KEREM ATZMONA, Gaza Strip – One family pinned orange Star of David (search) badges to eight screaming children, who marched from a trailer with hands raised — apparently to recall images of the Nazi deportation of Jews.
A father shoved his daughter, about 10 years old, toward a soldier, shouting: "Expel her, please take her, you are such a hero." A mother cut the shirts of two young boys with scissors in a ritual of mourning.
In the Gaza pullout Wednesday, terrified children were caught in the tug-of-war between settlers and soldiers.
Some settlers sent children to live with relatives in Israel so they would not be traumatized as troops physically evicted Jewish settlers who refused to leave voluntarily. Others kept their children close, saying they wanted them never to forget the day they were forced from their homes.
In the Morag settlement (search), resident Michal Unterman held her preschool-age daughter in her arms earlier this week and pointed out a soldier delivering an eviction notice. She told the child to remember the moment.
Some experts warned the youngsters could be psychologically scarred.
Parents "pretend that the children are suffering, but they [the parents] are the main cause of the suffering of the children," said media analyst Yoram Peri. "Instead of helping them, they are using them."
Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of the National Council for the Child, warned that "children should not be a tool for parents or any other adults to promote their cause."
The debate is not new, however, as children have played a central role in nearly five years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Israeli officials have repeatedly accused the Palestinians of sending children into the front lines in hopes of winning international sympathy. Palestinian suicide bombers have often targeted areas crowded with Israeli youngsters, such as malls and fast-food restaurants.
Peri said recruiting children for the struggle over the Gaza pullout would produce a backlash in Israel.
"The majority of Israelis can identify with their [the settlers'] suffering but would not accept the use of children for that purpose," he said. "That is counterproductive."
Throughout the day Wednesday, children were at the center of many confrontations, including some of the most heartrending.
Soldiers carried toddlers out of a nursery in the Morag settlement and loaded diapers and toys onto buses for evacuation. A soldier with tears in her eyes held a toddler in her arms, gave him some candy and implored, "Where is his mother?" Another soldier waved away flies from a toddler lying in a stroller.
However, in Kerem Atzmona (search), a hardline settlement outpost, a 5-year-old boy came to the door of his house with a Star of David (search) on his shirt and pointed to it yelling, "This isn't for nothing."
"I am a believing Jew, a settler, and you are evil Jews," the boy shouted at security forces and journalists.
On the house was posted a sign saying "Judenrein," German for "Jew-free."