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Almost a year after Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, former residents of the northern Gaza settlements of Elei Sinai, Dugit and Nisanit awoke Thursday to news that the IDF had reentered their former communities as part of a major incursion aimed at halting the firing of Kassam rockets at the western Negev.
"The only thing I can say is that I feel embarrassed," former Elei Sinai resident Avi Farhan told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "The government promised that the Gaza withdrawal would provide security, but it was all a bluff."
Farhan said his family was one of the first to settle in northern Gaza, having arrived in 1982 after being evacuated from Yamit in Sinai.
"We want to go home. This mistake must be fixed," he continued. "People have to understand that these settlements in northern Gaza were never Arab territory and until 1967 were under the control of the United Nations. Dugit and Elei Sinai are situated on a high hilltop ridge which is like a buffer zone for the Ashkelon region, whereas the Nisanit ridge controls the Beit Hanun region and defends the western Negev and Sderot."
Farhan sent a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday, in which he wrote that it was time to "fix the mistake and regain control of the buffer zone that was abandoned."
"The Palestinians need to understand that they have things that they could lose," he added. "The only way to reestablish our deterrence is to show that there are concessions that can be reversed. In the northern Gaza settlements, all the infrastructure still exists - all we would have to do is rebuild our homes."
Ganit, who now lives near Ashkelon, reacted to the news by saying, "I told you so. We all knew it would happen one day but so soon? It's like a bad dream. We now live temporarily at Kibbutz Mefalsim and still the Kassams fall."
When asked whether she still hoped to return she replied, "In the end we left because we knew we would one day return. We just asked the government not to raze the houses so that one day we could return."
According to Ganit, "Ninety percent of the evacuees still don't have houses. We would be willing to return even though the houses are not there anymore."
She blames the Israeli people, not the government, for the disengagement. "I do not feel Israelis are my people any more. They are not the people I used to know that would fight. Sderot is hit every day by Kassams and yet the people living in Tel Aviv don't care. My love of the people has changed," she said. "Ten months afterward and there is still a burning pain in my chest, we cannot find a home or employment solutions and all for what?" she said.
Pnina, a former Elei Sinai resident, said that while she feels relieved not to be in Gaza in today's climate, the focus on the region brings back memories.
"It's like an invasion of your privacy seeing someone in your home, and you think, 'Why did we leave?' It creates such a pain in my chest," she said. "It's still my home. Today just brings back all those feelings all over again."
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