Settlements in Focus: Vol. 1, Issue 5 - "Disengagement - Profiling the Settlements"


"'It was a huge mistake,' said Haim Ramon of the Labor Party's decision in the 1970s to settle the Gaza Strip." (Source: Ha'aretz, Feb. 16, 2005)

How many settlements are due to be evacuated from the Gaza Strip?

All of the settlements in the Gaza Strip are due to be evacuated under the disengagement plan. These settlements are:

Name - Est. Population

Atzmona - 646 Morag - 221
(aka Bnei Azmon) Netzarim - 496
Bedolah - 219 Netzer Hazani - 461
Dugit - 79 Neve Dekalim - 2671
Elei Sinai - 407 Nisanit - 1064
Gadid - 351 Pe'at Sade - 104
Ganei Tal - 400 Rafiah Yam - 143
Gan Or - 351 Shirat Hayam* - 40
Katif - 404 Slav* - 50
Kerem Atzmona* - 24 Tel Katifa* - 60
Kfar Darom - 491
Kfar Yam - 10

Total: 8692

Source: All population data is from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) for Dec. 31, 2004, except for the four marked with an asterisk. These four settlements are not on the CBS population database; population numbers are taken from public sources, including press reports and settlement websites.

When were these settlements established and under what kind of government?

1970s: Kfar Darom (Originally established in 1946, then again in 1970 - Labor), Morag (1972 - Labor), Netzarim (1972 - Labor), Netzer Hazani (1973 - Labor), Ganei Tal (1979 - Likud)

1980s: Atzmona (Originally established in 1979 in the Sinai, moved to the current site in 1982 - Likud), Dugit (1982 - Likud), Gadid (1982 - Likud), Nisanit (1984 - Likud), Elei Sinai (1983 - Likud), Gan Or (1983 - Likud), Kfar Yam (1983 - Likud), Neveh Dekalim (1983 - Likud), Rafiah Yam (1984 - Likud), Katif (1985 - Likud/Labor coalition), Bedolah (1986 - Likud/Labor coalition), Pe'at Sadeh (1989 - Likud/Labor coalition)

1990s: Dugit (1990 - Likud), Tel Katifa (1992 - Likud)

2000s: Shirat Hayam (2000 - Labor), Kerem Atzmona (2001 - Likud), Slav (originally established in 1980 as a military base, converted into a civilian settlement in 2001 - Likud)

(Note: There is some confusion over the appropriate date to cite for the establishment of many Gaza settlements, many of which began as military outposts in one year, were converted into civilian settlements in another year, and were formally recognized as legal settlements in yet another year. Others were established at temporary sites in one year and moved to permanent sites during another year. The dates cited above represent our judgment of the most widely-accepted dates.)

Where are the settlements located and why?

The locations of the Gaza Strip settlements involve several strategic considerations and impacts. The largest group of settlements is the Katif bloc, located along the southern Gaza coastline. These settlements block access to the coast from the major Palestinian cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah and cements Israeli control on the Egypt-Gaza border. Another group of settlements (comprising Elei Sinai, Dugit, and Nisanit) are located along Gaza's northern border with Israel, expanding the Israeli presence from the city of Ashkelon (inside Israel) to the edges of Gaza City (the Erez Industrial zone is part of this bloc). Lastly, the isolated settlement strongholds of Netzarim, Kfar Darom, and Morag are strategically located in the heart of the Gaza Strip (along a north-south axis), creating a framework for Israeli control of the area and its main transportation route, and facilitating Israel's ability to divide the Gaza Strip into separate areas and isolate each area's inhabitants. Plans for additional settlements in this area - to create a "Netzarim bloc" between Deir al Balah and Gaza City - were never realized.

In addition, the settlements control prime agricultural land, some of the area's main aquifers, and approximately one-third of the total Gaza coastline.

What are the general characteristics of these settlements and their inhabitants?

The Gaza settlements range from religious communities (Atzmona, Bedolah, Gadid, Ganei Tal, Gan Or, Katif, Kfar Darom, Morag, Netzarim, Netzer Hazani, and Neve Dekalim) to non-religious communities (Dugit, Elei Sinai, Kfar Yam), to mixed communities (Nisanit, Pe'at Sade, and Rafiah Yam). Their economies are generally based on agriculture (with many classified as "moshavim" or cooperative agricultural villages), with some local industry (Neve Dekalim and Katif) and tourist facilities (Dugit, Katif bloc). One settlement, Gadid, has a large French population and maintains an absorption center for new immigrants from France. The isolated location of the Gush Katif bloc attracts some of the most ideologically-motivated members of the Gaza settlement community. Residents of the northern bloc (Elei Sinai, Nisanit, and Dugit) are physically separated from the rest of the Gaza settlers (to reach the other settlements they must travel into Israel, then re-enter Gaza, through another entrance point) and their social and economic lives are more closely linked to Israel than other settlers, with many of the residents working and studying inside Israel.

How much land do the settlements occupy?

The Gaza Strip measures 363 square kilometers, of which the settlements and related lands and infrastructure (civilian and military) occupy an estimated 65 square kilometers, or 18% of the land. Of this total, only about 10.2 square kilometers, or 2.8% of the total area, is built-up areas of the settlements. The built-up areas include 3.5 square kilometers of residential areas and 6.7 square kilometers of agricultural and industrial areas. In terms of population density, there are 123 persons per square kilometer in the settlements, compared to 4362 persons per square kilometer in the rest of the Gaza Strip (a 1:35 ratio). In Israel proper, the population density is approximately 307 persons per square kilometer.

Taking into consideration additional areas under intermittent Israeli control in conjunction with military operations in the north (Beit Hanoun) and the south (Rafah) areas of the Gaza Strip, as well as de facto Israeli control over all major roads, it is fair to estimate that the total area of the Gaza Strip under Israeli control is actually between 20-25%. (There is no data available on Israeli military installations in the Gaza Strip, although it is known that some have already been removed.)

How many settlements are due to be evacuated from the West Bank?

Four settlements are due to be evacuated from the West Bank. These settlements are:

Name (Est. Population)

Ganim (172)
Homesh (228)
Kadim (169)
Sa Nur (105*)
Total: (674)

Source: All population data is from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) for Dec. 31, 2004.

*One recent press report put the total number of inhabitants of Sa Nur at 250-300, including residents of a tent camp composed mainly of settlers from other settlements who have moved to Sa Nur to resist evacuation, and yeshiva students from the Hebron-area settlement of Kiryat Arba. (Source: JTA, July 6, 2005)

When were these settlements established and under what kind of government?

All four of the settlements were established in the 1980s, under a Likud government: Homesh (1980), Sa Nur (1982), Ganim (1983), and Kadim (1983).

Where are the settlements located and why?

Sa Nur and Homesh are located northwest of Nablus, along what was historically the primary north-south road through the West Bank. The two settlements create a locus of Israeli control over this route and block Palestinian contiguity between large population centers located near the Green Line (Tulkarem, Qalqilya) and those located in the central West Bank (Nablus, Tubas). The impact of the settlements was illustrated in the arrangements that resulted from the Oslo Accords, under which Sa Nur, Homesh, and the main north-south road on which they are located were designated "Area C" - areas under full Israeli control - splitting the northern part of the West Bank and leaving disconnected islands of Palestinian-controlled land on either side. The strategic value of the location is further reflected in the fact that Sa Nur was established on the site of what was first a British, and then a Jordanian military fortress.

Ganim and Kadim are located southeast of the large Palestinian city of Jenin. Their locations reflect a longstanding pattern of placing settlements very close to large Palestinian cities (like Beit El and Pesagot, which sit almost inside Ramallah; Alfei Menashe and the Zofim block, next to Qalqilya; and Kiryat Arba, sitting cheek-and-jowl with Hebron). The establishment of settlements so close to Palestinian populations serves to block the expansion of the Palestinian cities, divide them from neighboring villages, and anchor Israeli influence and control in the area. However, Ganim and Kadim failed to attract large numbers of either ideologically-motivated Israelis (since the area lacks any special historic/religious importance, as compared to an area like Hebron) or quality-of-life settlers (since the area is isolated and does not have easy access to any large Israeli cities within the Green Line).

How much land is involved?

The built-up area of the four settlements is very small; however, the evacuation of these settlements will impact an area of between 630 square kilometers (minimalist interpretation) and 970 square kilometers (maximal interpretation). This will include opening up a major north-south highway through this portion of the West Bank - long closed to regular Palestinian traffic - as well as access roads to villages and agricultural lands. The evacuations of these four small settlements will make possible, for the first time in many years, relatively normal movement of Palestinian people and goods between the large Palestinian cities of Jenin, Nablus, and possibly even Tulkarem, as well as the villages around and between them. However, it should be noted that, in contrast to the Gaza Strip, Israel is not totally leaving the northern West Bank and handing over control to the Palestinian Authority; the area will remain under overall Israeli control, with Israel retaining the right to conduct security operations there. In addition, Israel will maintain control of strategic points around Nablus, and in particular, the large military posts and settlements (Elon Moreh and Shavei Shomron) that overlook the city itself and establish control over its major entrances.

What is going to happen to the settlements after evacuation?

The June 6, 2004 Israeli Government decision #1996, stated: "As a rule, residential areas and sensitive structures, including synagogues, will not remain." (Appendix A, Clause 7)

Some people have argued that the settlements should be left intact for the benefit of the Palestinians - to be developed into educational facilities or tourist sites, for example. Others have argued that images of Israel demolishing the homes will damage Israel politically and fuel support for Hamas, which will claim credit for the destruction of the settlements. For their part, Palestinian leaders argue that the low-density, single-family construction of the settlements is entirely inappropriate for the needs of the residents of Gaza, and that the land should be cleared and re-developed according to those needs. The Palestinian Authority is also reportedly very concerned about their ability (or lack thereof) to prevent looting and chaos at the sites of the evacuated settlements, with particular fears that Hamas will attempt to seize the sites and take credit for the eviction of the settlers.

Notwithstanding continued debate in the press over the issue, in June 2005 it was announced that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed that Israel would demolish the evacuated structures in the Gaza settlements. Yonatan Bassi, the head of Israel's Disengagement Administration, confirmed in a July 8th interview in Ha'aretz that the structures will indeed be demolished, and that the demolitions will be done concurrently with the evacuations "to make sure the settlers do not return." There are reportedly ongoing discussions about what will happen to greenhouses located in the settlements.

Still unclear are the arrangements that will be made for dealing with the rubble. The Palestinians have expressed concerns about the costs and environmental impacts of disposing of the rubble in Gaza. It has been suggested that one solution may be for Israel to pay for the Palestinians to remove the rubble as a way to both take care of the problem and create employment for local Palestinians.

Finally, press reports indicate that there are around 35 synagogues and 22 mikvahs (ritual baths) in Gush Katif, as well as a cemetery containing 47 graves. The Israeli government has indicated that the graves will be removed, and an Israeli rabbi and burial expert, Rabbi Yakov Rujha, has ruled that Jewish law permits the moving of these graves: "The removal of Gush Katif graves is permitted according to Jewish law. The moment there is a danger that Palestinians would violate the deceased's honor and desecrate the place.the graves must be transferred, even if the settlers and relatives of the deceased object." (Source: Ynet, May 5, 2005). As for the religious structures, it appears that the Government is considering three options: transfer of the structures to Israel, transfer of a part of each structure to Israel (and demolition of the remainder), and demolition of the structures in their entirety. As of this writing it appears that no final decision has been made.

What sort of compensation is being offered to the settlers?

On February 16, 2005, by a vote of 59-40 (with five abstentions), the Knesset passed the Disengagement Implementation Law, establishing the framework and rules governing compensation for settlers who will be evacuated under the disengagement plan. On June 9, 2005, Israel's Supreme Court ruled against petitions offered by opponents of the plan, while at the same time tweaking - in the settlers' favor - some of the rules regarding compensation. The total estimated costs of the plan are 3.8 billion shekels (about $870 million). The compensation (for land and house alone) for the average family is currently estimated at around $450,000 - a number that has been steadily rising, feeding many settler expectations that the longer they hold out, the more lucrative their buy-out will be.

According to the Disengagement Authority, settlers will be eligible for: housing compensation; a moving grant; a rent grant; a personal grant (based on length of residency); special loans (which turn into grants after 5 years) for settlers moving to (and staying in) the Galilee, Negev, or Ashkelon; reimbursement for taxes paid on real estate purchased in the settlements; compensation for loss of income to salaried employees; retirement benefit for salaried workers aged 55 or older; and compensation for businesses, including agriculture. The law stipulates that after the evacuation date, former residents of the settlements have no legal claim to any property left in the evacuated areas.

The law also stipulates that settlers who do not evacuate by the deadline may be jailed for up to six months (the law originally stipulated up to one year of imprisonment, but this was changed by the Supreme Court decision). People who enter the area illegally (for the purposes of blocking the evacuation) may be jailed for up to 2 years (originally 3 years, but reduced by the Supreme Court). The law also provides for families to be jailed together.

Distinct from the Disengagement Implementation Law and the compensation it provides, the Israeli government is working with settlers to provide an even more costly relocation plan - one that will enable settlers to recreate their communities inside Israel. The plan, detailed in Yedioth Ahronoth on July 4th, would provide for the relocation of Gaza settlers to an area called Nitzanim - located on the coast just north of Ashkelon. The plan would involve construction of about 2,000 houses, sufficient to house all Gaza Strip settlers (should they decide to come) and creation of a brand-new municipality (who name would be determined by the settlers). It would also include construction of educational facilities, an industrial zone, offices, farms, tourist facilities (to generate local employment), and a new transportation hub providing direct train service to Tel Aviv. An outline of the plan approved by the Cabinet on June 24th set the value for plots of land in Nitzanim and stipulated that the value of the land granted to settlers would be deducted from their other compensation. However, many have argued that the property values have been grossly under-stated, creating an additional form of special compensation for the settlers. In response to such criticisms voiced during a June 24th Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly stated, "Special situations require special solutions. This is a special and difficult case and what led me to the decision was that if there is something that could ease the burden on the settlers it should be done."

Are the settlers expected to violently resist disengagement?

Recent confrontations between the IDF and settlers in the Gaza Strip - following provocative acts by the more militant settlers (and their supporters) to establish new outposts outside the settlements by taking over Palestinian buildings - underscore the potential for violent resistance and provocations from some settlers and anti-disengagement activists. In addition, the June 29th attempted lynching of a Palestinian teenager by settler hooligans - caught on video by Israeli journalists and dominating the Israeli media for several days - has increased concern that some disengagement opponents will vent their wrath on the Palestinians in the area. The recent confrontations highlighted the role of settler youth - like the "hilltop youths" who were the vanguard of the movement to establish illegal outposts in the West Bank and who led the chaotic and sometimes violent resistance to efforts to dismantle these outposts. The violent activities of this segment of the settlers have led to a political backlash, with a spike in Israeli support for the evacuations.

The recent confrontations also highlight the fact that many of the most extreme anti-disengagement activists are not residents of the settlements due to be evacuated but are coming from other settlements in the West Bank and from inside Israel. For this reason, it is expected that the IDF will make an effort to close off access to these areas as the disengagement period approaches. In the meantime, recent news reports indicate that disengagement opponents are beginning to focus their efforts on two of the West Bank settlements slated for evacuation, with large numbers of settlers from elsewhere in the West Bank moving themselves and their children into Sa Nur and Homesh.

Produced by Lara Friedman, Government Relations Director, Americans for Peace Now (USA), with assistance from Dror Etkes, Peace Now (Jerusalem).