- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip — Jewish militants, including families with children, are moving into derelict buildings on an unkempt beach in defiance of Israeli plans to evacuate the Gaza Strip this summer.

“There are new families arriving every day. By the end of the summer, there will be a tent city stretching along Gaza’s beaches. The resistance will be 150,000 strong,” said Nadia Matar, a mother of six and leader of Women in Green, a radical organization.

But Israel’s Supreme Court cleared the last legal hurdle to the pullout in August, ruling yesterday in Jerusalem that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank is legal.

The justices voted 10-1 that the national interest would be served by the plan to remove 25 of Israel’s 143 settlements from what they called “occupied territories.”

Mrs. Matar and at least 15 families have moved into the Palm Beach Hotel, a once-thriving resort vacated since the start of the Palestinian uprising 41/2 years ago.

They call themselves the Maoz Hayam community and comprise what Israeli authorities fear will become an armed enclave of hard-core resistance against the summer’s withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

“Sharon has become the operative arm of Hamas, and we’re here to ensure that the disengagement won’t be carried out,” said Mrs. Matar, referring to the Palestinian terrorist group whose suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Before this interview, no journalists were allowed into the compound. Outside the gates, several photographers take pictures of the settlers within, and a news crew interviews a group of Texan Baptist pastors, visiting to support the settlers’ struggle.

“Journalists think we’re crazy, so the community has made a decision not to let them in,” Mrs. Matar said.

She wore a traditional orthodox dress; her husband wore a black skullcap and machine gun slung across his chest.

Mrs. Matar founded the Maoz Hayam community — along with Minhelet Kela, a Hebrew acronym for the Gaza Absorption Authority, which is encouraging new settlers to move to Gaza, and Baruch Marzel, the former leader of the outlawed Jewish terrorist group, Kach.

“Over there is the hangar in which we’re stockpiling water, food, supplies,” Mrs. Matar said, “because we’re sure that the army will try to ‘freeze’ us out this summer and we need to prepare for the worst.”

The Israeli army fears that Maoz Hayam also might be stocking up on ammunition. Several residents, including Mr. Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir, another Kach leader, have a long history of violence and arrests.

Inside the former hotel, conditions are squalid.

Until last week, there was no electricity or running water. Now, a single generator provides enough power for each family to use a single light bulb in their new homes and to charge their cell phones.

This is the only small luxury amid the melancholy wreckage of a once-splendid beach resort.

A faded sign leads down steps to an algae-filled swimming pool; lines of safety deposit boxes remain in the gutted lobby.

There are only two toilets for the whole community of new residents, little furniture, and cold water in which to shower the children who run barefoot through the dust.

The settlers, however, plan to open a nursery, a yeshiva, and a communal kitchen. They take turns guarding the compound throughout the night, its boundaries fortified with concrete blocks and barbed wire.

For now, the army has no plans to remove the settlers, who have obtained the legal right to reside in the crumbling hotel from its owners.

But soldiers intend to keep a close eye on the situation within the compound, where tensions have already surfaced between the Jewish militants and a group of young, secular squatters — mostly surfers — who have inhabited the hotel for several years.

Equally, many residents of Gush Katif, a network of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, are suspicious of their new neighbors.

“It’s a stronghold for fanatics,” said one. “They don’t represent the people here, just themselves.”

Several groups that oppose the Israeli withdrawal have already distanced themselves from Maoz Hayam and are not including the hotel on their regular “Save Gush Katif” bus tours.

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