Departing Settler is King for a Day

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Late Monday afternoon, the first day of the disengagement from Gaza, Avi Firouz sat on the staircase of his home in Dugit waiting for an army truck to take him, his son Eden and the last of his belongings to his new home in Netiv Ha'asara, a seven minute ride away. It would be his last journey from his home to the house he will rent in the Israeli village just across the border. He will no longer be allowed back into the Gaza Strip.

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Photos and Graphics

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For the last six years, Dugit (the word means a small boat in Hebrew) has been home to Firouz, his wife Shontal and their four children whose ages range from 12 to 20. It is one of three settlements established in the northern part of the Gaza Strip during the 1980s. Firouz, 44, moved here simply because it evoked memories of the beautiful sand dunes of his childhood in the Israeli town of Ashdod. As a young man he had lived in several kibbutzim and in Ashdod, but it was only the years in Dugit that provided him and his family with tranquility and a feeling of a real home, he says. Given a piece of land there by the Israeli government, he invested more than $200,000 to build a luxury home of 1200 square feet. "Actually, it's more than double the size", Firouz says, "if you count the balconies and other extras".

Although he moved there at the time of the Oslo accords, when peace with the Palestinians seemed closer than ever, Avi never imagined that Dugit would be evacuated. Located so close to the Israeli border, these northern Gaza settlers were sure their villages would remain in Israeli hands. "It was Yitzhak Rabin (then Defense Minister) who gave the approval to establish Dugit," says Firouz. "He promised it would never be evacuated".

Just three weeks ago, he finally realized the withdrawal plan would be implemented. It was "like the final stage of a terminal disease," he said. The family began to pack, renting a much smaller house in nearby Netiv Ha'asara. "It's traumatic enough for the kids," he explains. "We didn't want them to change schools and we wanted to be close to Ashdod where both my wife and I work." He says he has no clue where they will eventually live. "We have to digest this new reality before making further decisions" he says.

Firouz does not believe the pullout will boost Israel's security. "There'll be Palestinian gang-wars over the evacuated territory. The Israelis will then return to Gaza." Nevertheless, Firouz — the last of Dugit's settlers to leave — found a ray of sunshine in his bleak day. That morning, when the Israeli soldiers handed him his evacuation notice, they also offered to assist with the move. "They helped me dig out all the trees from my garden and plant them in my new home. Their troops, their trucks and their tractors were all at my service, awaiting my orders. I suddenly felt like a king".