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Looming Gaza Pullout Divides Young Family

Husband doesn't want to leave the settlement where he has spent most of his life. His wife, fearing for their children's safety, is ready to move.

June 19, 2005|Ravi Nessman | Associated Press Writer

RAFIAH YAM, Gaza Strip — David Saada loves Rafiah Yam. He has lived in this Gaza Strip settlement since he was a child and never wants to leave.

Maya Saada, his wife, also loves Rafiah Yam. But she is worried for her children's safety and wants to get out as soon as possible.

Opponents of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip, scheduled for August, say it will turn brother against brother and lead to civil war.

It has already divided the Saada household.

"We are really trying not to talk about this, but if it comes up, it always turns into an argument," said David, 29.

Maya, also 29, said they don't fight that much. Since they are not really in control of their fate, it is pointless to argue.

"If there is a disengagement, whether you are for or against it, it doesn't matter. If you are here, you leave," she said.

David has lived in this small cluster of red-roofed houses with a sweeping sea view since he was 8. His childhood memories are here, and he insists that he has no intention of leaving.

"This is my house. I grew up here. My whole life is here," he said as he sat in his mother's garden, holding his 4-month-old daughter, Naama, and watching his 4-year-old twin sons, Amit and Eli, playing. "Where else in the world would we find this?"

Maya moved to Rafiah Yam six years ago to be with David, and she immediately fell in love with the settlement. It was quiet, children played together; it was a very tight community, which is hard to find in Israel, she said.

Across the security fence that separates the 8,500 Israeli settlers from the rest of Gaza, 1.3 million Palestinians -- many of them impoverished -- live squeezed together in overcrowded conditions rivaling any on the planet.

When fighting with the Palestinians broke out 4 1/2 years ago, Maya began feeling wary about her life here.

Then, on Nov. 6, 2002, their world exploded. That morning, a Palestinian worker went on a rampage with a pistol in their settlement, killing two Israelis, including David's father, Amos.

A stone marker in Amos' memory stands in the middle of the settlement. A framed memorial hangs on Maya's and David's wall.

The killing strengthened David's attachment to the settlement, Maya said, but it made her realize that she had to take her family and get out.

"There is no way for us to remain here because of the children," she said. "I am scared."

A majority in Israel support the Gaza pullout, although approval has fluctuated between 50% and 65%. It dropped by nine percentage points this month to the lowest yet, according to a poll published June 10 in the Maariv newspaper, which speculated that Israelis were weary of the friction between settlers and the authorities.

Over the past 4 1/2 years, thousands of Palestinian mortar shells and homemade rockets have hit the Gaza settlements. A pizzeria at the edge of Rafiah Yam is protected by blast walls from occasional sniper fire from the nearby Palestinian town of Rafah, a frequent site of Israeli raids that have destroyed hundreds of Palestinian homes. On a recent night, troops surrounding the settlement went on high alert after a report of a gunshot aimed at the community.

Maya's parents, who live in an Israeli town just outside the Gaza Strip, have refused to visit her for 2 1/2 years.

She wanted to move, but no one was willing to buy their house. So when she heard Prime Minister Ariel Sharon propose last year that Israel evacuate all the settlements and compensate the residents, she said, "I danced."

David saw the plan as "a catastrophe" that will give the Palestinians incentive to step up their attacks.

"I am prepared to take painful steps for peace, but I have no doubt that this will not lead to peace," he said. "It's groveling in front of terror."

Palestinian militants have claimed responsibility for the Israeli pullout, saying their constant attacks on the settlements forced Israel's retreat.

Maya said that when David announced he wanted to stay, "I told him, 'If something happens to one of our children, I wouldn't forgive you for the rest of my life.' "

She is checking on housing near the city of Ashkelon in Israel proper, but can't solidify any deals because she is not sure how much compensation they will get before the pullout.

David is preparing to plant sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant. He says he already has contracts for the winter crops.

In trying to satisfy both of them -- and prevent a serious fight -- the Saadas have reached a compromise, Maya said.

She will leave with the kids before the pullout, and he can stay and protest lawfully.

But she recognizes that it may not be that simple. If he wants to stay and protest beyond the government deadline, it could trigger a severe cut in the family's compensation package.

"Then the fighting would start," she said.

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