- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

SA-NUR, West Bank — Canvas tents on a basketball blacktop look out to an idyllic valley lined with olive tree groves, giving an air of summer camp to this Jewish settlement slated for evacuation.

But it is actually a makeshift neighborhood for newcomer families of religious ideologues who hope to block an Israeli withdrawal from this artists’ village, one of four emaciated secular settlements in the northern West Bank that the government wants to abandon next month.

“When there is a basis of faith, the path is clearer,” said Irit Frenkel, 41, who moved to Sa-Nur last month with her seven children, some clothes, blankets and kitchen utensils. “We didn’t establish this country to expel Jews from their homes.”

From the ancient Samarian slopes of the West Bank, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan looks different than from the exit from the Gaza Strip’s sand dunes.

An afterthought because the communities contain barely 500 residents compared with 8,500 in Gaza, the evacuation nonetheless will create a Palestinian district 21/2 times the territory of Gaza and signal Israel’s willingness for future concessions in the West Bank.

Once a launchpad for suicide bombings for militants based in the cities of Jenin and Nablus, the northern West Bank has quieted since Israel sealed off the region with a security barrier of fences, concrete walls and barbed wire.

The redeployment is expected to dovetail with the Israeli military’s handing over security responsibility to the Palestinians in Jenin. Opponents of the withdrawal say it will give militants breathing room to stockpile rockets that could be fired over the security barrier, threatening the sprawling metropolitan central Israel.

“You’ll be creating a terror state that would threaten most of the country with Kassam” missiles, said Yossi Dagan, a Sa-Nur resident who moved here three years ago.

“Sharon is trying to make the people forget about the northern West Bank. It’s easy to market the withdrawal from Gaza. When the people realize the danger in withdrawing from northern Samaria, they’ll decide to call it off.”

Mr. Dagan has overseen a monthlong influx at Sa-Nur of about 25 families, a badly needed infusion in a settlement that until three years ago was populated by a handful of aging Russian artists.

Like the other three West Bank settlements slated to be abandoned by the end of the summer, Sa-Nur has withered over the course of the five-year-old Palestinian uprising. Isolated in a hilly region that gave an advantage to gunmen from neighboring Arab towns and villages, residents once required military convoys to travel do and from their homes.

Just down the road is Homesh, which also has been bolstered by an influx of religious residents after a series of terrorist attacks several years ago prompted an exodus of families.

Farther north in two settlements just outside Jenin, financially struggling settlers have been waiting for years for compensation that will enable them to leave — but they have opposed allowing newcomers who would challenge an evacuation.

“It’s not coincidental that the northern West Bank was selected because it is the most sparsely settled,” said Yossi Alpher, the former head of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies. “You couldn’t evacuate an area the same size [elsewhere] without having to move a lot more settlers.”

Mr. Alpher said the parallel withdrawals were necessary to reassure the Palestinians and the international community that Israel considers Gaza and the West Bank part of one political entity.

Despite the small number of settlers, in some respects the evacuation in the West Bank could be more difficult than in Gaza. Reinforcements from other ideologically fervent West Bank settlements are only a short drive away. And the military will have to put up more roadblocks in the West Bank compared to Gaza, which is surrounded by a border fence.

Sa-Nur was founded as an artists’ village on the grounds of a prison originally built by the Ottoman Turks. Its residents once hoped that they could cooperate with neighboring Palestinian villagers to attract tourists here. But the outbreak of violence nearly five years ago has turned many into fierce critics of negotiating with Palestinians.

A restored stone citadel now houses a museum brimming with works of art containing overt political messages. One sculpture titled “Negotiations” shows a bowl of Molotov cocktails on a table with one chair broken and the other chair with nails sticking up from the seat. A sculpture depicting the divide among Israelis over the withdrawal shows a piece of fabric fraying at the seams, held together by crude wire staples.

Julia Segal, a 67-year-old artist who curates the museum, says the arrival of the religious families has eased the artists’ isolation.

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