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Israel-Egypt Relations: The Yamit Evacuation

(April 23, 1982)

One of the major elements of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty signed in March 1979 was the full Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, captured by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967 and held during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Across the Sinai, fourteen separate Jewish communities had been established during the inter-war periods, primarily built with encouragement from the government to act as a security buffer between Egypt and Israel. Yamit was the largest of the Sinai settlements, with approximately 600 houses in 1982.

The Sinai withdrawal was phased over a number of years and the date of evacuation for Yamit was set for April 23, 1982. Residents were ordered beforehand to leave in a peaceful manner and most of the original settlers did in fact choose to move rather than clash with the Israel Defense Forces.

Yamit Evacuation
Soldiers and settlers clash during the evacuation of Yamit (Photo: Azuriman)

The Yamit evacuation, however, was met with resistance by right-wing Jews, mostly followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who threatened to fight back against the IDF and even to blow themselves up if soldiers entered their bunkers.

At 2 P.M. on April 23, the official evacuation began. Much of the resistance played out like a game of cat and mouse - soldiers climbed up barricaded houses; protesters threw down sand and burning tires. Soldiers sprayed white foam on the roofs; protesters moved into the attics. Finally, soldiers were lowered onto the roofs in cages and they were able to bring many resistors out of the houses. At some locations, the army drilled holes into buildings and sprayed those inside with high pressure hoses to force them to exit.

In response to the protestors suicide threat, Rabbi Kahane flew from the United States to Yamit and convinced them not to detonate their explosives.

While there were militant attempts to resist evacuation from Yamit, there were no casualties during the forced withdrawal. Soldiers were often unarmed, and any debris thrown at the IDF was not aimed directly at them. Both the army and the resistance made a conscious effort to avoid physical injury to the opposing party.

After Yamit had been completely evacuated, the army demolished most of its buildings along with buildings in the thirteen other Sinai settlements. They did manage to save many houses, bomb shelters, and fruit trees that had been a source of income for the Yamit settlers. Any buildings that were salvaged were transferred inside the new Israeli border.

Neot Sinai was the only settlement left intact; it was sold to Egypt.

Sources: Jerusalem Post, Rabinovich, Abraham. "The Settlers Weren't the Problem" (June 23, 2005), "When Jews Evacuated Jews." (June 28, 2005)