Yamit: deceptive peace precedes Israeli evacuation
The protagonists in the human drama unfolding here in Yamit were lolling about the streets like actors in the wings, waiting to be called into action.
Everyone knew the town was to be returned to Egypt, along with the rest of eastern Sinai on April 26 - but exactly what would happen when Israeli authorities tried to cope with the Jewish settlers who refused to leave was anyone's guess. The government had set a March 31 deadline for evacuation of the town.
At this writer's visit, shortly before the evacuation deadline, Yamit was basking in beautiful spring weather and the remarkable peace that often precedes a storm.
A group of young soldiers in the evacuation force ate oranges on the balcony of one of the houses recently taken over by the Army. They paid scant attention to the numerous yeshiva students passing below, who had also moved into Yamit in recent days for the coming confrontation.
Entire sections of the town have been taken over by supporters of the anti-withdrawal movement, most of them orthodox Jews. ''We have thousands here already,'' said Esther Bazak, who was in charge of finding housing for arriving Jewish militants. ''We expect to be here Passover, and we have enough food for 3,000 people.'' Passover falls a week after the March 31 evacuation deadline.
Some of the 50 militants who had come through or around the Army roadblocks on the road to Yamit the night before were sleeping in Mrs. Bazak's home. They would later be distributed among the houses being evacuated by the many veteran Yamit residents who were moving back into Israel proper.
''We have someone who opens locks in 40 seconds,'' said Mrs. Bazak. The Army has thus far refrained from moving against the squatters, apparently waiting until the departure of all families wishing to leave town.
There was an air of unreal normality in the militant strongholds, with mothers pushing prams and children playing despite the imminence of the confrontation everyone knows will come soon.
Atop some of the houses, barbed wire and sand-bagged barricades have been constructed. Mrs. Bazak, who seemed uncomfortable when asked about them, said their only purpose was to delay evacuation. ''No one will do anything against the soldiers. They are our brothers and children. But we will make it as difficult as can be. Evacuation will take a very long time to accomplish. That doesn't mean we will use force. We still hope that something will happen that will permit us to stay on.''
One place where force had not been forsworn was the shelter taken over by Rabbi Meir Kahane, who is considered an extremist even by the Yamit militants. Dubbed ''the bunker'' or ''Masada,'' the shelter has been fitted out with supplies as a redoubt that would hold out in Yamit after all else had fallen.
A member of the group, Avraham Hershkowitz, declined to say whether there were arms inside the bunker, but he clearly left open the possibility that there were.
Mrs. Bazak, representing the mainstream anti-withdrawl movement, expressed revulsion at the Kahane group. ''We don't want to know about them,'' she said, shielding her face. But her prognostication about events on evacuation day were not far from Hershkowitz's. ''No one knows what's going to happen,'' she said.