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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinians Conflicted as Settlers Leave

BEACH CAMP, Gaza Strip -- The essence of the Palestinians' national story, the one told in their songs and schoolbooks, is a tale of dispossession and eviction by Jewish and Israeli forces. It is symbolized by keys to houses unseen for two generations and affirmed by maps showing Palestinian villages lost in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and boundaries blurred in the one in 1967.

On Wednesday, Palestinians watched Israeli Jews forcibly evict other Israeli Jews, who struggled and wept over their homes and what they saw as a devastating new chapter in the Jewish people's own story of dispossession, of loss.

"I feel that as a Palestinian this is my territory, this is my land," said Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City whose family became refugees in 1948. "This is my life, and I really want this to be happening right now. But on the other side, it's something on the human level -- it's not an easy thing to take someone from their property and make them leave."

Eyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist in Gaza City who was made a refugee in 1948, said of the evacuation, "It provokes feelings of victimization and a kind of feeling we are all victimized by the whole thing." He recalled watching television with his wife on Tuesday. "One Israeli settler lady was talking about that she planted some trees, and she wanted the people behind to look after them," he said. "She was smiling," he added, "and at the same time she had tears. So it tells you about the conflicting emotions."

In this Palestinian refugee camp, where tents long ago hardened into houses of cinder blocks and memories of lost villages softened into myth, refugees found themselves thinking back on their own experiences. But some said that did not make them sympathetic.

"Let them taste the bitterness," said Amona Aksham, who has lived more years and been surrounded with more grandchildren than she has counted.

Illuminated by a bare bulb as she sat on a thin mattress on the floor, she remembered her "beautiful life" in a village near Ashkelon, where she grew grapes. She recalled how she left bread still baking when she fled the Israelis in 1948 without any belongings. "No, I can't sympathize with them," she said. "They didn't sympathize with us."

Of coure, there are more differences than parallels, despite a shared romance with the land and remembered notions of their present antagonists.

Palestinian refugees like to say life with Jews was neighborly before the Zionists came and spoiled it all; for settlers, the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza were their friends until Yasser Arafat came to Gaza.

In the zero-sum game that defines Israeli-Palestinian relations, what makes one side sad might be expected to make the other equally happy. Yet Palestinians are wary of all this Israeli tumult.

"The Israelis now are correcting their historic mistake: to settle in areas, territories, that do not belong to them," said Jibril Rajoub, the national security adviser to Abbas. "They are just correcting this mistake. They are not doing a benefit for anyone."

He spoke while standing at an Israeli army checkpoint north of the Gush Katif settlement. The checkpoint was shut tight against Palestinians, as soldiers struggled with the settlers nearby.