This Israeli settlement of artists and immigrants in the bleached hills of the northern West Bank is a place without a future. The Israeli army is due to arrive in just over two months to remove the few dozen families who live in trailers, tents and a handful of stucco homes set on a hillside bristling with pine and cypress trees.
Ruth Sariel is not worried. She arrived last week with her husband and two of her 10 children, moving into a tent beneath cell phone towers and a military guard post. Sariel is here to defend Sanur from the Israeli government, which over the years encouraged Jewish settlement in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
In the past three weeks, the arrival of 20 families like the Sariels has more than doubled the population of Sanur. Workers are hastily building the community's first synagogue, scheduled to open next month. Rooms in the stone building that serves as a community center are being turned into kitchens to feed the new arrivals, many of them young children. There are plans for a summer camp.
"We have learned to fight for each and every point of the Jewish state," said Sariel, 41, her young boys playing at her feet. "This is the heart of the land of Israel."
The feverish activity here is a worrisome challenge to Israeli military officials in the weeks leading up to the scheduled evacuation of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four here in the northern West Bank, now a gathering point for settlers who oppose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan. The Gaza evacuation will involve an estimated 8,500 settlers, by far the largest element of the month-long operation. But a deeply felt religious identification with this region, as well as its challenging terrain, could turn the operation here into a more troubling one for Israeli soldiers and the rest of the country, now split over the merit of what is commonly known as disengagement.
Many Israelis refer to the northern West Bank region by its biblical name of Samaria, part of the ancient land of Israel, and its significance has drawn a small vanguard of the settlers movement that for generations has resisted periodic government attempts to roll back settlements in the occupied territories. As a teenager, for instance, Sariel traveled to the Israeli settlement of Yamit in the northern Sinai in an unsuccessful attempt to block the Israeli withdrawal from the peninsula following the Camp David accords in 1978. Israel has also evacuated some small hilltop communities known as outposts.
Unlike in the Gaza Strip, which is encircled by a fortified fence, Israelis move unhindered here along hillside paths and through valleys striped with olive groves. Sanur's leaders predict that thousands of activists opposed to the pullout will follow the Sariels' lead and make their way into the region before the Aug. 15 start of the Gaza operation, which Israeli military officials say will be immediately followed by the evacuation here.
"The hard part is that there are no clear limits, so it is hard to distinguish those arriving to strengthen the resistance" to disengagement, Brig. Gen. Guy Tzur, deputy commander of the Israeli army's southern command and an architect of the military strategy for disengagement, said in a recent interview.
"We have to remember there is a day after, and the day after is the most important part of this mission," he continued. "They are our brothers. We must respect them even in difficult times, and there will be difficult times in the three weeks of evacuation."
According to Israel's Interior Ministry, 38 people lived in Sanur as of June 2004. But Sanur leaders say the recent arrivals have swelled the population to at least 250 people, more than a quarter of them children. None of the other West Bank settlements scheduled for evacuation -- with a population of fewer than 700 people -- has grown as much.
Anti-settlement activists say Sharon, who has presented the disengagement plan as a way to better secure the Israeli state, is allowing Sanur to grow now in the hope that a difficult evacuation will reduce future demands that Israelis leave any of the other 136 settlements on the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers are posted at Sanur's front gate and in watchtowers around the perimeter. But the new families and 25 religious school students from Kiryat Arba, a settlement in the southern West Bank who arrived a few months ago, have been allowed to move in without trouble. Building materials for use in the synagogue's construction and stacks of tents pass through the gates.
Sharon, once a leading proponent of the settler movement, has warned that the evacuation will be a national trauma.
"Instead of looking at the settlers as a challenge to democracy, the government still looks at them as pioneers fulfilling government policy," said Dror Etkes of Peace Now, an Israeli organization that opposes settlement activity. "The whole show that is being prepared is not for this step, but to avoid the next one."
The nearby cities of Nablus and Jenin were at the heart of the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000, and Sanur emptied out almost entirely during the unrest. Many of those residents returned. But now, Israeli officials fear a four-month lull in violence may be ending in the region. On Friday, an Israeli settler was killed not far from here when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on his car.
Palestinians living nearby are eager to see the settlers leave, hoping tensions between their towns and the Israeli military will decline as a result. In the nearby city of Silat a-Daher, Kayed Abu Diaq, 45, has his roadside restaurant shut by Israeli soldiers whenever children there throw rocks at settlers' cars.
"We're not going to be happy because we no longer see Jews," said Abu Diaq, who used to work in Israel. "We're happy because we think it will mean the end of curfews."
An Ottoman-era building in the heart of the settlement now houses a noisy kindergarten, and the hillside playground is packed with children. Tricycles and Big Wheels line the dirt paths or lie toppled near rows of new tents. Settlers on guard duty sling M-16 assault rifles over their shoulders, the only sign of an arsenal that settlers say they have stockpiled for defense. In the evenings under the black tarp strung up between new tents, the community develops plans for a wide-ranging civil resistance campaign.
"We have weapons that are for self-defense against an enemy that comes to kill us, but to our knowledge, the IDF does not fall into that category," said Miryam Adler, 28, referring to Israel's army, the Israeli Defense Forces. "People will stay here, others will go into the Arab villages. We'll drive the army crazy until the brigade commander goes to his chief of staff and says, 'I can't carry out this operation.' "
Not all agree with the resistance practiced by Adler and Sariel, who sits at one extreme of the religious Zionist movement. Sariel said she once voted in parliamentary elections for the now-deceased Meir Kahane, a militant rabbi who advocated expelling Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories. The United States considers the movement he inspired, Kahane Chai, a terrorist organization, though Sariel says she is not a member.
Wearing rubber sandals, a long skirt and the trademark orange T-shirt of the anti-disengagement movement, Sariel appeared carefree on a recent windy morning, laughing frequently and cradling her boys. The daughter of some of the first Jewish settlers to arrive in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sariel has been at the leading edge of the movement ever since.
"It would have been worse if I'd stayed home," said Sariel, who brought only a few belongings from her house in the settlement of Elon Moreh, east of Nablus. "I belong to Samaria."
At 17, Sariel headed to Yamit in the weeks before the Israeli army planned to evacuate the more than 1,000 families there. But she recalled that the protest there had the feeling more of a demonstration than a last stand against the settlement's demolition. This time, she said, she feels a deeper devotion among the new arrivals to preserve Sanur because of the region's central place in Jewish history.
As it has always been for the Sariels, protecting the settlements is a family affair. Four of her children have been arrested in recent months for taking part in anti-disengagement demonstrations ranging from blocking traffic to gluing shut the locks of public buildings. Her 12-year-old daughter, Nava, has been arrested twice.
"We didn't fight hard enough," Sariel said of her experience in Yamit. "But now we're fighting, and this time it won't happen. There will be more commitment."