Jewish settlers praying for a miracle to stop Gaza pull-out

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The Independent Online

"My great fear is that my house will be left standing and not destroyed," he says. "The idea of turning on the television and seeing an al-Jazeera reporter showing a terrorist on the roof or inside the house just drives me crazy."

Mr Lopes may be spared this personal nightmare. When the evacuation of settlers is completed, his house, one of the largest in the Katif settlement, is likely to be bulldozed by the Israeli army, along with the 1,500 others in the 21 Gaza settlements.

The desirability of destroying the houses is perhaps the only thing Mr Lopes and the Palestinian Authority agree about. The settlers' villas are not suitable for relieving the acute housing needs of Gaza's desperately overcrowded 1.3 million Palestinians.

But then Mr Lopes says he still believes, despite overwhelming evidence that compulsory evacuation will start in 10 days' time, that it may not happen at all.

Last Thursday, at a sunset ceremony attended by many of the 100 religious Jewish families in this settlement, part of the larger Gush Katif block, Mr Lopes planted 10 fruit trees, pomegranate, peach and lemon, as a symbol of his faith in the "miracle" he knows is the only chance of stopping Ariel Sharon's plan to take the 8,500 settlers out of Gaza.

"The planting shows our roots in the land," he explains. "The Torah says that you cannot eat a tree's fruit for its first three years. This act says we will be here to eat the fruit in the fourth year."

As a practical man - he runs a successful compost business - Mr Lopes admits "that when I see all the build-up of troops getting ready for the pull-out, it looks as if this business is finished". But the religious former Yeshiva student remains in denial: "I still believe that God will do something to stop this happening."

Mr Lopes typifies a widespread cast of mind in Gush Katif. Even among settlers he is a hardliner in the sense that he has refused on principle to join the 50 per cent of settler families who have entered negotiations with the state on rehousing and compensation of up to $300,000 (£170,000), even though he is likely to lose out if his prayers aren't answered.

Adamantly opposed, like the vast majority of settlers in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, to a Palestinian state, he qualifies his admission that among the Palestinians "there are good people" by adding: "Even the good Palestinians do something bad because they give the terrorists a place to hide."

But he won't join the violent resistance he predicts will develop - most of it, he claims, from hundreds of extremist settlers who have infiltrated from outside Gaza. "First I was a soldier, and I am not going to do anything to the soldiers. Secondly my priority is my family and I'm not going to let them have any kind of trauma. If they come I will do what Jews do in the mourning period and tear my shirt. I will take the soldiers inside my house, give them food and drink and do what they tell me to do. I will take down the Mezuzot [holy objects containing biblical scrolls on the doorways of religious Jewish homes]. God forbid they fall into the hands of the Palestinians."

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