AFP — Nearly two decades after Israeli settlers left Gaza, the Hamas terror group’s October 7 attacks on Israeli territory, and the subsequent war, have rekindled a wish among some of a return to the Palestinian enclave.
“It cannot be more dangerous to have our families inside Gaza than next to Gaza,” said Zevulun Kalfa, 61, recalling the bloody assault carried out by some 2,500 terrorists earlier this month that hit his kibbutz and other Israeli communities near the border of the Gaza Strip.
Some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed during the assault, and at least 228 more were abducted into the Strip. Entire families were shot or burnt to death in their homes, and some 260 people were mown down at an outdoor music festival.
Kalfa has fond memories of his years in the former Israeli settlement of Atzmona, just north of Rafah in the southern Strip.
“We would hitchhike to Shejaiya (in Gaza City) without weapons… just to do our shopping or go to the dentist,” said Kalfa. “They would sell us fish.”
But his former neighbors — Gaza’s Palestinian inhabitants — have allowed “Hamas to feed hatred to their children,” Kalfa claimed.
Israel unilaterally withdrew the last of its troops and 8,000 settlers on September 11, 2005, ending the Israeli presence in Gaza that began in 1967 with the Six Day War. Israel has continued to maintain near complete control over the territory’s borders, as has Egypt.
The images from 2005 of weeping Israelis leaving their homes in Gaza settlements, soldiers in tears as they carried out evacuation orders, bulldozers razing houses and synagogues set ablaze by the entering Palestinians have been etched into the collective Israeli memory.
While no Israeli officials have suggested that a potential ground invasion into Gaza would have the aim of resettling the territory, some parts of public opinion now view resettlement as a fitting response to the October 7 violence.
“We have children and grandchildren who dream of returning there,” said Kalfa, now an administrative official in Sa’ad, a Jewish religious kibbutz less than four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Gaza border.
“As soon as the government decides, we’re ready.”
Rabbi Yitzhak Amitai, also a former settler, stood armed and in uniform near the entrance to Sa’ad. “With God’s help” his family would soon resettle in Gaza, he said.
Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights are considered illegal under international law, as were those in Gaza prior to 2005.
Kalfa voiced more skepticism of a hypothetical renewed Israeli presence inside Gaza, but drew parallels with the capture of East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, which he said had not been part of Israel’s objectives at the time.
“We said back in 2014 (when Israeli forces last launched a major ground incursion into Gaza) that the only solution was a land incursion, complete cleansing of Hamas and reestablishment of Israeli authority” over the Palestinian territory of 2 million inhabitants, Kalfa added.
About 1.4 million residents of Gaza have been internally displaced since the latest war broke out, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.
The case for Gaza resettlement has gained some ground among Israelis, many of whom were traumatized and galvanized by the October 7 massacre.
Recent public opinion polls suggested wide support among Israelis for a continued offensive against Hamas.
In Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry said Israeli raids have killed more than 6,500 people, most of them civilians. However, it is not possible for these numbers to be verified by external sources, and the figure likely includes Hamas’s own dead as well as those killed by misfired Gazan rockets aimed at Israel that fell short within the Strip. Israel estimates that 1,500 Hamas terrorists alone were killed by Israeli security forces inside Israel following their rampage.
The move toward more hawkish views on Gaza in Israeli public opinion comes less than a year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed what is considered one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s 75-year history, with pro-settlement allies.
“We return to Gaza,” read some 15 signs put up at the entrance to Jerusalem, calling for donations to a fundraising campaign for settlements.
In footage that went viral this week on social media, Israeli singer Hanan Ben Ari, entertaining troops at an army base, called: “We return to Gush Katif” — Israel’s term for the former settlement bloc in Gaza.
“We (will) set up Nova beach on the Gaza beach,” Ben Ari sang to the tune of one of his hits, referring to the Supernova desert rave where more than 260 people were brutally murdered by Hamas on October 7.
חנן בן ארי: “חוזרים לגוש קטיף, מקימים את חוף נובה על עזה”
Along with the video, the Hebrew hashtag “Nova Beach” has become instantly popular.
Elad, 50, a reserve soldier who asked to be identified by his first name only, had spent his childhood in a Gaza settlement and now lives in another in the West Bank.
He told AFP that after the war, he would want to “return to Gaza, where there are the best beaches in Israel.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.