Voting 18-3 on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet turned down a proposal to postpone the pullout for six months, thus clearing the way for the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank to begin in mid-August.

While many of the 9000 settlers vow to resist evacuation, at least eight settler families have packed up in recent days.

Signs of recent departures are evident in Ganim, an isolated enclave next to the West Bank Palestinian town of Jenin.

Cardboard boxes and garbage bags filled with old magazines, books, towels and children's toys sit on a porch. Old garden furniture lie discarded in a large green garbage can.

Unlike the many settlers who claim an ideological attachment to the biblical land of Israel, many of the residents who are now leaving came to these settlements for the opportunity to get away from the city and live in a small pastoral community.

Attacks

"By the end of the month I will no longer be here," said Gershon Bloomberg, a Ganim resident for 12 years. "Three-quarters of my belongings are already packed up," he said.

Five families have moved out of Ganim since Thursday, and five more are expected to leave in the coming days, said Rami Mansour, the secretary of the community.

"It's a horrible feeling. We are leaving a place that was our shelter, a place of friends with a real culture of community"

Settler Gershon Bloomberg

Many of the families waited for the beginning of the summer school vacation, which began this week.

Some of the 30 families that once lived in Ganim fled over the last four years, driven away by attacks on settlements.

The place now is taking on the appearance of a ghost town. Streets are empty, the silence broken only by the occasional army patrol.

Israel intends to level the four West Bank settlements after the evacuation.

Government criticised

The departing residents are sad and disappointed.

"It's a horrible feeling. We are leaving a place that was our shelter, a place of friends with a real culture of community," Bloomberg said.

The residents also have many complaints against the government that first sent them there and has now told them to leave.

More than 400,000 Israelis live
on occupied Palestinian land

"The government asked us to leave, so why do we have to beg them to help us move?" asked Bloomberg.

"The compensation we are receiving is not enough to replace what we are leaving behind," said Anita Kobi, who has booked movers to take her to a new home in the nearby Israeli town of Afula in two weeks, adding that she received no official help in organising the logistics of the move.

Apart from the five families who have already left Ganim, one family left neighbouring Kadim last week, said the settlement's spokeswoman, Debbie Drori.

In Gaza, the six-member Gross family became the first to leave the Elei Sinai settlement on Sunday. Another family left the Rafiah Yam settlement on Thursday.

Occupied land

But not all the residents of Ganim plan to leave voluntarily. Mansour, the settlement secretary, estimated that seven families would remain until the end.

"I have nowhere to go," said Yefem Weintraub, 55, who has lived here since 1998. He said that because he had not received government compensation in advance, he could  not afford to rent a new place.

"I can't imagine never being able to come to this place where my daughter lived and died. This violence did not just kill my daughter, it killed a whole community"

Settler Yefem Weintraub

Emotionally, he would also not be able to leave, he said. His daughter was killed in a shooting attack on the road to Ganim in 2001.

"I can't imagine never being able to come to this place where my daughter lived and died," he said, pointing to the house next to his which his daughter had owned.

"This violence did not just kill my daughter, it killed a whole community," he said.

More than 400,000 Israelis live on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The land was captured by the Israelis in the 1967 Middle East war and has been illegally occupied since.