Of all the new regions whose development was projected after the 1967 Six-Day War, the northeast corner of Sinai initially appeared to be the least promising. This was the Rafiah Salient, which later became known as the Yammit Region, an area whose thick dune cover gave it the aspect of a typical desert. With a scant rainfall of 5–8 inches per year, it was obvious that water for development purposes would have to be taken from Israel's scanty supply. Prospects for future settlement seemed poor. The region was inhabited by several thousand semi-sedentary bedouin, who eked out their livelihood from flocks of sheep and goats, some date-palm groves and rhicinus bush plantations, and small vegetable plots in the depressions between shore dunes. Occasionally they supplemented their income by selling quails, which they caught along the shore during the season of migratory flight.
However, Israel's ruling party at the time, the Alignment Party, felt the necessity of creating a barrier in this region between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, even though in principle they were not opposed to the return of territories for peace. For this reason, it was decided to develop the area.
Once construction was begun, Yammit soon proved its superiority to other regions of settlement, in several respects: The sand dunes were found to be well suited to drip irrigation farming, and the mild climate was beneficial to crops. The water supply was augmented by a shallow coastal aquifer, although it was still necessary to obtain water from Israel's national carrier. It therefore became possible to plan for a larger area of cultivation and a larger population than were originally envisaged. The fine beaches were a tourist attraction. Moshe Dayan, among others, suggested developing Yammit as Israel's third Mediterranean seaport, and industrial firms considered the possibilities for establishing various enterprises. The planning authorities also intended substantial improvements for the local Bedouin as well. Yammit was also blueprinted as a favorable inflow site for the projected Mediterranean–Dead Sea saltwater canal.
By 1977, the year of Sadat's peace initiative, the town of Yammit had over 2,000 inhabitants and was growing fast. By 1981, another 2,000 were living nearby, in the rural center of Avshalom, the kibbutzim Sufah and Ḥolit, and the moshavim Dikla, Ḥaruvit (Tarsag), Ne'ot Sinai, Netiv ha'Asarah, Nir Avraham, Peri'el, Sadot, Talme Yosef and Ugdah. Several more settlements were in the planning stage, and reclamation work by JNF crews was under way. Over 12,000 dunams were under irrigation. Roses, carnations and other flowers were being cultivated in more than 200 greenhouses, as well as under light cover and in open fields. Citrus groves, vineyards and orchards of tropical fruit such as mangoes were flourishing. The settlers tended vegetables, principally out-of-season winter crops, both in greenhouses and in the open. Their fruit and flowers found a ready market in Europe. Scientists contributed their expertise in the areas of water usage, new equipment, construction of greenhouses, seed selection, etc., thus enhancing Israel's reputation for agricultural research. Moshav Sadot, with 70 families and a population of over 350, was one of several settlements which greatly increased their farm production by employing bedouin laborers. They incurred criticism from the Moshav Movement and Labor circles in general for this step, which was seen as a departure from their ideological principles and an inducement to outside Arabs to settle nearby and swell the region's non-Jewish population. A modern, well-equipped regional school was established near Sadot, and Yammit also established educational facilities. In the south of the region, the Etam military airport was considered the most advanced of its kind.
To the Evacuation
Even after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, it was generally felt that everything possible should be done to retain the Yammit Region. The Likkud government later agreed to suspend the establishment of new Yammit Region settlements while continuing to develop those already in existence. This was done as a gesture to Egypt and the U.S. But Egypt adamantly insisted on a return to the pre-1948 borders, and the 1978 Camp David Accords dashed any hope that Egypt would permit the settlers to remain in Sinai after it was returned to her. In the Knesset discussion on Camp David, both the Likkud coalition and the Alignment opposition defined the evacuation of the area as Israel's most painful concession, but most held it to be an unavoidable step in the peace process. (There were, however, dissenters in both parties, and in the religious and nationalist parties as well.) Among certain circles the hope was expressed that something might occur in the two-and-a-half years remaining before the set evacuation date, which would prevent the evacuation of the Sinai settlements, without, however, interrupting the peace process. Begin decreed that everything should proceed normally in the region until the very last day. In July 1981 the chairman of the Knesset Security and Foreign Committee, Moshe Arens, expressed his reservations concerning the decision to cede northern Sinai, and in August Prime Minister Begin declared that Israel would have to reconsider the evacuation timetable if the Egyptian president continued to stall on renewal of talks on autonomy in Judea and Samaria. Sadat's murder (October 6 1981) raised expectations among the opponents of evacuation that the timetable might be postponed, but this was not the case. One week later the Israel government unanimously agreed to proceed with implementation of the peace treaty as planned. On October 20 President Mubarak announced his intention of continuing the peace process even after Egypt had received all of Sinai. Some Israelis feared that the Sinai evacuation would set a precedent affecting all the administered regions, but others felt that it was a conciliatory step that could win Western and Egyptian acceptance of a continued Israeli presence in Sinai.
These speculations disrupted plans for the orderly liquidation of property in Sinai, with minimal losses to the settlers and the State. They also hampered plans for developing the Pitḥat Shalom (Peace Salient) area in the northwestern Negev, to where most of the Yammit villages were due to be transferred.
It was generally accepted that the settlers should be compensated for the time, money and pioneering efforts that they had invested in the Yammit area. Furthermore, it was hoped that generous remuneration would encourage them to found new settlements elsewhere in Israel. But as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the actual evacuation of Yammit, costs soared and negotiations were protracted. Moreover, opinions differed as to the extent and nature of the compensation, and the amount to be deducted for income tax. The government offered advance payment to the settlers to enable them to prepare in good time for their new lives elsewhere, and after much controversy, the Knesset adapted the Compensation Law on March 30, 1982.
More serious was the struggle with the "League for Preventing the Sinai Retreat" (also known as "Ma'oz"). At its core were *Gush Emunim and the Ha-Teḥiyyah Party (an extreme nationalist political party), but it had many other sympathizers, including some within the government. In May 1979, when Ne'ot Sinai (the settlement closest to El-Arish) was handed over to Egypt six months in advance as a goodwill gesture, volunteers from the League joined local settlers in protesting the move and clashed violently with Israeli soldiers who were sent to remove them.
Ma'oz initiated the founding of new settlements in the westernmost part of the area. Ḥaruvit was established at the time when the Knesset was endorsing the Camp David Agreement, Aẓmonah in 1980, Ḥaẓar Adar in December 1981, and Ma'oz ha-Yam as late as January 1982. Groundbreaking ceremonies were attended by many sympathizers, including some from the Labor Party. These gatherings, although unauthorized, were permitted to take place. The movement also occupied houses left by settlers who had returned to the "Green Line" (the original boundaries of the State of Israel). Ha-Teḥiyyah demanded a plebiscite on evacuation, and the League's nationwide street poll claimed to have collected 700,000 signatures. More volunteer "nuclei" were created in Yammit, Talme Yosef, and Nir Avraham, with the number of "squatters" mounting to 200, and later 350 families. However, not all the veteran settlers welcomed their presence and there were cases of blows and quarrels. Government reaction was divided between those who demanded a forceful reaction and those who advised moderation.
At the end of February 1982 the army set up road blocks to prevent all but genuine inhabitants from entering the area. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon declared March 1 to be the evacuation date, instructing the army to refrain from using violence under any circumstances. The Yammit and Merḥav Shelomo regions were pronounced military zones. Tension rapidly mounted, the inhabitants staged a demonstration of passive resistance to the army, and supporters in Israel declared hunger strikes. Evacuation was postponed until April 1, but permission was obtained for the settlers to remain for the Passover holiday.
On April 19, the army began to remove the resisting settlers and Ma'oz militants. Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Jewish Defense League, rushed from New York to Yammit, where some of his followers were threatening to commit suicide in their bunker rather than comply with the army. He managed persuade them to leave. From April 23, all remaining buildings and installations were systematically reduced to rubble and then flattened, and roadways were torn up. Resistance eventually petered out with no serious clashes. The last Israelis departed on April 25, and by April 26, 1982, all of Sinai was in Egyptian hands.
[Efraim Orni (2nd ed.)]
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