There are many different kinds of settlements in Israel - those like Yamit in the Sinai are in fact like small, "new towns" in America. Yamit itself is a city, a new town and it looks like Reston, Va., or Columbia, Md.
Surrounding the town of Yamit are other settlements. Some of them are kibbutzim or collectives where everyone shares almost everything, children live in dormitories, money is given as allowance and dining is communal.
Others are moshavs, which are co-operatives where people own their own homes, the family is one unit and there is collective farming and other activities. Most of the settlements in the Sinai are moshavs.
The settlements in the Sinai were the brainchild of Moshe Dayan and the Labor Party who eight years ago encouraged young Israelis and immigrant to settle in that area.
Sadot is the Sinai settlement closest to Tel Aviv. Founded eight years ago, it is also, the oldest. The early settlers are now in their mid-30s, with teenaged children, and when they first came Sadot looked like the Sahara.
Drora Tchervinsky remembers it well. She sits in her kitchen at the vinyl-topped table and talks about what the Sinai years have come to mean to those 100 original couples who have stuck it out.
At 36, Tchervinsky has four children. She and her husband were among the first to settle in Sadot, giving up good careers (he was an engineer, she was a nurse) to come to the Sinai and farm.
"We had a very good life. We had a beautiful house. But the government made us feel as though we were needed here," she says. "These empty sands needed people here to flower them.We felt it was fulfilling the national mission. We wanted to do some good service."
Today Sadot is green has palm trees, shrubs, flowers and vines. The Tchervinsky house is one of the nicest with a living room furnished with Danish modern furniture, Oriental rugs, paintings; it has a terrace, a nice dining room and kitchen. Flowering vines covers the entrance to the house and sprawl around the whole house.
"When we first came," she says, there were no prospects that we were going to have a good life here. The good life came afterward. It was completely empty.
"That we succeeded is a surprise to everyone, even us, and the envy of everyone. Our field was a couple of meters from our house but it seemed much farther. My husband was not used to physical labor especially in the heat. I would bring him melons and sabras.
That walk, she says, was horrible then. "It was like the flight out of Egypt. Now I look at it and it seems nothing, everything is so green."
And now, she says, over 100 families are trying to get into Sadot, so successful has it been.
If there are any true pioneers with a burning pioneer spirit in the Sinai, they would be found at Sadot. Tchervinsky herself is the chief spokesperson for the action committee. And she is determined to change the government's mind about giving up the Sinai.
"Maybe there's a way to sneak out of it," she sighs. "Maybe there's a catch. Some political dirty thing. But our biggest concern now is keeping people here, keeping the morale good. People are confused and uncertain, there is a loss of sleep and people are attached to their radios."
Tchervinsky, tired now, speaking in a hoarse, voice, defers to Schumlik Berenson. He is a tall, stocky French Jew, 34, with a heavy black beard, strong hands, a warm smile.
Neither of them can hide bitterness about the majority of people in Israel, who have been applauding the agreements. It is their fellow countrymen they are angry about, rather than Begin or Sadat. She feels Begin defused the Egyptian, and that Sadat is "a great statesman."
"Most of the people who fear for the security of the borders are sitting on the borders," she says, "not sitting around in Tel Aviv."
Berenson says he feels personally betrayed by Begin. "I was one of five people who went to see Begin three days before he left for Camp David," he says. "He promised us there was no possibility of giving the settlements away."
"He personally betrayed us."
More than security, more than giving up their homes, what worries many of the Israelis in the settlements is the prospect of Egyptians living in the housses they build with their own hands, the gardens they carefully tended in the desert, the fields they painfully cultivated.
"Don't think I haven't thought of thousands of Eguptians moving here," says Tchervinsky. "And the Bedouins have already picked their houses here. Maybe the Palestinians too. Well, they'll just have to fight over them."
They had heard a rumor only that day that the mayor of El Arish, the Egyptian town below the settlements, had picked the house he wanted in Yamit, a beautiful modern house with solar heating, designed by an architect settler.
This isn't to say that security with them is not an issue. "With the Egyptians here, and right next door the Palestinians in Gaza immediately on our borders with nothing to separate them, well, in this crazy Middle East if we forget to smile nicely one day maybe they'll invade."
But both Berenson and Tchervinsky deplore the Gush Emunim, the radical ultrareligious settlers who are causing much trouble by seeting up tents in other occupied territories and forcing the government to evict them.
For one thing most of the settlers in the Sinai are not particularly religious and are much more middle-of-the-road.
"I think the Gush Emunim are damaging the whole thing," she says. "You can demonstrate, you can show your frustration. But as the Arabs say, 'The pin in your eye is no different if it's made out of gold'; they are breaking the law. I won't fight Israeli soldiers."
"There's a big difference between us and them," he says. "We were settled by the government. They think they have the right given them by the bible."
The obvious question to ask the irate settlers is what alternative they see for peace in the Middle East without the concessions of giving their homes away. They have it all figured out. Sort of.
"The alternative," says Tchervinsky," is that Begin could have turned to the nation, told us he wouldn't stand pressure from the outside and said that we were going to have difficult days."
"And he could have told us that the whole world can go stand on its head. Then we could say, 'This is our country, the borders are important and we're going to protect them. We are strong enough.'
"Now the alternative of not signing the agreement is war and to be isolated, not only by other countries but by the Jews of the world. We would be called stubborn and hardnosed."
This felling of suffering, says Tchervinsky, "is very natural for Jews. I saw it with the Hadassah women. But it's not so natural for Israelis.We believe you have to have a hard life. And the big problem now for the youth of Israel is that one settlement removal will pull the rug out from under the spirit of pioneering for the next generation."
She is almost too tired to talk now. She sits quietly, for a moment, then shouts impatiently at one of her children who had begun arguing over which TV channel to watch. She shakes her head, rubs her eyes with her hands.
"I don't know," she says finally. "It will take a couple of years to get myself together again. And how could I ever ask my children to be pioneer?"
She gets up from the table and takes a picture off the wall. It is an envelope in a frame, the first evelope from the first Yamit area post office, which opened this summer. The printed inscription in hebrew reads: "Congratulations from Jerusalem to Yamit. May it be built and be the Nation's pride and joy." It was signed by Begin. It was dated June 20, 1978.
Between the last Sinai settlement, Neot Sinai, and the Egyptian town of El Arish there is a beautiful oasis. It is near the ocean, filled with majestic palm trees, bursting with lush ripe dates. A group of Egyptian date pickers in their galabias and headdresses was working at the roadside.
A group with an American reporter stopped to buy some dates, and one of the pickers, an older man with a three-day beard growth and blackened teeth stepped up.
"American?" he asked, smiling. He was told yes. "Carter?" Yes.
"We like Carter. Very good. Very good." Smile. "Carter our friend." Smile. "America our friend."
Shortly after this fraternal display of affection the same man tried to sell the reporter to a passing man on a donkey cart. "American," he told him in Arabic, with a smile. "Very good. Very good."
Most of the new settlers in the Sinai are young; many have small children. For these later settlers the move was an adventure, a rather like going to the Peace Corps was for young americans in the '40s.
Only better. In the Sinai the government subsidizes the housing and gives huge mortgages.
The houses are small but attractive, usually two or three bedrooms with the possibility of adding on - a terrace, a yard, kitchen, sometimes dining room.
For all of that, the settlers pay between $10,000 and $15,000 for a house that would cost around $100,000 in Georgetown. They have good schools, day-care enters, and convenient shopping. It is a highly attractive proposition and the overtones of patriotism are hardly audible.
Irit Hauben is a perfect example of a young Yamit settler. She is 27, married, a schoolteacher, an intelligent, rather shy young woman with 20-month-old twins, named after two Israeli mountains. She has been in Yamit three years and she and her husband love it: "We love the view, the silence the possiblity for kids, the temple life." And as for the patriotic spirit of the pioneer, well, she smiles. An apology.
"It's different now from 30 years ago," she says. "Some people came here because it's a good place to start a business."
She says now she wishes thing could be different but, "you can never be as wise as the ones who make history."
Way down the Sinai, almost at El Arish, is the last Israeli settlement, Neot Sinai, which means "The Oasis." It sits high on a sandy promontory overlooking a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean. It is also the newest settlement, only a year old. It has the youngest group of settlers, 18 couples, all around 25 years old, who run a laundry and farm and have, all told, 26 children all under the age of 5.
This week, the settlement sat baking in the sun, nearly deserted.
Most ot the settlers had gone to Jerusalem to protest the Camp David agreements as the Knesset was debating the issue.
One of the young mothers in Neot Sinai sat, watching the children.
"We are young, we have a good community," says Laura Chaim. "We have nice houses, we have friends. We came here because the view is wonderful. We have almost everything. It will be difficult to leave."
And the pioneer spirit?
She bursts out laughing. "Oh, no, no, no," she insisted. "We came here because we were looking for a beautiful place."
She laughs again, thinking of Begin. "Even Begin came here a year ago," she says, "and he thought it was so beautiful he said he wanted to retire here and write his book."
"I don't know whether the agreements are good or not good," she says. "All I know is that we are angry: We have to leave our home."
As the debate in the Knesset droned on Wednesday several hundred settlers from the Yamit area settlements in the Sinai, and from others, came to Jerusalem to demonstrate against the Camp David agreements. Many came on tractors, and some were stopped by Israeli police, on the road to Jerusalem.
If you hadn't know it was a political demonstation you might have thought it was a fund-raiser.
Women in flowered dresses and pants, men in shorts and jeans and yarmulkas strolled around and chatted with each other. They sat under open tents, ate their picnics, drank beer and told stories while speakers talked on with hardly anyone listening.
A placard in English read: "Mr. Prime Minister, why haven't you been enough strong with Carter, Sadat. Sinai to give up was very wrong."
Another invoked the war dead in Germany with a simple "Remember."
Erik Nechamkin, the head of the Moshav movement, was kibitzing with friends, obviously not interested in inciting any riots.
"I think these people don't understand what happened yet," he said. "The real demonstrations will come when they come to remove people physically from their homes. It's the shock of the decision that contradicts a long line of hopes and promises."
Nechamkin lives in the first moshav ever settled in Israel, the one where Moshe Dayan was born. And he particularly is bitter about what he feels is Dayan's betrayal because, he says, "Dayan understood the situation better than anybody."
Angry as he was, the holiday mood prevailed; after being interviewed, he went back to laughing, and joking with his friends.
Another settler, an older, former army officer, was there with his wife and another couple, seeing old friends he had not seen in a while, though it were a class reunion. Asked why he thought people did not seem concerned, he shrugged in exaggerated fashion and said, laughing, "Either the dog or the landlord will die."
That phrase stems from a fable the Jews tell here. It is about an evil rich landlord who asks his Jewish barman to teach his dog to speak. The Jew says OK, he can do it. When he tells his wife, she accuses him of being crazy to say he could do the impossible.
"Dont' worry," he tells his wife. "I told him I needed five years and he agreed. In five years either the dog will be dead or the landlord will die."