Surfers must leave home on world’s ‘best squat’

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GUSH KATIF, Gaza Strip — The eviction of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip this week also will end a way of life for a band of young surfers who have stayed in the territory not for politics or economics, but for the best surfing in the eastern Mediterranean.

The sons of Gaza settlers, the surfers have been living in the derelict Palm Beach Hotel, a 144-room edifice with peeling walls that has been without receptionists, staff or paying guests since the latest uprising began in 2000.

Here, they have helped themselves to comfortable but creaking hotel beds in abandoned rooms with superb sea views and ready access to fine beaches with outstanding surf.

The surfers have learned to ride the waves in a way that ensures that they come ashore on Israeli-held beaches rather than the Palestinian-controlled precincts of Gaza City.

“It’s the end of a most wonderful time,” said Elazar, 20, who agreed to be identified only by his first name.

Surfboard tucked under his arm, Elazar wove through strands of barbed wire and mounted sparkling-white sand dunes under the watchful eye of Israeli soldiers in a jeep.

“We’ve had the best squat in the world — and we’ve been riding the best surf in the eastern Mediterranean. And the fishing’s great, too.”

He and three teenaged friends said that when the soldiers come to evict them this week, they will head out to sea one last time and ride a final wave to shore before returning to Israel.

An Israeli newspaper reported earlier this month that some other surfers have threatened to drown themselves rather than return to shore.

“These are guys who have fallen into very deep emotional distress,” said Ami Shaked, chief security officer at the collective farm of Neve Dekalim, near the surfers’ homes.

“I will personally do everything to prevent [suicides], including shooting them in the legs,” he was quoted as saying by Ha’aretz newspaper.

A local social worker said the threats will most likely not be followed through on, but psychologists have been called in.

The young men’s threats stem from a general depression sweeping the farming communities that are being evacuated in the Gaza Strip, said a local kibbutz manager.

“They come from families in which the parents are also conveying distress,” he said. “If the adults are taking it hard, then adolescent boys are suffering all the more so from all this, and they might do something foolish.”

During recent interviews, the young surfers appeared cheerful enough. Their main worry was a loss of freedom — not the least from their parents.

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