Resisting exodus from the land of Exodus

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Hotels normally do not turn away customers, but this doomed Israeli desert city's sole hostelry will not accommodate American construction crews for political reasons.

According to the local manager, a husky fellow known as Uzzi who once worked as a bodyguard to Israel's prime ministers, letting the Americans check in would be tantamount to admitting that the campaign to save Yamit is lost.

Officially, the consortium of American air base constructors hoped to position their advance party here while preparing a nearby Israeli Air Force facility (the newly completed and costly Eitam base) into a landing strip for the peace-keeping force due to patrol eastern Sinai after Israeli evacuation in April 1982.

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The hotel, a complex of rectangular structures designed to shield its occupants from the desert sun, has recently been used as a domicile for the steadily increasing number of Orthodox zealots determined to block the withdrawal to which Israel is committed by the 1979 Camp David accords.

Nancy Hershkovitz, a mother of six who arrived here three weeks ago from a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, hopes her seventh baby - she is well into a new pregnancy - will be born in Yamit.

''I believe in the biblical borders of Israel,'' she said, contending that Yamit, which is less than 10 miles north of Wadi el-Arish (known in Hebrew as Nahal Mitzraim or the Egyptian stream) is well within this geographical boundary.

Therefore, she went on, it would be unfortunate if the city and surrounding settlements were to be abandoned. Besides, she continued, Israelis shed blood in three wars over this terrain, and that is another reason for trying to keep it.

These arguments conform with the line put forward by the ''movement to stop the withdrawal,'' which is headquartered in Yamit and enjoys the total support of the right-wing Tehiya Party (Renaissance Party) as well as the active participation of Gush Emunim militants.

Two of Tehiya's three members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) - Geula Cohen, author of the law confirming Israel's annexation of Jerusalem, and Hanan Porat, a founder of Gush Emunim - have settled in Yamit within the past six months. Yuval Ne'eman, Tehiya's most prominent Knesset deputy and an internationally acclaimed physicist and ex-president of Tel Aviv University, has decided to join them.

Also living in Yamit now is the National Religious Party's maverick, but influential, Rabbi Haim Druckman, who just resigned as deputy minister for religious affairs.

Given the apparent tolerance enjoyed by the antiwithdrawal activists arriving in Yamit daily, it is difficult to overlook the government's apparent tendency to treat them leniently if not with deference.

The hotel residents were given a two-day ultimatum to leave, but when the deadline came and they were still there, it was automatically extended.

Since the hotel is government-owned and the accommodations subject to its jurisdiction, the political considerations could be attributed to ambiguous attitudes at the Cabinet level toward expediting the evacuation.

This is further seen in the fact that the newcomers have been getting all necessary utilities - electricity, gas, and water - without normal billing.

And above all, as rabbinical students or teachers at the local Talmudical academy, they have been receiving government funds to tide them over without having to find (nonexistent) jobs here.

Dov Segal, who manages Yamit's supermarket, noted that the religious influx has radically changed the social balance. He recalls that until the peace treaty doomed Yamit as an Israeli city, about one-quarter of its 8,000 residents were Orthodox. Now more than 40 percent are Orthodox, he said.

Segal was sure the instances of squatting in apartments were allowed - despite the newcomers' inability to buy or rent. At the same time, he predicted that the city would be abandoned by February to make sure it is handed over spick and span to the Egyptians - unless there is a radical change in the diplomatic situation.

The fact that many of the new arrivals came here from various Gush Emunim settlements in the West Bank supports the suspicion held by other Israelis that the idea is to make withdrawal from Yamit as difficult as possible and thereby render the prospect of evacuating ''Judea and Samaria'' virtually unthinkable.

This cynical view, which seems well founded in reality, led supermarket manager Segal to complain that the newcomers are really latecomers. ''Where were they three years ago when there was still something to argue about as far as the future status of Yamit was concerned?'' he asked. ''They didn't come here to save Yamit, but simply to be able to keep the West Bank.''

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