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Last Updated: Friday, 17 June, 2005, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Settlers dig in for Gaza showdown
BBC correspondent Richard Miron has spent a week living in Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip that are due to be evacuated by the Israeli army.

In the latest instalment of his series about his experiences, he meets up with some of the most hardline members of the settler movement.


DAY FIVE (continued): A FROSTY WELCOME

From the Morag settlement I travel to an abandoned hotel that has been transformed into homes for the people they are calling the "strengtheners" - those who have come from outside to back up the cause of the Gaza settlers.

Settlers preparing to move in to the Palm Beach Hotel
There is much settler defiance in the face of the government
The Palm Beach hotel which sits alongside a beautiful stretch of sand was once a vacation spot for religious Israelis.

Abandoned at the start of the intifada it has become the last resort for settler activists, among them members of the far right Kach Party which has been outlawed in Israel.

Unlike most of the settlers my welcome by these people is frosty - one known extremist calls me a Nazi.

Figures in the distance clad in prayer shawls hide their faces from the lenses of prying cameras.

Entrance is forbidden to outsiders, but through the hotel's broken down perimeter fence I spot cars piled high with mattresses, clothes and cooking implements pulling up.

Families are moving into the dilapidated rooms that once housed holidaymakers and they are planning a long stay.

The orange sign outside the entrance declares that this place has been renamed The Stronghold of the Sea, and it is an absorption centre for newcomers to Gaza.

Datya Yitzhaki, a settler activist, welcomes the newcomers: "They are here to help us, and to build here," she says.

There is a lot of defiance in the face of the government's plan and for many, especially at The Stronghold of the Sea, a belief that they can defeat any efforts to get them out.

DAY SIX: CLAIMING THE GROUND

The day begins at a stretch of beach that is being transformed into a settlement to accommodate newcomers.

This is Eretz Yisrael - the land of Israel - our people's roots in this land go back thousands of years
Jeanine Nave
Shirat Hayam consists of a number of caravans alongside some old, broken down concrete buildings.

Decades ago, they were vacation homes for Egyptian army officers - now in a strange twist of fate they are being renovated to house Jewish settlers.

Once this area was the beachfront for Bedouin Muasi tribe who live nearby. But a high concrete fence constructed around the settlement has cut them off from the sea which used to sit on their doorstep.

Under other circumstances the golden sand and azure sea would be a wonderful place to relax. But Shirat Hayam is no place for rest.

It is a hive of activity, with the sounds of hammers and drills filling the air. Volunteers who support the settlers' cause have come here to prepare the buildings for habitation.

Settler Jeanine Nave in her home at Kfar Yam
Jeanine Nave came to Gaza hoping to stop the disengagement plan
New doors, roofs, and plumbing are being installed. To these people this is not just a piece of political theatre, they are putting facts on the ground which they believe will help to ensure a Jewish presence in Gaza.

A short stroll up the beach is another settlement called Kfar Yam. At the first house, timbers are being unloaded from a trailer. They will put together for the veranda at Jeanine Nave's new house.

Jeanine is a larger than life figure, deeply suntanned and constantly smiling. She has been here for two months and says she is overjoyed to be living in such a beautiful place.

She describes her home, with its rough hewn table and simple shelves, as Robinson Crusoe chic. But she also has a serious purpose in coming to Gaza.

"This is Eretz Yisrael - the land of Israel - our people's roots in this land go back thousands of years," she says.

She has come to Gaza like many others in the hope that her presence will stop the disengagement plan.

It seems likely that, with the settlers mustering support from throughout Israel as well as overseas, Ariel Sharon is going to face a tough struggle to fulfil his aim.




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