Published August 18, 2005
KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip – Israeli security forces carried out a second day of forced evacuations on Thursday, carrying hard-line protesters out of synagogues in Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom (search), two settlements where opposition to the Gaza withdrawal plan was fiercest.
By the close of the day, 14,000 unarmed forces had cleared those two settlements as well as 15 others, making solid progress in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to cede Gaza to the Palestinians. Four settlements still hadn't been evacuated.
At Kfar Darom, dozens of protesters sequestered themselves behind razor-wire on the synagogue roof, at first singing and waving flags, then attacking soldiers below with their arsenal of caustic liquids and objects, including paint-filled lightbulbs. Police and soldiers stripped off their clothes after being doused. Comrades poured water on their heads and torsos to wash them.
Breaking the siege, army cranes lowered metal cages filled with helmeted troops onto the roof, as cannons sprayed protesters with blasts of blue-tinted water. Other troops carrying wire cutters climbed ladders that became slick with oil.
The history of Kfar Darom goes back to 1946, before the establishment of the state of Israel. Two years later, settlers there held off the Egyptian military for three months during Israel's war of independence.
"The closest thing to Kfar Darom in the United States is the Alamo. Imagine pulling people out of this place," Dore Gold (search), the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, told FOX News. "They are heroes of Israel and we owe them a great deal after they are pulled out of their homes."
As another sign of protests against the evictions, settlers elsewhere burned houses, fields and tires.
Despite these reports, most Gaza Strip residents left peacefully; the majority of residents support the reasoning behind clearing out of the region.
"I think today's the day of tremendous national anguish. Many people thought this whole process would polarize Israeli society because that seemed to be the environment here leading up to the national disengagement effort," Gold said, adding that in actuality, communities are pulling together to support each other and, despite the public protests, the settlers and troops cry together over what is happening.
At Neve Dekalim (search), troops wrestled for hours against some 1,500 extremists making their last stand inside Gaza's largest synagogue. Protesters lay on the floor with their arms linked, kicking against the Israeli forces while supporters held their shoulders in a tug-of-war.
After breaking the human chain, troops dragged protesters out of the synagogue one by one, holding them by their arms and legs as they twisted and squirmed. Other protesters chanted "blasphemy, blasphemy." One religious soldier, who wore a skullcap, suffered a panic attack and was taken away by medics.
Outside, teenage girls confronted a wall of troops surrounding the building, waving their fists and screaming, "You're driving Jews out of a synagogue. The last time this happened was the Holocaust. ... You're Jews, you have a Jewish heart, you don't have to do this."
For years, 8,500 Israelis lived among Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians in perpetual tension and frequently lethal violence. The standoff at the synagogues was a symbolic climax to the withdrawal operation that started early Wednesday, since many of the settlers are Orthodox Jews who believe Gaza is the biblical birthright of the Jewish people.
Palestinians watched the drama in satisfaction from the rooftops of their nearby homes. "I'm standing here without any fear that Israelis will shoot at me because their battle today is against themselves," said Mohammed Bashir, a farmer in the town of Deir al-Balah, near Kfar Darom.
Thursday's evictions leave several hundred people still in Gaza (search). Evictions of the remaining four settlements, which will be suspended before Friday evening for the Jewish Sabbath, could be completed by next week, officials said — far earlier than planned.
President Bush was receiving regular updates on the withdrawal, White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, told reporters in Crawford, Texas.
"We understand the deep sentiments that are felt and the difficulty one feels when leaving their home," she said. "We agree that the disengagement will only make Israel stronger. We agree with Prime Minister Sharon on that. And the president has also said that this will bring our two countries closer together."
At least 41 police and soldiers and 17 civilians were injured during Thursday's raids on six settlements, including Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom, police said. In Kfar Darom, about 50 people were arrested.
"What we saw here crossed all boundaries," said Maj. Gen. Dan Harel. "Everybody who was now on the roof will be arrested and put in prison." He said several troops were wounded by acid.
The daylong rooftop standoff recalled images from 1982 when Israeli troops evacuated Yamit, an Israeli town build on the coast of the Sinai Peninsula that was being returned to Egypt under a peace treaty between the two countries. That was the first time Israelis saw their army fighting their own civilians, and the army was equipped only with ladders to storm the roof — a lesson learned this time.
As cranes lowered the cages of troops, other soldiers with wire cutters climbed ladders, which protesters tried to topple as they poured sand, oil and white paint onto troops from buckets and gasoline canisters.
The some 14,000 police and soldiers taking part in the evacuation were trained to withstand abuse and be considerate of the settler's rage and sorrow at being ripped from their homes.
But while forces remained impassive overall, Police Chief Moshe Karadi said patience wore thin with the display of violence at Kfar Darom. After two days of gentle persuasion, "from the moment when the dialogue ended, restraint also ended."
Sensitive to restrictions among religious Jews on the mixing of the sexes, security forces deployed women soldiers and police to evacuate the scores of women crammed into the Neve Dekalim synagogue. Only male soldiers were allowed to touch the men, said police spokesman Avi Zelba.
Some Israelis were offended that the extremists chose houses of worship as their last redoubt. But experts on Judaism say it's not necessarily taboo for a synagogue to be used as a place of refuge.
In another standoff, at the beachfront settlement of Kfar Yam, settler Aryeh Yitzhaki clambered onto his roof at with an M-16 rifle slung over his shoulder. Three other extremists accompanied him.
"No one can ask me to hand over my weapon," he told Israel's Channel Two TV, speaking by mobile phone. "I have said very clearly that I will do everything to stop the uprooting, to stop it with my body."
He held off police for hours before negotiators persuaded him and the others to surrender and get on an evacuation bus.
Most of the extremists battling the troops Thursday came from Israel or the West Bank to reinforce the resistance. Faced with the threat of a loss of government compensation for their houses, the majority of settlers left Gaza before a deadline Sunday or during the two following days of grace before the forced evictions began.
Residents of Netzer Hazani set fire to homes, garbage and tires as columns of soldiers entered the settlement.
In Shirat Hayam, a small but hardline settlement, troops brought in a hydraulic platform to bring down more than dozen protesters singing and chanting on a rooftop. In a nursery school, one young girl screamed, "You can't throw us out of our house."
The army sent in a bulldozer to douse flames raging from a barricade at the entrance. When the bulldozer arrived, settlers threw balloons with red and white paint at it.
One man collapsed in the sand in tears after soldiers came to evacuate him. "This is the land of Israel, people, this is the land of Israel," he shouted. "I just want to stay here."
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.