Settlers take a sanguine view of the 'terrorist'

THE 'terrorist' they all love to hate came within spitting distance of Avi Farham's house yesterday. But Mr Farham never flinched as he shared out the Sabbath wine, happily ensconced in the Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai.

This sea-view Gaza enclave on Gaza's northern 'Riviera' was erected by Jewish settlers from Yamit, in the Sinai, which Israel evacuated in 1982, following the peace agreement with Egypt. 'I understand the Arabs,' Mr Farham said. 'Arafat doesn't worry me. He can come as close as he likes.' He is nothing to me,' he shrugged.

The news had just reached him come in that Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was due to tour Jabalya refugee camp, Gaza's the largest and most impoverished in Gazacamp, which sprawls sprawling on a heap of dust and garbage, barely two miles just three kilometres away from Elei Sinai.

Now, eating tearing hunks of bread from a loaf, dipping them dipped in sugar , and licking avocado flesh from a knife, Mr Farham explained his confidence. 'This settlement will never be moved. Look how close we are to Israel. There is nothing Arafat can do about it. I know the Arabs better than they know themselves. I should. I come from Libya.' Mr Farham's mop of curls and high cheekbones looked suddenly familiar. 'You know Gaddafi's mother was a Jew? Some people say we are related.'

Since Mr Arafat's his arrival in the Gaza Strip on Friday much has been made of the threats by settler militants to 'bloody the path' of Mr Arafat. When The PLO chairman was greeted by arrived in Gaza on Friday predictable settler banners screamed screaming 'Arafat the murderer' and 'Arafat the new Hitler' along his route. Yesterday, Thousands of settlers gathered yesterday in silent protest at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, site of Herod's Second Temple, and widespread demonstrations were predicted in the city last night, after the end of the Sabbath. Arafat is expected to travel to Jericho on Monday, and settlers said yesterday they would block his path with barricades.

Despite the thumping of war drums, however, the his presence of Mr Arafat has not enraged the settlers as much as some might have thought. Protests so far have been telegenic, but not hard for Israeli security to handle. And, just as Mr Yasser Arafat's homecoming has brought a relatively somewhat muted response, so far, from Jewish militants, Palestinians, so it has from Jewish militants. Palestinians. The Palestinians They have not risen up to hail their triumphant leader, because they know his peace agreement is no triumph. Likewise, the settlers have not risen up to lynch their the 'terrorist', perhaps because they are disappointed by their lacklustre prey now they can see him for themselves.

In the Gazan settlements of Gush Qatif, Kfar Dorom and Elai Sinai, the Arafat-haters spoke yesterday of their scorn for him, Mr Arafat, rather than their desire to go in for the kill. 'We watched him on television, we thought he was a clown,' said Ganit Hirsch. 'I would like to kill him,' said Yehuda Hirsch, an immigrant from Transylvania, this savage proposal somewhat spoiled by a swift disclaimer. 'I wouldn't try though. It is against the law.'

The truth is that while Mr Arafat may claim he will take all the land of Palestine, which means the removal of the settlements, the settlers of Gaza today find little cause to believe him. Worried as they were at first by the implications of the peace deal, today they the settlers of Gaza say life has never been so good since the signing of the Gaza-Jericho agreement and they are more confident of their future than ever before.

The reason explanation is simple. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, has so far stood by them. so far. Furthermore, since the Israeli army redeployed out of the Gaza Arab towns, there are more soldiers to guard the settlers than ever before. And the Arabs can no longer get anywhere near. The Gush Qatif 'bloc' is ringed by a massive security cordon, a series of Israeli bases and lookout points.

According to Gaza settler leaders, 140 new Jewish settlers have come to live here in Gaza in the past last six months and almost none has left. Miriam Kaldei, a settler in the central Gaza block of Gush Qatif, moved in six months ago, after the peace agreement was signed. People had warned her , she says, that it could be dangerous, to move to Gaza, after the establishment of Palestinian autonomy, she says. 'They said we would have bloodbath on the doorstep.' In her neat new house on the sand dunes, however, she has found peace and quiet, and 'real spirituality'.

The fact that the Gaza-Jericho agreement is working out well so far for the Gaza settlers, means it is also working out well for the Israeli army. in Gaza. Before In the debate which preceded the signing of the Gaza-Jericho agreement it seemed to many preposterous that the Israeli army should devote extensive resources and manpower to protect just 5,000 Gaza settlers, who would almost certainly be evacuated in the long term, when the final status of the territories is discussed. The settlements would remain as dangerous flashpoints for violence, it was thought.

In fact, it has proven , however, perfectly quite possible to protect Gush Qatif,. and attacks on Israeli targets have declined by 50 per cent. Furthermore, the presence of the settlements has provided a perfect pretext for the Israeli army to remain in the self-rule areas, to keep a close eye on the Palestinian police , and to continue to exert control over the development of Palestinian autonomy. Hence, the arrival of Arafat in the Gaza Strip, caused Mrs Kaldei no fear, because, in her settlement enclave, she feels entirely insulated from the Palestinian zones.

On their specially designated lateral roads, connecting the settlements to Israel proper, the settlers rarely see an Arab. 'We don't sense their presence at all now. We don't see them, except the odd donkey and cart.' And when they look out towards the sea, the settlers don't see the barbed wire which surrounds them. 'You get used to it quickly. Then you don't see it all.'

Colonel Gaddafi's double also has every reason to be confident of his future. 'Arafat is a coward. Look how he is afraid of his own people. I watched him yesterday. He daren't even go out and speak to them. This will never be another Yamit.'

JERUSALEM - Tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis burned pictures of Yasser Arafat and denounced him as a 'murderer' last night Saturday in a massive show of strength against Israel-PLO peacemaking, AP reports.

Police estimated a crowd of above 100,000 gathered after the Sabbath ended at sundown to decry Mr Arafat and his claims to Jerusalem.

Settlers take a sanguine view of the 'terrorist'

(Photograph omitted)