Settlers Create Tent Neighborhoods

Freshly pitched tents line the dusty outskirts of the West Bank settlement of Sanur (search). Newcomers put in refrigerators, stoves and communal bathrooms. Children frolic in a makeshift playground. A synagogue is going up.

The buzz of activity belies a looming reality: Sanur is one of four West Bank (search) settlements slated to be dismantled this summer, along with the 21 in the Gaza Strip as Israel moves to retrench the major Jewish population blocs in the territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast War and shed those settlements considered to be a security burden.

Sanur's population of 120 people has more than tripled lately with hard-line newcomers who have set up four tent neighborhoods. Entire families — men, women, children, babies — have moved from comfortable homes into tents in the name of "saving Israel."

While the focus of opposition to the pullback has been on Gaza (search) because of the bigger numbers — 8,500 evacuees — the doomed West Bank settlements with their biblical resonance are a more sensitive matter. Sanur, for instance, is in the Dotan Valley, where the Bible says Joseph, the future Jewish patriarch, was sold into slavery by his brothers.

The land is also claimed by Palestinians for a future state. Sanur is less than eight miles from the West Bank's largest Palestinian city, Nablus (search).

While the settlers insist their resistance will be passive, some Israeli officials predict Sanur is where they will fight hardest. "Something very bad is liable to develop" in Sanur, Yonatan Bassi, a government official overseeing compensation payments to settlers, recently told the Haaretz daily.

The resisters aim to have thousands of people living in Sanur before its evacuation begins in September, about three weeks after the Gaza pullout.

"I am an observant Jew and I believe it (the pullback) won't happen," said Rabbi Shaul Halfon, 70, working on the new synagogue and wearing a skullcap, colored bright orange, symbolizing opposition to the withdrawal.

Sanur was founded 20 years ago as an artists' colony for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. At its peak, 23 artists lived here with their families, but most fled during 41/2 years of Palestinian-Israeli fighting. Nine returned when the violence dropped off, even though Sanur by then was threatened with evacuation.

The secular immigrants live peacefully with their new religious neighbors, sharing the common anti-withdrawal cause.

"It will ruin my whole life," said Moscow-born artist Julia Segal, 67. "All my life I lived without roots ... and then I saw the Dotan Valley." Her voice cracked.

An old stone fort turned into an art gallery dominates the entrance to Sanur. Toddlers wander freely through streets lined with bougainvillea.

Israeli pop music blares out of a caravan being transformed into a communal shower. Women chat in the dusty courtyard. A black tarp provides shade for a playground. A white sheen of dust covers everything.

Tamar Yekira, 27, moved here two weeks ago from another West Bank settlement, Elon Moreh, and shares a tent with her husband and five children, the oldest aged 6.

"As young as they are, they experience the love of Israel and also the opposite, when they evacuate and destroy," said Yekira, her eight-month-old son, Elchai, burbling on her lap.

Two of the other three settlements marked for evacuation, Ganim and Kadim, are quietly fading away, with some of the residents already gone. The fourth, Homesh, is also negotiating its evacuation, but lately its 57 families have been joined by at least 10 families of religious newcomers who have renovated vacated homes.

Homesh settlers are angry, saying they had planned an orderly, mournful departure with black and white flags. Haim Weiss, Homesh's secretary, fears the newcomers will foment violent resistance.

The newcomers say they oppose violence, pointing out that they have relatives serving in the army that will remove them. But they say they'll have to be dragged out, and many insist divine intervention will abort the evacuation.

"For me it's like saying the sky will fall. Can the sky fall? It can't happen," said Merav Aharonov, 26, as her three young daughters bounced on the bed in their Sanur tent.