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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 June 2005, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Israeli settlers plan last stand
By Tim Butcher
BBC News, Israel

Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are due to be evacuated in less than a month. But with many people refusing to leave, the West Bank community of Sanur could become the scene of a confrontation between settlers and the Israeli army and police.

Israeli settlers
More settlers have moved to Sanur in defiance of the pullout plan

Sanur, a small community almost lost in the hills of Biblical Samaria, has long been associated with defence.

Its fortress was used by British colonial police to hold out against the 1930s Arab Revolt, and Jordanian soldiers dug in here during the 1950s, adding their own small mosque with stubby minaret.

Today it is once again being readied for defence, but this time it is to be used by Jews against Jews.

Sanur is one of 25 Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land that Israel is preparing to evacuate this summer.

Most are down on the sandy flatlands of the Gaza Strip but four, including Sanur, are up in the rocky highlands of the West Bank and it is here that the Jewish opponents of withdrawal are planning their last stand.

"It will be the Stalingrad of Samaria," declared Arieh Eldad, a right-wing member of parliament who moved here to show solidarity with the settlers.

Over coffee in Israel's parliament - the Knesset - back in Jerusalem, Mr Eldad cited political thinkers like Rousseau and Hobbes as he condemned the so-called disengagement plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"I am considered an extremist for preaching non-co-operation with the state, but in this case the state of Israel is in clear breach of the social contract, its duty to protect its citizens.

"It boils down to this - the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel, and no government can simply give it away," he explained.

Rising numbers

Quite how violent that non-co-operation might become is the great unknown hanging over Israel right now and in Sanur the pressure is building each day.

Young Zionist families keep arriving, pitching tents right next door to the old police station.

Last week the whole place seemed to have been turned into a temporary crèche, as children scrabbled noisily in the dirt under the watchful gaze of their settler parents.

This is the land God gave to the Jews
Shaul Halfon
They hope if enough opponents to withdrawal arrive in places like Sanur, the Israeli army will be reluctant to move in to enforce the evacuation.

They do not have it easy, these settlers. Sanur is tiny, just a few buildings gathered round the old police station, surrounded on all sides by "enemy" territory - Palestinian farmland and villages.

It has no shop, only modest amenities and when I visited, the summer temperature had already soared uncomfortably high.

Shaul Halfon, a bear of a man with flowing beard and smock was busy organising the construction of Sanur's new synagogue.

Map of Gaza Strip

"This is the land God gave to the Jews," Shaul bellowed as he humped bags of cement.

A decorated Israeli army war hero who fought alongside Prime Minister Sharon, then an army officer in numerous clashes with Arab enemies in the 1960s and 1970s, Mr Halfon's zeal was underwritten by faith.

"We waited 2,000 years to come back home and no-one is going to take it away from us again."

He was really bellowing now. "Only God is our boss. No-one but God can boss us around."

Religion was less of a factor for Mark Salman, another of Sanur's settlers.

He is a Moscow born sculptor, part of a group of mainly Russian artists who came here more than 10 years ago.

Back then Sanur offered cheap land and tranquillity - perfect for an artist's garret.

The first floor of the old police station was even converted into a gallery to display their work.

As he sat in his tiny house, cluttered with the filigreed medallions in which he specialises, it became clear his grounds for staying were non religious.

Feeling betrayed

"Look around, I am not a rich man. Where else can I afford to live?

"They say this is a settlement but what does that mean? For me this is just my home, the only home I have known in Israel. I don't want to move," he said.

Israeli settlers with an orange flag
These settlers, both religious and secular, were united in their sense of betrayal by Mr Sharon.

For decades, the prime minister himself was a prime force behind the settler movement both in Gaza and the West Bank.

No matter that much of the world regards the settlements as illegal, Mr Sharon urged the settlers on in the name of the Jewish State.

It is no surprise, those who did his bidding, now feel so utterly betrayed.

For years now the Israeli army has had a detachment based inside Sanur with its guns and weapons pointing out.

During the intifada that began in 2000, Jewish settlements, like Sanur, deep in the occupied territories, bore the brunt of attack and the army was forced to set up 24-hour security.

Those soldiers worked for the people of Sanur, protecting them from snipers, ambushes and roadside bombs.

But some time this summer, that same army is going to turn its attention inwards on the Jews of Sanur itself.

Only then will we know if it really is to become another Stalingrad.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 25 June, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



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