History Foreshadows Gaza Pullout ; Some Resisted the Sinai Pullout in 1982; This Week's Protests Suggest Leaving Gaza May Be More Difficult

Article excerpt

Stuffed with brittle yellowed papers, Nahum Yosefi's frayed leather briefcase is a time capsule from a chapter in Israeli history about to repeat itself.

Sifting through his relics - speeches and compensation agreement drafts from the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982 - Mr. Yosefi's chuckles are laced with nostalgia for the life he left behind in Israel's Yamit settlement block more than two decades ago. "That was the house," he says, pulling out a blueprint for his two- floor, seven-room home. "And they destroyed it completely."

Some 6,000 Yamit settlers like Yosefi watched their homes bulldozed in the name of peace with Egypt. The landmark evacuation - ordered by then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and carried out by his defense minister, Ariel Sharon - was the first time Israel destroyed settlements it established in territories seized during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Yamit survives as the sole precedent for the evacuation of about 9,000 settlers from the Gaza and the West Bank, scheduled for mid- August. Scenes of Israeli soldiers dragging holdouts off a hotel rooftop endure as the seminal image from the Yamit evacuation - a reminder of the settler's dogged determination to resist being uprooted.

To some extent, the turmoil from 23 years ago is fueling expectations that the Gaza withdrawal will be even more unruly. Wednesday, tension between Israeli police and pullout opponents remained high. Thousands of protesters in a farming village in southern Israel said they planned to march toward Gaza, now a closed military zone, and into the Gush Katif settlement as some 20,000 police and soldiers encircled them for a second day.

Indeed, the Gaza pullback - a unilateral exit without any Palestinian concession in return - has stirred considerably more controversy than the withdrawal from Yamit, the price of the 1979 Peace treaty with Egypt.

Public support for the Gaza pullout has fallen from nearly two- thirds just one year ago to about 50 percent as recently as last month, according to recent surveys. The sacrifice of Yamit, by contrast, was considered a fair tradeoff by Israelis, says Akiva Eldar, a journalist at Haaretz newspaper who recently coauthored a history of the settler movement.

"They say, 'Hey we got peace and it was worth it,' " says Mr. Eldar. "In the collective memory of Israelis, the trauma of Yamit victims was a justified trauma."

The Yamit settlers dispersed throughout the country. Some, like Yosefi, moved together in a group to establish new communities inside Israel. Others moved to the Gaza Strip to become part of the expanding settler community there.

As the country girds itself for the August evacuation in Gaza, the crisis of crushed idealism and eviction has been reawakened among the veterans of 1982. …