Settlements growing as evacuation nears

jerusalem | Jewish settlements slated for evacuation have shown marked population growth, according to figures released last week and settlers said supporters are moving to these communities to bolster them before the planned withdrawal.

Israel is preparing for large-scale resistance to the evacuation of all 12 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank. The plan marks the first time the government is to remove veteran settlements from either area.

Thousands are expected to head to the settlements just before this summer’s pullout, a settler leader said.

In the past year, the Gaza communities have grown 9.1 percent, nearly 5 percent of that just in the past six months. The four northern West Bank settlements grew by nearly 12 percent since June 2004.

Settler spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef called the population increase “a natural reaction of people to strengthen the places that are slated for evacuation.”

Rabbis aligned with the settlers have asked soldiers to refuse to dismantle settlements, and settler leaders have said that hundreds and perhaps thousands of soldiers would refuse to take part in removal of settlements. The evacuation is set to begin July 3, but parliament is considering a law that would close the settlements to outsiders weeks earlier to prevent opposition.

In 1982, when Israel dismantled Sinai Desert settlements in the framework of a peace deal with Egypt, hundreds of hardliners flocked to the area.

The Sa-Nur settlement in the northern West Bank had the most dramatic growth, increasing its population by 52.2 percent, or 36 people. The small, isolated community of 105 people is not far from Jenin.

The Gaza settlements now have 8,550 residents, compared to 8,158 on June 30, a 4.8 percent increase. The settlement of Slav, with just 42 people, grew by 10 people — or 31 percent. Two of the communities where resistance is expected to be fiercest— Kfar Darom and Netzarim — grew by more than 10 percent in six months.

In contrast, one of the largest and most rooted West Bank settlements, Ariel, lost 0.1 percent of its population since June. Maale Adumim, the largest West Bank settlement, grew by 2.6 percent in that time.