By Megan Goldin

Sanur, West Bank - Overlooking a West Bank valley where the biblical Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery are two settlements that may become a last bastion for opponents of the Israeli government's withdrawal plans.

Sanur and Homesh were chosen as two of four West Bank settlements to be evacuated, along with all 21 in the Gaza Strip, in mid-August because of their relatively moderate population of Russian-born artists and secular Israeli families.

But as most of the original settlers reluctantly accept their evacuation and seek new homes, hundreds of Israelis from the most radical settlements in the West Bank have been pouring in to fight the government's plans to abandon Sanur and Homesh.

"The land of Israel belongs to the Jews. It is our homeland and the Arabs should go find a homeland somewhere else," said Miriam Adler, a 28-year-old mother of six who lives in Sanur.

About 240 000 Israelis have settled in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, home to about 3,6 million Palestinians who seek to establish an independent state on the territories, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Sanur, a settler artists' colony, was mostly deserted by its inhabitants and about a third of the residents of Homesh fled after militants killed several settlers in shooting incidents on nearby roads during a five-year-old Palestinian uprising.

The new arrivals who have replaced them have an ideology even more radical than that of most hardline settlers in Gaza.

Many are part of what has become known as the "hilltop youth", a young and more militant generation of Jewish settlers from the West Bank who are not averse to beating up Palestinian farmers, uprooting their olive trees and poisoning their flocks.

They see the fight to prevent the evacuation of Sanur and Homesh as a religious battle. Losing the campaign, the radicals say, could be the beginning of the end of Israel's hold of the Jewish people's biblical heartland, the West Bank.

"The evacuation of West Bank settlements constitutes a far more threatening precedent to what may come in the future than does Gaza because Gaza has always been perceived as a separate unit by most Israelis," said settlement expert David Newman.

Determined to keep hold of the near deserted settlements, scores of families like Adler's arrived with their children in tow and began to pitch tent camps and renovate abandoned houses.

Adler, who moved to Sanur from the hardline settlement of Kiryat Arba in the midst of the Palestinian uprising when it was almost abandoned, says her red-line is Sanur. "If we leave, then it will be one piece after another piece after another piece".

The takeover by the newcomers has left many of the veteran residents seething. Rueven Tabib, a 25-year resident of Homesh, said that many original settlers there have put a new twist on the settlers' anti-withdrawal slogan "Jews don't deport Jews".

"Jews have already deported Jews," he said, explaining that many of the old-timers at Homesh are rushing to leave to escape their new uninvited neighbours whom he said had come without their permission and were squatting on their property.

The newcomers profess non-violence but many are armed and even Adler does not dismiss the possibility that she might fight back on evacuation day.

"I wouldn't be the one to initiate violence but nobody will evacuate me from my home and I would not turn the other cheek."

The new arrivals say supporters from nearby settlements, many of which have links to the anti-Arab Kach movement, will defy an expected army ban on Israelis from outside the settlements slated for evacuation from entering the area.

"On the day that we give the order, tens of thousands of people will come to Homesh and Sanur," Adler explained.

Unlike the Gaza Strip which is surrounded by a heavily guarded, electronic security fence, the West Bank settlements will be much harder to seal off.

Supporters may still be able to slip in by walking across barren West Bank hills where they may encounter Palestinian villagers and - some Israeli security officials fear - could carry out acts of violence against them.

"Evacuating the northern West Bank may prove much more difficult than Gaza because the settlements there are completely fenced in while the settlers in the northern West Bank are more radical," a senior Israeli military official said.

At the moment, the settlers are using a potent weapon to hamper the military's preparations for the withdrawal - an army of mothers and children.

On one blistering summer's day, settler women with babies in their arms blocked with their bodies army bulldozers digging a dirt road for troops to use for the evacuations.

Hundreds of other settlers, many bused in from nearby settlements, flocked in for the protest, forcing a retreat of the army bulldozers and a halt to the road construction.

Israeli soldiers, sweating in full battle dress, were confronted by settler protesters offering bottles of water and urging them to disobey orders to evacuate the settlements.

"Leave us alone. Let the army wipe the floor with the Palestinians," shouted one mother, so young she wore braces.

Mothers paraded up and down with babies in strollers, dabbing sunscreen on their children's faces to prevent sunburn.

"The land of Israel belongs to us. If they evacuate us then all of Israel is in danger," said one woman.