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On Israel's Independence Day, a rally calls for Jewish settlements in Gaza

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel celebrated its Independence Day yesterday. The country declared independence in 1948. For some people, the occasion was all about current events. Israeli settlers and their supporters rallied yesterday along the border with Gaza, where an Israeli military offensive has been underway for months. Senior government ministers attended, too, and they called for Israel to build Jewish settlements inside Gaza. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I am right along the Gaza border, in the Israeli town of Sderot, and behind me, you can even see smoke rising from the Israeli offensive in Gaza. This is where thousands of Israelis gathered in a rally calling for the government to establish Israeli settlements - Jewish settlements - inside Gaza.

CHANIE LUZ: I would love to build a vacation village on the coast of Gaza. I love the sea.

ESTRIN: Chanie Luz, an Israeli originally from Queens, N.Y., says Israel cannot allow Palestinians to stay in Gaza after the Hamas attack October 7 that started the war.

LUZ: So it's either us or them. We have to clear out Gaza. There's a lot of room in the world for the people of Gaza. They can be absorbed in any country in the world. They cannot stay here. We can't live with them. They want to kill us.

ESTRIN: This is not the official policy of the Israeli government - to establish settlements in Gaza - but the government has not articulated a clear policy of who it does want to see rule Gaza after its war with Hamas, and so into that vacuum, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister, is calling for Israel to establish settlements in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ITAMAR BEN-GVIR: (Speaking non-English language).

ESTRIN: Ben-Gvir said to the crowd, to be a free people in our country is also to say to Biden, Mr. President, this is ours. We're going home to Gaza.

(CHEERING)

ESTRIN: Israel used to have settlements in Gaza. The government uprooted its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Two years later, the Palestinian militant group Hamas took control of the strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel does not intend to reoccupy Gaza for the long term or to resettle it, but he has also resisted calls from the U.S. for Gaza to be ruled by a revitalized Palestinian authority, a more moderate Palestinian leadership. Eyal Hulata was Israel's national security adviser until last year, and is now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

EYAL HULATA: Nobody's talking about a two-state solution. We're talking about a prospect of self-governance by the Palestinians, something that gets the support of the vast majority of Israelis, and Netanyahu, for his own political reasons, is incapable of saying that.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu depends on his far-right political partners to stay in office. If he pursues a policy on the future of Gaza that they oppose, they could easily topple his government.

HULATA: It is clear that Netanyahu is not putting enough emphasis and not mobilizing the defense, security, political, diplomatic establishment to work more seriously on a day-after strategy in this vacuum in Gaza. There is no civilian management in Gaza. Unfortunately, who we see fill this vacuum is, unfortunately, Hamas.

ESTRIN: Eight months into the war, Israeli troops have also been sent to retake areas of Gaza that they had retreated from because a Hamas counterinsurgency has appeared. In a press conference late Tuesday, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari was asked about an alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL HAGARI: (Speaking non-English language).

ESTRIN: He said there is no doubt that a replacement for Hamas would create pressure on Hamas. But he said that is a question for the political leadership in Israel.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Sderot, Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.