Thursday, September 30, 2010

Former Gaza settlers moving into desert community

Former Gaza settlers moving into desert community

JERUSALEM — It took five years, but on Monday, five families who lost their homes when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 moved into their new houses — not far from their old ones.

Israel evacuated 21 settlements in Gaza as part of its unilateral pullout. Most of the 8,500 Gaza settlers refused to cooperate with the government's resettlement plans, and many are still living in temporary housing.

The town of Halutza in Israel's southern Negev desert, just four miles (seven kilometers) from the Gaza border, is the first independent community built for the former Gaza settlers. In the first stages, 200 families are beginning to move in, but plans are to expand the town to include about 1,800 families.

A main feature of the new town is its attempt to fit into the environment, according to Isaac Blachor of the Jewish National Fund, a veteran world fund-raising group that deals with forestry and community building and is funding the infrastructure development.

The community is implementing several green measures, such as using recycled water for growing organic crops and constructing two solar power stations. Planners also intend to build an industrial zone to attract high-tech companies to provide jobs for the town's projected population of 150,000.

The town is springing up in a mostly barren desert area next to the Egyptian border.

"The importance of Jews settling here can't be (over)estimated," Blachor said, hoping its presence would help cut down on smuggling of contraband and people into Israel across the largely unprotected border.

Rabbi Eli Adler, a teacher with eight children, planted trees in barrels outside his temprary home nearby to make an easy transition to his new house. The construction has taken four years longer than he anticipated, he said, because builders had to clear land and install basic infrastructure such as sewage and power lines.

Gaza continues to affect the residents. Since the Israeli pullout, Gaza militants have pelted Israeli communities with thousands of rockets and mortar shells.

Therefore, according to the plans, all homes in Halutza will be equipped with bomb shelters and reinforced roofs to protect against rocket attacks.

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