Grinding their way past an enormous peace dove freshly whitewashed on the rolling sand dunes by a departing settler, a steady flow of furniture-laden trucks streamed out of this Mediterranean town today, leaving several hundred embittered opponents of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty to continue their fight.
On April 25, Yamit and the rest of the last portion of the Sinai Peninsula still occupied by Israel is to be returned to Egypt and from midnight tonight, it all has been declared a closed military area, open only to persons with an Army permit.
Families who gave the name Shangri-La to the practically treeless settlement of squat, stucco houses that bake under a relentless desert sun solemnly loaded their cars today with food from emptied refrigerators and potted house plants while Arab laborers heaved furniture onto vans--a poignant ending to the dream of transforming the barren northern Sinai into a lush Jewish-built metropolis.
Israeli soldiers who have been moving into Yamit houses as fast as the settlers leave--to prevent militant squatters from occupying them--sunbathed on the now-parched lawns, waiting for orders to empty the town of its last inhabitants so it can be turned over to Egypt in 3 1/2 weeks.
It was unclear tonight when the Army plans to evict the squatters. Local residents said they had been told that forcible evacuation probably would not begin until Sunday, after the Jewish Sabbath.
But in a makeshift supermarket in what once was one of Yamit's elementary schools, settlers who are staying crowded to buy boxes of matzo for the April 8 Passover festival, saying that they fully intended to be here for the holiday.
Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians 3,000 years ago and the holiday has taken on a special meaning to Yamit's settlers this year.
"Thousands of years ago, the miracle of Passover happened, and we are still hoping for a miracle," said Avi Farhan, a Yamit settler who is active in the Stop the Sinai Withdrawal movement. "Thousands of years ago, the Jews left Egypt in a hurry, and today Jews are being told to leave this place in a hurry, and make another exodus."
Farhan, an Army reserve major who fought in the northern Sinai in the 1967 war, added, "Look, I know that if Israel leaves this place, we'll be back in a few months or a few years. There will be another war and we will have to take it all back. So, what is the point of our leaving now?"
To Farhan, the peace treaty was a mistake. He says he is convinced that after April 25, Egypt will seek rapprochement with the rest of the Arab world and turn hostile to Israel.
Farhan, 36, the father of four children, said he and his family will stay in Yamit "until they come and carry us out," but he said he will not intentionally harm Israeli soldiers who are given the job.
About six blocks from his house, however, about 40 members of Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach Movement are digging in for more violent resistance. The Kach Movement is the successor to Kahane's Jewish Defense League.
Kahane's followers--mostly teen-age American Jews recently arrived in Israel--say they have stocked food and water for a month in a spacious bomb shelter and are prepared to fight to the death to stay in Yamit.
They refused to allow a reporter into the bomb shelter--shouting through a ventilator grill that "we can't trust anybody until he is verified by Rabbi Kahane"--but activists on the outside said the "bunker" inhabitants were equipped with gas masks and unspecified weapons with which to fight off Israeli soldiers.
Chaim Daniels, 19, who said he came from Brooklyn to Israel last October and to Yamit five weeks ago, said he had been told by one nationalist leader that "if it takes some loss of life, at least it will be worth it if the evacuation is stopped and another war with Egypt is prevented."
Daniels said he had been told by Kahane, who was said to be hiding somewhere in Yamit to avoid arrest, that "if a soldier hits you, you can hit him back."
"We've heard that the Army plans to use Arab Druze soldiers to get us out of here, and the people won't hesitate to kill them. I wouldn't hesitate, but if a Jewish soldiers comes after me, it's a problem," said Daniels, who said he was a JDL supporter in New York.
"Jews have a command to settle in Israel and this is a part of the land of Israel," said Daniels, expressing a view held by many of those remaining here. "To sell part of Israel to a gentile farmer, for example, is against the Jewish law. What is it if the government gives the entire Sinai to a gentile government?"
Nobody knows just how many settlers are remaining in Yamit. Officials put the figure at about 700, including 80 who have been given military permits to stay until April 15 to close down their homes and businesses because of special circumstances. The settlers opposing withdrawal claim between 2,000 and 3,000 people are left in the town, although there appears to be only a fraction of that number.
One large block of town houses that has not been taken over by the Army appears to be fully inhabited, with some apartments occupied by several families.
Rachel Klein, a settler from the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba who moved here two months ago, said, "We've given the government a chance to get out of a bad situation with honor and we will not leave this place willingly."
Meanwhile, as the inhabitants of Yamit continued to pull out, following the trucks loaded with their belongings, some of the militants trekked out into the sand dunes where Ruti Katz, an artist from a nearby agricultural settlement, had painted a 100-foot-long dove and obliterated part of it with Hebrew graffiti condemning the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Before leaving, Katz had said her intent was to convey to the people of Israel the message of peace, and to the Egyptians who will soon move into the town the same idea.