The mosque in the center of Sa-Nur was built for Jordanian soldiers, a reminder of the contested history of this tiny piece of land. Israel conquered the hilltop in 1967, and now the mosque is a synagogue. Until recently, though, it had few worshippers. Sa-Nur saw its population plummet in the first years of the intifadeh because of its isolated position near the Palestinian town of Nablus, a terrorist hotbed. A little more than a year ago, it was home to just nine families and two young bachelors. But since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced plans to evacuate the residents of Sa-Nur this summer, new residents have flooded into the settlement. Now 150 people live here. At the synagogue, Yossi Dagan, the 24-year-old organizing the fight to resist Sharon's orders, fields requests from friends who want to be in Sa-Nur when the army comes to evacuate it. "Sa-Nur was basically abandoned for a while," says Dagan. "Now people are coming to protect us."
When Israelis talk about defending themselves, it is usually against Palestinian suicide bombers. But for some settlers, Sharon has become a more immediate threat to their way of life. Sharon's disengagement plan calls for the evacuation of all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank, including Sa-Nur. But in many of the settlements scheduled to be evacuated, residents are preparing to wage last stands of their own. Nowhere else is there greater potential for an Israeli-on-Israeli confrontation than in Sa-Nur. Israeli security forces fear that this lonely outpost of 38 families could be the nastiest flash point in the evacuation campaign. Dagan says he expects thousands of supporters to make their way to Sa-Nur to resist the army's effort to uproot the settlers. "They want to avoid a disaster for the state of Israel if we leave," Dagan says.
While Sharon says separation from the Palestinians is necessary for Israel's security, the settlers say they are motivated by security concerns as well. West Bank settlements evoke more concern than the pullout from Gaza. The West Bank is the heart of biblical Israel and home to most of Israel's 240,000 settlers, who fear that Sharon's plan is the first stage in a project to uproot other small settlements. In the case of Sa-Nur, the settlers say their departure will give the Palestinians commanding views of Israel's coastal plain.
In the face of opposition to the evacuation plan, Israel's army and police are planning a massive show of force. More than two army divisions have been assigned to the operation. To remove the 8,500 settlers from Gaza, the army will need 35,000 men over three weeks. In the West Bank, the operation is scheduled to be done in a week, with more than 7,000 troops marshaling 1,500 settlers from their homes.
The topography of the West Bank makes the evacuation here much more problematic than that in Gaza. The Gaza settlements are surrounded by Palestinian towns and a border fence. The sole entrance can be barred with relative ease. But the rocky West Bank mountains create a warren of ravines and valleys that the army is desperately trying to figure out how to close. The residents of Sa-Nur are working to set up secret routes for supporters to circumvent the army roadblocks. "It's going to be much harder there than in Gaza," says an official with Israel's Shin Bet domestic security service. "It's very hard to seal the place off." The Shin Bet fears that people will visit Sa-Nur during the Passover holiday next week, only to remain there until the evacuation begins.
The ultimate fear is that some settlers will turn violent. Police arrested three Israeli extremists for attempting to sell grenades to settlers last month, but the Shin Bet official says the security service doesn't have enough agents to be sure of stopping someone bent on violence. The authorities have reason to be vigilant. In Sa-Nur's modest art gallery stands a chilling exhibit. On a white table, there is a bowl filled with rich, red pomegranates. The title of the installation is Negotiations. On closer inspection, one sees that the pomegranates are grenades.