GADID, Gaza Strip, Aug. 19 - After more than a year of political dramas and anguished debates, Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is proceeding far more quickly and with much less turmoil than most anyone had predicted.
Tsafrir Abayov/Associated Press
Israeli security forces carried a weeping Jewish settler out of the synagogue in the settlement of Gadid, in the southern Gaza Strip.
In the Gaza settlement of Gadid, Israeli soldiers and police officers emptied out some 300 people, including the few remaining families and groups of protesters by midafternoon today.
A few miles away, at the shuttered Palestinian airport in southern Gaza, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said the Israeli pullout "was the result of the sacrifices, patience and wisdom of our people."
"The most important step after the withdrawal will be how we protect, rebuild," Mr. Abbas said in his first major speech since the Israeli withdrawal began this week.
Israel closed the Palestinian airport after the Palestinian uprising began five years ago, and the Palestinians say it must be reopened to permit them greater freedom of movement.
In Gadid, the Israeli security forces were greeted by bonfires of burning debris, including two flaming pickup trucks, along the settlement's entrance road. But the residents and protesters were mostly inside the houses, giving the settlement a ghost town feel even before it was evacuated.
Some young protesters later scaled rooftops, and screamed their voices raw as the security forces approached. "This is a pogrom and you are Cossacks," shouted two girls, their faces flush with sunburn and emotion.
The protesters had to be talked down, or in some cases pulled down, from the sloping red tiles, where some had poured cooking oil to slow the advance of soldiers. And when a bus loaded with protesters was being driven out of Gaza, seven escaped, but were seized a short while later, hiding in greenhouses, the military said.
In the three days since the forced evacuations began, just 7 of the 21 settlements in Gaza have not formally been cleared out. Of the nearly 9,000 Gaza settlers, perhaps several hundred are still in their homes, according to the military.
Despite the shrieking and wailing by those being removed, no weapons have been fired. In the most serious confrontation, more than 100 hard-core protesters barricaded themselves on the synagogue roof in Kfar Darom, and clashed with the security forces for several hours on Thursday. But that episode has so far proved the exception.
"We gave people a chance to leave on their own before we came. We've been talking to people at great length, and made it clear that we aren't going to humiliate them," said Brig. Gen. Yisrael Zev, who was monitoring the Gadid withdrawal today.
Violence between settlers and the security forces was a real possibility if the pullout was mishandled, the general said. He cited two recent shootings of Arabs by Israelis, including an attack on Wednesday that killed four Palestinians in the West Bank.
In Gaza, the security forces took a break for the Jewish Sabbath, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. The evacuations are to resume on Sunday morning, and barring unexpected developments, it appears they may be completed as early as Monday. The pullout from four small West Bank settlements is expected next week.
The mopping-up operations are already under way. Dozens of moving trucks were in Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement, as workers boxed household possessions that settlers had not packed. The military must also demolish the settlers' houses and take down army bases.
Israel has declined to set a date for turning over the settlements to the Palestinian Authority, though it appears the handover is still several weeks away.
So what happened to the settler resistance that many had predicted, and the national trauma that some had forecast for Israel?
"I predicted it would be relatively easy, and many people were laughing at me," said Dan Schueftan, the author of "Disengagement," a 1999 book that called for Israel to unilaterally separate itself from the Palestinians, just as it is now doing in Gaza.
Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, says there is no second stage of unilateral withdrawal, and that the Palestinians must halt violence against Israel in order for the two sides to pursue the peace plan known as the road map.
However, Mr. Schueftan, the deputy director of national security studies at the University of Haifa, believes the winner of the next Israeli election, whether it is Mr. Sharon or someone else, will embark on a settlement withdrawal plan in the West Bank.
"The next stage of disengagement is inevitable, and the settlers have already lost the next battle," Mr. Schueftan said. "If the settlers do the same thing they did this time, the country will know they can be handled. If the settlers go farther, and cross the line and use weapons, they will be doomed."
"We are basically retreating slowly toward the fence," Mr. Schueftan said, referring to Israel's West Bank separation barrier, which has been under construction for the past three years.
The barrier's current route would place close to 10 percent of the West Bank on the Israeli side, and would incorporate the major settlement blocs, where most of the 240,000 West Bank settlers live.
But dozens of settlements and tens of thousands of settlers are beyond the barrier, deep inside the West Bank, and they would be the most likely candidates for any future withdrawal.
The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, opposes all settlements, and is seeking a state that would include all of Gaza and the West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem.
Shlomo Avineri, a political science professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the Gaza withdrawal has demonstrated "a basic solidarity among Israelis that is sometimes drowned out by the very rough give-and-take of our politics."
He cited several reasons for the largely smooth withdrawal.
The security forces are 50,000 strong, overwhelming the settlers with sheer numbers, yet the police and soldiers have been quite restrained in dealing with them, he said.
"You usually don't see the police and the army acting with such sensitivity," said Mr. Avineri.
"The settlers tried to create this catastrophic narrative, giving the impression of great trauma," he said. But the government and the security forces were prepared for potential problems, and "the relative technical ease of this operation will certainly make possible further disengagement."