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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
One small victory in a lost battle
The BBC's Katya Adler
By Katya Adler
BBC News, Elei Sinai

The arrival of rubbish collectors in Elei Sinai settlement in the northern Gaza Strip was greeted this morning with whoops of joy.

Rubbish had been piling up in the streets and was rotting in the scorching sun.

But the arrival of the rubbish trucks was not just being welcomed on hygiene grounds.

Israeli right-wing singer-songwriter Ariel Zilber plays trumpet in Elei Sinai
Elei Sinai is staging unexpected opposition to the pullout
The fact that Israeli soldiers allowed the lorries through was taken as a sign that this community will be left alone for a little longer.

"I think they won't come for us now until next week," said Arik Harpaz, one of the founders of this 22-year-old settlement.

"The army is tied up elsewhere in the flashpoint settlements of Gaza. They know we won't make any trouble here so they'll leave us alone for the moment, I think."

Arik is so confident that he has returned his daughter's memorial stone to its foundation on the spot in Elei Sinai where Palestinian gunmen killed her and her boyfriend two years ago.

The stone - and the olive tree planted alongside it - have spent the last few days in Arik's trailer, waiting to leave Gaza with him at any moment.

I know what these soldiers are going through - this will haunt them for the rest of their lives
Dikla
Settler on military service
Up until yesterday in fact, people here waited anxiously in the shell-like remains of their houses, peering through the gaps in the walls where doors and window panes used to be, looking for the dreaded arrival of Israeli soldiers to take them away.

Now though, people are glued to their television sets watching the dramatic events in the more radical Jewish settlements of Neve Dekalim, Morag and Kfar Darom.

"I can't believe what I'm seeing," says 45-year-old Aaron Fimmer, tears streaming down his face, as he watches Israeli soldiers pulling women and children from their homes and men in prayer shawls being carried out of synagogues.

His niece, Dikla, holds her head in her hands as she sees the footage of Israeli soldiers hugging and crying with the settlers.

"I'm a settler but I'm also a soldier doing my military service in the Israeli army," she says.

Settler in Elei Sinai puts Ariel Sharon poster on donkey as an insult
Ariel Sharon attracts derision from many who voted for him
"I know what these soldiers are going through.

"They're children, 18 or 20 years old, and they're being forced to take fellow Jews - Israeli citizens from their homes.

"This will haunt them for the rest of their lives."

Dikla's father is so upset with what the Israeli army are doing that he's told her to quit.

"But I can't," she says. "It's not their fault - they don't choose their missions."

'No resistance'

Here in Elei Sinai, the settlers have agreed not to resist eviction when the time comes.

"It's bad enough that a Jew evicts another Jew from his home," says Aaron Fimmer.

"But certainly we can't raise our hands in violence against another Jew."

All settlers here laughed mirthlessly when they heard their prime minister, Ariel Sharon, appeal to people not to insult the soldiers carrying out the Gaza pullout but to shout at him instead.

"Chance would be a fine thing," said Inbar Barabi, a 20-year-old graduate.

"Ariel Sharon never comes near us. We can't tell him anything."

Jewish settler holds flag in Elei Sinai
Elei Sinai residents say they will not resist when the soldiers come
Instead though, Inbar and her friends in Elei Sinai have scrawled messages to Mr Sharon over the walls of what were once their beloved family homes.

The word you see most frequently is traitor.

Ariel Sharon had always been regarded as a friend of the settlers.

The settlers of Elei Sinai all voted for him. Now he is forcing them from their homes.

People here are savouring every last moment in Elei Sinai, although living conditions are basic and supplies are running low.

No-one should be allowed to break up the people of Elei Sinai- close neighbours and friends for more than 20 years
Bibi Bar
Everyone sleeps on old mattresses on dusty floors and settlers wander around to each other's houses, sharing sugar, toilet paper or other essentials.

"But that doesn't matter too much as long as we are together," says Bibi Bar.

"That's why we took the decision to stay in Elei Sinai.

"We don't want any trouble but we do insist that either we move as a community or we stay put as long as we can.

"It's bad enough that they take away our homes but no-one should be allowed to break up the people of Elei Sinai- close neighbours and friends for more than 20 years."

Thoughts here are now turning to the Jewish Sabbath.

"God willing, we will still be here then," says Omer Kaplan.

Support

A group of settlers from the West Bank have walked through the sand dunes, sneaking into the settlement in an attempt to boost morale here before the weekend.

"I love the fact that people support us like this," says Vanda Fimmer.

"The media in Israel says most Israelis support the Gaza pull-out, but I've had to switch my phone off, so many people were calling me to offer their support."

Even the bus drivers here, waiting for the order to drive the Elei Sinai settlers out of Gaza for good, popped into people's houses this morning bringing packets of biscuits and words of encouragement.

"Stick it out for as long as you can," said one of drivers. "This pull-out from Gaza is the beginning of the end."


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