(VIDEO) The evacuation of Netzarim, the last Jewish settlement in Gaza, has been completed – 33 after the settlement was established.
The initial phase of the operation was declared over by Majr General Dan Harel, who is in charge of the Gaza operation.
"When we started the disengagement, we set ourselves the target of clearing the Israeli presence in Gaza, through a heavily guarded operation which would safeguard the honor of evacuees. A prevention of casualties and a national split was also part of the commitment. I think we succeeded in the goals,” said Southern Command Chief Dan Harel, following the evacuation of Netarim, the last settlement left in Gaza, 33 years after it was established.
Harel added, “This marks the end of the first phase of the disengagement process, but there are significant and complex phases still ahead of us,” he added.
Harel also said that that there had been a minimal number of order refusals during the disengagement process, totaling 40 cases.
Most of the residents have left, and they are set to make their way to Jerusalem’s Western Wall and then spend the night at the Ariel College in the West Bank.
At noon Monday the settlers held a final prayer session at the local synagogue, then began boarding buses that awaited them.
The majority of settlers left voluntarily, while some resisted the evacuation in a passive manner. A few were forcibly boarded onto the buses, and one female police officer was lightly wounded when a settler woman shoved her.
Today we were expelled from Netzarim, one resident in the last populated Gaza settlement wrote on the hood of his car.
Another local tore up his clothes before soldiers, while in another home, children happily played with the megaphones brought in by troops.
Menorah comes down (Video: Ronny Sofer)
The evacuation of Netzarim proceeded in a similar manner to that in Atzmona and Katif Sunday, Police Southern District Commander Uri Bar-Lev told Ynet.
"The early dialogue with rabbis and community leaders proved itself," he said. "We met their requests to leave in a dignified manner and agreed on a timetable…we'll respect those who respect the law, but we'll act in a determined fashion against those who disrupt and prevent an orderly evacuation."
Meanwhile, police and army officials started preparing for the completion of the disengagement and are set to start dismantling the pullout headquarters once the Netzarim evacuation is over.
In addition, many of the evacuation forces will be sent back to their original units, while the giant tent cities erected near Gaza will be shut down once the evacuation is completed, illegal infiltrators are captured, and evacuated homes are razed, marking the disengagement's end.
When troops entered Netzarim Monday morning they did not face any resistance, but some settlers yelled at them: "Cry at least! Where are your tears?"
Many families chose to leave quietly, while some attempted to engage troops in verbal clashes and demanded to be evacuated by force. Officers in the area estimated that forces would need to deal with "only a few pockets of resistance."
Settlers started packing their belonging only Monday morning, after being instructed to do so by rabbis and community leaders. Meanwhile, the infiltrators packed their belongings as well and gathered at the synagogue.
Local residents started dismantling the synagogue and took down the large menorah from its roof.
In a surrealistic scene, several residents continued to build a new house not far from the synagogue. One of the settlers explained: "Netzarim was and will remain forever." However, once evacuation forces arrived, the construction workers realized the game was over.
Meanwhile, volunteer reserve IDF officers also arrived in Netzarim in order to play a mediating role between security forces and settlers. One of the reserve officers said he believes the evacuation will be undertaken "quietly and with dignity."
Netzarim was established in 1972, and got its name due to its close proximity to the Palestinian the Notziriat refugee camp. The locals operated a sand quarry, and the farmers grew tomatoes, mangos and worm-free vegetables.
The Disengagement Authority has reserved a building in an Ashkelon neighborhood for the Netzarim evacuees.
IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz toured the settlement Monday afternoon and was briefed on the preparations for the evacuation.
Victor Bar-Gil, the deputy director-general of the defense ministry said Monday during a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan, “The destruction of all Gaza settlements will be completed on September 8, adding that all the equipment left behind by settlers will be removed by September 1.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the story