tell them `We want to stay here,'" Rabbi Yosef Elnikaveh said, symbolically addressing the dead at the ceremony. "Tell them you don't want anyone to touch you. Tell them you don't want them to open your graves, that you want your graves to remain and be opened only upon the resurrection of the dead."