Israelis living in the southern Gaza Strip settlement of Gush Katif say Israel’s “left-wing” media is waging a psychological war against them to weaken their resolve so they’ll give up their homes.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged to remove the 7,800 Israelis who live in 22 communities in the Gaza Strip as part of his U.S-backed “disengagement plan.”

The removal of Israeli residents from the Gaza Strip has been the subject of continuous Israeli media attention, but residents say that the coverage is one-sided — aimed at causing them to give up without a fight.

There have been numerous reports in the Israeli media about compensation schemes and time frames for evacuation of the settlements.

On Friday, the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv reported that the process of implementing the disengagement plan was “speeding up” and a new schedule indicated that settlers willing to leave could begin requesting compensation by the end of this month. Forced evacuations could begin by the end of this year – nine months earlier than the September 15 date reported last week.

But Gush Katif spokesman Eran Sternberg said that no Israeli official had approached the community or its members to speak to them about the withdrawal plan, packing up their homes or offering them compensation.

“Everything is psychological [warfare],” Sternberg said.

Yael Noyman, 42, and her husband Yossi raised their six children in the Gush Katif settlement of Neve Dekalim, where they have lived for 21 years. She said they try not to let all the talk about evacuation affect them.

“Every day we try to not let it influence us,” Noyman said.

“It’s really nerve-racking to see the news – the television, the newspaper, to hear the radio – very annoying. They’re speaking only about this… It’s hard also to hear and also that everyone wants… the evacuation of the settlements,” she said. “We are trying to live day by day [and] maintain our routine.”

Gush Katif resident Rivka Goldschmidt, 53, said she’s sometimes depressed by all the talk. “We’re not thinking about it. God will help and we will remain here… We have to [go on], otherwise you can go berserk.”

Goldschmidt charged that the government is using an all-too-willing media to pressure settlers into giving up their homes.

“[The government] is putting psychological pressure on us through the press,” said Goldschmidt. “The press in Israel is known to be left — strong left-wing [liberal] — and they’re using them, and [the media] are too willing to cooperate.

“The media in Israel is only looking for opportunities to push down our spirit and to be able to advertise messages that would penetrate into our heads and will make us feel that the battle is over,” she added.

It was the left-wing government of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that signed the Oslo Accords with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn under the watchful eye of President Bill Clinton and then began the handover of land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank to Palestinian control.

Most of the Gaza Strip, with its more than 1.2 million Arab residents, came under the control of the Palestinian Authority at that time, with the fate of the Jewish communities there left for later resolution.

As defense minister, Sharon encouraged the building of Jewish settlements on the empty sand dunes in Gaza in the 1980s as part of the country’s security program. But every since then, every time there was trouble in the Gaza Strip, the public debate over the future of the settlements has been rekindled in the press.

Goldschmidt, an English teacher and her husband Michael, who is a grower and exporter of flower bulbs to the U.S. and Europe, said they moved to the Gush Katif settlement of Ganei Tal 27 years ago for “purely ideological reasons.”

They believe the Gaza Strip is part of the Land of Israel promised to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance in the Bible and taken back in recent history through a series of victories. Goldschmidt said she sees those victories as God-given signs that Israel belongs there.

“[There was] never was a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria [West Bank] or the rest of Israel… Israel as a state, as a land, was occupied by many nations through history and has been given the name Palestine in order to demolish and detach every link between the sons of Israel and the Land of Israel,” she said.

But according to Goldschmidt, there also are a large number of Israelis who have detached themselves from their historical roots and are willing to give up parts of the biblical Land of Israel.

Among them are some Israelis living in the three settlements in the northern Gaza Strip, which are very close to the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, who are not so ideologically motivated and are willing to take the compensation and leave, she said.

“The media is falling all over them and broadcasting their opinion and the way they are dealing with it in order to create the picture that the whole of Gush Katif is [cast] down and is running to the government and asking for compensation, which is a totally warped and twisted picture,” she said.

“[Last] Friday, it sounded really bad, when all the channels and radio channels have repeated over and over again, ‘This is the compensation you are due to get and this is when you’re starting to get the first bit of it and those and those settlements have already agreed to it.’ There’s nothing in it. No truth behind it,” she added.

According to Goldschmidt, parliamentarian Zvi Hendel, who also lives in Ganei Tal, encouraged the residents to be strong.

“We are strong but we can’t even tell the people in Israel that we are strong because we don’t have an open microphone to say it,” Goldschmidt said.

Hendel, a member of the conservative National Union party, whose ministers were fired from the government prior to the cabinet vote on the disengagement plan two weeks ago, said he is certain that Gush Katif will not be evacuated, no matter what is being said.

“It is impossible to lead a democracy… like a dictatorship,” Hendel said by telephone.

“You can’t take a referendum and afterwards throw the results in the trash,” he said in reference to the Likud party referendum, which voted against the disengagement plan by a large majority.

Sharon cannot fire two ministers from the cabinet just because he doesn’t like what they say, he added.

There is “no doubt” the government will collapse within a few months and then the plan will fall apart, he said. Sharon’s government has shrunk to a minority government although press reports suggest that he is trying to bring the leftwing Labor party into his coalition.

Hendel is so confident that Israel won’t be leaving Gush Katif that he plans to throw a party there in five years. In fact, he invited to cover the party when it happens.

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This piece ran on the CNSNews Wire on June 16th, 2004