Glued to a television set along with several other Palestinian men, Abed Suleiman watched Arab channels broadcasting scenes of settlers struggling as they were dragged away from synagogues by security forces.
“Look at the show they’re putting on, grabbing on to land that is not in their name and has no historical link to them,” said Suleiman, who said he has been a three-decade-long activist with Fatah – a group founded in 1958 by the late Yasser Arafat to work towards the creation of a Palestinian state.
He said the Jewish settlers were treating their scriptures as a “real estate agency in service of greater Israel“.
“All the same, these evacuations are a turning point for the Palestinian people,” said Abu Mohammed, 72, who is originally from Acco (Akka in Arabic) in northern Israel.
“After all these years, Palestinians from Gaza are finally seeing the occupation back away,” he said.
“It’s true that these evacuations change nothing for Palestinians in their diaspora but the fact that Israel is putting the brakes on its policy of grabbing up Palestinian land is a good thing”
Mustapha Abu Kharrub, refugee in Ain al-Helweh, Lebanon
Also watching was 70-year-old Mustapha Abu Kharrub, who was among the first wave of refugees who fled in 1948 and is originally from Ashkelon (Askalan in Arabic), which is adjacent to Gaza and is today part of Israel.
“The Israelis are showing how painful these evacuations are to try and get out of their obligations in the rest of occupied territory, but for the first time the Jewish state is reversing its settlement policy,” said Kharrub.
He said he knew that the current Israeli operation to withdraw 8000 to 9000 settlers from 21 colonies had no immediate bearing on his own personal situation, or the lot of most of the 60,000 others in Ain al-Helweh, Lebanon‘s largest refugee camp.
Right of return
Israel has refused to allow Palestinians to return inside its borders, and resolving the issues of refugees – 380,000 of whom are inside Lebanon – has been reserved for the final phase of the road map peace plan.
Still, Kharrub said he had reason to be optimistic.
Settlers struggled as they were
“It’s true that these evacuations change nothing for Palestinians in their diaspora but the fact that Israel is putting the brakes on its policy of grabbing up Palestinian land is a good thing.
“Dozens of families from Gaza came to Ain al-Helweh in 1948. For them, the hope of returning is imaginable once the Gaza Strip is totally free of the occupation,” he said.
Another Fatah member, Abu Adnan, said he saw the Israeli radical movement as isolated.
“Extremist settlers have not won over Israeli public opinion. The majority is for the evacuation according to public opinion polls, which is a good thing.
“A majority of Israelis seem to accept that they must reconsider the occupation of Palestinian territory seized after the 1967 war,” Adnan added.
But 42-year-old Khalil Ibrahim, a teacher who did not hide his support for the anti-Israel resistance group Hamas, said the Palestinian fight against Israeli occupation had to continue.
“Israel is drawing back because of the resistance,” he said.
“That’s why we must keep up the armed struggle, then we will regain the West Bank and the rest of Palestine.”