Palestinians burn Gaza synagogues as P.A. police watch on

September 12, 2005

* Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi (Commander of the IDF in Gaza and the last Israeli to leave): “The mission has been completed and an era has ended. From now on, the Palestinian Authority bears responsibility for what happens in the Gaza Strip. The responsibility for the security of the citizens of the state continues to be all ours.”

* Gaza resident Mohammed Khamish Habboush: “It is only the first step to more liberation... tomorrow we liberate all of Palestine.”



1. Scenes of lawlessness in Gaza within minutes of Israeli exit
2. “Holy Place” signs in Arabic on Gaza synagogues ripped down, burned
3. Italian becomes latest journalist to be abducted in Gaza
4. Sharon and Abbas not reading the same road map
5. “Last Israeli Soldiers Pull Out of Gaza” (Associated Press, Sept. 12, 2005)
6. “Egyptian Troops Deploy Along Gaza Border” (Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2005)


[Note by Tom Gross]


It took just 15 minutes for the first abandoned synagogue to be set alight, after the last Israeli soldier left the Gaza Strip in the early hours of this morning.

Despite Israeli and international calls to respect the former Jewish places of prayer, Palestinians set fire to synagogues in the evacuated settlements of Morag, Netzarim, Kfar Darom and Neveh Dekalim.

Only hours before, the Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman said the Palestinian Authority would destroy the synagogues. Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, told The Associated Press all remaining buildings in Gaza except for the hothouses would be destroyed.

Early Monday morning, a Palestinian mob from Khan Younis raided Morag, holding PLO and Hamas flags; chanting “God is great” in Arabic, they set the synagogue on fire and fired shots in the air and fireworks to celebrate the Israeli withdrawal.

Palestinian masses then “attacked” the empty settlements of Netzarim, Kfar Darom and Neve Dekalim.


A flag from the ruling Fatah movement was placed on the roof of the yeshiva (Jewish religious school) in the former settlement of Neveh Dekalim, before it was set alight. Some in Israel are comparing last night’s events to Kristallnacht. This is no doubt an exaggeration, but nonetheless indicative of the feeling and fears of many in Israel at present.

Palestinians also fired a Qassam rocket at the town of Sderot in southern Israel this morning, the rocket landed in an open area and caused no injuries.


Prior to the Israeli departure, Defence Ministry officials’ affixed signs in Hebrew and in Arabic on the synagogues, saying “Holy Place”.

Last week some 1,500 soldiers swept through municipal buildings, schools, kindergartens, health clinics and other public facilities Gaza that were to be handed over and cleaned them in preparation for Palestinian use. It is not clear yet if these have also been set on fire this morning.

Israeli politicians have been arguing over the fate of the synagogues for many weeks. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said yesterday “Jews do not destroy synagogues. I hope the Palestinian Authority will come to their senses and not allow barbarism and vandalism to rule over the synagogues.”

Shalom had yesterday told UN secretary Kofi Annan that the preservation of the Gaza Strip synagogues was a moral and ethical test for the Palestinian Authority.

No major world politician has yet condemned the burning of synagogues this morning.


“Today is a day of joy and happiness,” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said this morning. Abbas also justified the destruction of Gaza synagogues by Palestinians. “The Israelis left empty buildings,” he said, ignoring Israeli and international requests to respect them.

In the past, as detailed on this list, Abbas has been a major proponent of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism in the Arab world.


The BBC world service broadcast yesterday that for Israel not to have previously destroyed the synagogues herself was only something that rightist and orthodox Jews believed in. As usual, the BBC is misleading its audience. In Israel there was cross party opposition to such a dramatic move as destroying a synagogue. Yesterday (Sunday) Labour Party Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon said, “They know the terrible consequences for Israeli-Palestinian relations if the Palestinians will demolish the synagogues.”

Even in Eastern Europe empty synagogues have been allowed to remain to this day, protected by various governments. In Tel Aviv there is a mosque that has not been used for years that is not only protected but preserved in good condition by the Israeli government.

Will this extraordinary Palestinian behaviour today be properly noted in the western media, and properly criticized?


In Gaza on Saturday gunmen briefly abducted an Italian journalist, seized two government buildings and fired shots at a third.

Masked gunmen abducted Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi of the Corriere della Sera daily in the Gazan town of Deir El-Balah but released him unharmed about four hours later, Palestinian officials said. (Cremonesi is known in Italy for his often pro-Palestinian writing, which may in part explain his early release. He is a friend of mine, and a sometime subscriber to this email list.)

In a report filed in Corriere della Sera following his release, Cremonesi said “we talked and they told me they were a group linked to al-Fatah and that mine was a political kidnapping. We discussed the general situation and their demands to put pressure on (Palestinian Premier) Mahmoud Abbas. They told me they wanted to show Abbas that he was weak and surrounded by corruption.”


In parallel interviews with Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas this weekend in the Washington Post, the disparity between the two sides was clearly evident.

Sharon said: “The Palestinian Authority should dismantle the terrorist organizations, collect their weapons and implement serious reforms in security. Once they take these steps, we will be able to start negotiations along the road map plan.”

Whilst Abbas said: “We are not going to confront Hamas because... we aren’t ready for a civil war.”

The first article below reports on the last Israeli soldiers to pull out of Gaza and the destruction wrought by the Palestinians on empty synagogues. The second article deals with the deployment of 750 Egyptian troops on the border with Gaza.

-- Tom Gross




Last Israeli Soldiers Pull Out of Gaza
By Lara Sukhtian,
The Associated Press
September 12, 2005

Thousands of triumphant Palestinians poured into abandoned Jewish settlements early Monday, setting empty synagogues on fire and shooting in the air, as the last Israeli soldier left the Gaza Strip, completing Israel’s pullout after 38 years of occupation.

Palestinian police stood by helplessly as gunmen raised flags of militant groups in the settlements and crowds smashed what was left in the ruins or walked off with doors, window frames, toilets and scrap metal. Initial plans by Palestinian police to bar the crowds from the settlements for the first few hours quickly disintegrated, illustrating the weakness of the Palestinian security forces and concerns about growing chaos after Israel’s departure.

Gaza’s night sky turned orange early Monday as fires roared across the settlements. Women ululated, teens set off fireworks and crowds chanted “God is great.”

Just after sunrise, the last column of tanks rumbled out of Gaza, passing through the Kissufim crossing into Israel. Gaza commander Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi drove through the crossing and became the last Israeli soldier to leave.

“The mission has been completed, and an era has ended,” he said after crossing into Israel. Israeli troops then raised their national flag, removed from Gaza military headquarters, on the Israeli side of coastal strip.

As Israel completed its pullout, Palestinian Jeeps decorated with the flags of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups stopped just near the border and a group of masked gunmen waved their weapons before Palestinian police began moving them away.

“Today is a day of joy and happiness that our people were deprived of in the past century,” said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, adding that the Palestinians still have a long path toward statehood. He denounced Israeli rule in Gaza as “aggression, injustice, humiliation, killing and settlement activity.”

Israel’s pullout marks the first time the Palestinians will have control over a defined territory, and Gaza is seen as a testing ground for Palestinian aspirations of statehood.

Palestinians hope to build their state in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War — but fear that Israel will not hand over additional territory. They say Israel’s occupation of Gaza has not ended because it retains control over borders and the air space.

Israel removed some 8,500 Gaza settlers from their homes in 21 settlements last month, and razed homes and most buildings in the communities. However, the Israeli Cabinet decided at the last minute Sunday to leave 19 synagogue buildings intact, drawing complaints from the Palestinians and criticism from the United States.

After rushing into the settlements early Monday, Palestinians set fire to three empty synagogues, in the Morag, Kfar Darom and Netzarim settlements, as well as a Jewish seminary in Neve Dekalim. In Netzarim, two young Palestinians waving flags stomped on the smoldering debris outside the synagogue, and others took turns hitting the building with a large hammer.

Palestinian police appeared overwhelmed, watching the destruction from the sidelines. Police Col. Abdel Khader Abu Tayr said police didn’t have enough time to deploy because Israeli troops left without sufficient warning. “Now we are expending every effort to kick the people out and protect the buildings,” Abu Tayr said.

In the Neve Dekalim settlement, 22-year-old Abdel Rahman Barakat rode his bicycle through the streets, amazed at the space the settlers had enjoyed. “Oh my God, I feel so comfortable here,” he said. “It (the settlement) is very wide, it’s very big.”

In northern Gaza, university student Rami Rayan walked toward the abandoned settlement of Elei Sinai, where he said a cousin carried out a suicide bombing five years ago. “I want to feel that his blood wasn’t spilled in vain,” Rayan said, as he picked up bullet casings as souvenirs. “They (the Israelis) left because of resistance,” Rayan said.

After the pullout was completed, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, head of Israel’s southern command, pointed toward the horizon and told the AP: “It’s a very strange feeling, almost unreal. I have a lot of memories from that place, a lot of friends who died.”

“The responsibility is of the Palestinian Authority,” he told reporters a few minutes later as Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters gathered a few hundred meters behind him. “We hope that they will rise to the responsibility and enable all of us to live in peace and security.”

Late Sunday, Israeli troops lowered their national banner in Neve Dekalim, snapped farewell pictures and closed army headquarters, which were left intact for use by the Palestinians. In a somber farewell ceremony, the Israeli commander in Gaza, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, expressed hope the pullout would be a step toward peace.

“The gate that will close behind us is also the gate that will open,” he said. “We hope it will be a gate of peace and quiet, a gate of hope and goodwill, a gate of neighborliness.”

But he added a threat: “If a bad wind breaks through, then we will greet it with a force of troops ready and waiting.”

A field commander, Lt. Col. Tzvika Tzoran, sat on the turret of a tank on an isolated sand dune in his final moments in Gaza, bidding farewell to the Mediterranean coastline. Other soldiers took pride in the orderly withdrawal, in contrast to a hasty retreat from southern Lebanon five years ago.

But the withdrawal, code-named “Last Watch,” was overshadowed by Israeli-Palestinian disputes, including over border arrangements. The army was forced to cancel a formal handover ceremony, initially set for Sunday, after angry Palestinians said they wouldn’t show up.

The final phase of the pull began Sunday with twin decisions in the Israeli Cabinet — to end military rule in Gaza and not to raze 19 synagogues in former Jewish settlements there.

The last-minute decision to leave the synagogue buildings intact, a reversal of position, angered the Palestinians who said they would now be forced to demolish the buildings. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Israeli Cabinet decision “puts the Palestinian Authority into a situation where it may be criticized for whatever it does.”

When settlers left Gaza, they took with them the sacred Torah scrolls and the other holy items from the synagogues.

The Palestinians want full control over the Gaza-Egypt border after Israel’s withdrawal, saying free movement of people and goods is essential for rebuilding Gaza’s shattered economy. Israel wants to retain some control, at least temporarily, fearing that militants will smuggle weapons into Gaza.

Israel last week unilaterally closed the Rafah border crossing, the main gateway for Gaza’s 1.3 million Palestinians, to the outside world.

Last week, Israel agreed in principle that foreign observers could eventually replace Israeli inspectors at Rafah. However, Israel said it could be months before the border reopens, and that a final deal would depend on Palestinian willingness to crack down on militant groups.

In the meantime, it plans to reroute border traffic through alternate Israeli-controlled crossings and turn over security control of the border to Egyptian forces, 750 of whom deployed at the border over the weekend.



Egyptian Troops Deploy Along Gaza Border
The Associated Press
September 10, 2005

Egypt deployed the first of 750 border troops along its desert frontier with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, in line with Israel’s withdrawal from the volatile Palestinian area.

Mohammed Youssef, an official with the Egyptian State Information Service based in the border city of Rafah, said 200 soldiers were dispatched on Saturday and the remainder would take their places during the next week.

“This is the beginning of the deployment of 750 Egyptian border soldiers along the Philadelphi corridor according to the agreement between the Egyptians and the Israelis to maintain security along the Gaza-Egypt border after the Israeli withdrawal,” Youssef told The Associated Press.

Youssef said the soldiers will be responsible for preventing infiltration of weapons and drugs into the Palestinian-controlled area.

The soldiers deploying along the Philadelphi corridor known to Arabs as the Saladin corridor will be able to carry heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, Youssef added.

The troops are going to an area near the Rafah refugee camp, which has been a frequent scene of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.