LAST STAND IN SAMARIA

Miriam Adler calls them the "tent people." For months they have been trickling in to Sa-Nur, a Jewish settlement of 75 families perched on a rocky West Bank hilltop. Their goal: to halt the "disengagement" plan of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has earmarked Sa-Nur for evacuation later this summer, along with three other West Bank settlements and all those in the Gaza Strip. Adler, a 28-year-old mother of six, pushes a baby stroller past workers pitching canopies for the dozens of new arrivals. "We don't have enough room," she says, surveying the burgeoning campground. "We're just sticking tents anywhere."

The television cameras may be trained on Gaza, where tens of thousands of protesters have faced off with police in recent weeks. But while the world watches the southern settlements, Israeli authorities are nervously eying the growing encampments like Sa-Nur in the northern West Bank. One right-wing parliamentarian, Arieh Eldad, has warned that Sa-Nur could become the "Stalingrad of Samaria," and Israeli authorities have shared similar concerns with NEWSWEEK in less apocalyptic terms. "We know it's going to be a big problem over there," says a well-placed Israeli security source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Solving it will be a key test of Sharon's evacuation plan. But daunting hurdles remain. Gaza is encircled by a security barrier and, lately, hundreds of soldiers and police. Yet only olive groves surround Sa-Nur, making it easier for extremists to march to the settlement. Last week's shooting attack by 19-year-old Jewish terrorist Eden Natan Zada, who killed four Israeli Arabs, highlighted how easy it is for isolated extremists to spawn chaos in the Holy Land. And the West Bank, considered by some settlers the heart of Biblical "Greater Israel," inspires even deeper passions than the sandy wastes of Gaza or the green slopes of the Galilee. If Natan Zada had committed his crime in the West Bank, analysts speculated, the fallout would have been significantly more grave.

Founded in 1978, Sa-Nur once housed a Russian artists' colony. The squatters took over the hilltop's abandoned police station, built by British colonial forces, and turned it into a gallery. But after the beginning of the most recent Palestinian intifada in 2000, most of the artists fled. Only in 2003, after Sharon announced his intention to evacuate the remaining settlers, did significant numbers of protesters begin to return. Adler arrived with her family in 2003 from Kiryat Arba, a hard-core redoubt just outside the city of Hebron. "The settlement was deserted," she says. "We decided to take it as a family project."

The Adlers are committed to the settlement's defense. But authorities are more concerned about the thousands of out-of-towners expected to converge on Sa-Nur as the disengagement approaches. In June a clique of young extremists infiltrated the Gaza settlement bloc of Gush Katif and attempted to "lynch" a local Palestinian teenager, according to Israeli authorities. It would only take a few troublemakers to try something similar near Sa-Nur. Israeli parliamentarian Eldad, who moved to the encampment three months ago, says that extremists have already tried to creep in. Last month residents ejected a 28-year-old newcomer who was encouraging locals to take over a nearby Palestinian-owned house. "We are quite scared of provocateurs," says Eldad.

Most protesters, on the other hand, are welcome, and the community's leaders have been stockpiling food and fuel in anticipation of a confrontation with authorities. The settlement has also socked away bottles of saline for IV drips, as well as antibiotics and bandages. The money to pay for these supplies has come partly from American Jewish groups, which Eldad says have contributed about $100,000. Settlers in Sa-Nur and the other West Bank outposts have also begun building bunkers and barricading their houses, according to David Haivri, the chairman of Revava, one of the more active groups opposed to the withdrawal.

Sa-Nur's residents insist they're planning only nonviolent resistance. They scoff at comparisons to Masada--the mountaintop fortress where hundreds of Jews killed themselves during a Roman siege in A.D. 73. Still, nobody expects Sa-Nur to go easily. Even if Israeli forces succeed in quickly emptying the outpost, tanks and troops could find themselves mired in a sea of marching demonstrators as they try to leave. "We'll put a price tag on this process," says Eldad. "People aren't going like sheep." At least not if the tent people get their way.

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