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One mom packs, another resists; both try to be strong for the kids

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PE'AT SADEH and KFAR DARUM, Gaza -- Two women at two settlements prepared Thursday for the start of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, each putting on a brave face for the inevitable departure after nearly two decades in the territory.

In the Pe'at Sadeh settlement in southern Gaza, Havatzelet Barda ordered her daughter Ta'el, 7, to pack "underwear, socks, toothbrush -- only what you need for the next few days. Quickly now."

Barda, 43, her husband, Amos, and a crew of Palestinian workers they hired stuffed the rest into four shipping containers, which the Israeli army would pick up in three hours. The containers were being trucked to the family's new home in the Israeli village of Mavkiim.

The Bardas are among about 1,500 Jewish families in the settlement bloc known as Gush Katif who are required to leave their homes by Wednesday as part of Israel's withdrawal from all 21 settlements in Gaza.

Seven miles away, Avigail Tam-Biton, an 18-year resident of the religious Kfar Darom settlement, still hadn't discussed the pullout with her six children. Unlike Barda, Tam-Biton won't pack or leave "until the soldiers drag me out," she said.

Tam-Biton's husband Gavriel, a Kfar Darom teacher, died in a school bus bombing in 2000. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant Palestinian group, claimed responsibility. "I am scared that after all these years that I kept the family together, the children will see me lose control," she said.

Maj. Tal Lev-Ram, spokesman for Israel's Southern Command, which is overseeing the pullout, estimates that half the settlers will have left by Monday, the official start of the withdrawal. "We are doing all we can -- including sending soldiers to help residents pack -- to make sure that this withdrawal goes smoothly and without violence," he said. Troops and police will evacuate anyone who stays past midnight Tuesday, the government has warned. Also, those who remain stand to lose much of a government compensation package.

The Israeli Knesset, or parliament, approved the withdrawal plan in October. Still, Israel is bracing for resistance from thousands of hard-core Gaza settlers and pro-settlement activists who oppose leaving land they believe God promised the Jewish people. In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Israeli President Moshe Katsav appealed to the settlers to leave peacefully. "You must respect the decisions of the Cabinet and the parliament," he said.

On Thursday, President Bush told Israel's Channel One, "I believe the decision that Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon made and is going to follow through on will be good for Israel."

Tam-Biton plans to resist. She said she will never strike a soldier, "but I certainly won't help them expel me from my house."

Unlike Tam-Biton, Barda is going voluntarily. But the mother of five says she agreed to leave her home of 18 years "not because I want to, but because I have no desire to fight with soldiers."

Ta'el wandered back into the kitchen and asked, "Mommy, why isn't there a roof?" All the tiles had been stripped from the roof and loaded into containers.

"We're taking it with us," Barda calmly replied. "I have to show that I am a rock in front of the children. Otherwise, they'll realize that underneath I am shaking."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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