Dir al-Balah / Watching the Drama Unfold Next Door

The slogans and calls for soldiers to disobey orders that settlers from Kfar Yam were broadcasting over loudspeakers were audible from the roof of Yihye Bashir's house in Dir al-Balah. Sometimes, it was singing or clapping instead of words. And occasionally, the loudspeakers were drowned out by the sound of a patrolling tank or armored personnel carrier.

Bashir's roof has been hosting television crews from Al Jazeera and other journalists. His house is the closest to the wall surrounding Kfar Darom that the army will permit people to approach. Twenty or 30 meters to the east lies the UNRWA school, but the army forbids anyone to ascend its roof.

Once, the school stood on a busy street, Salah a-Din, that connects the northern Gaza Strip to Rafah. But for the safety of the settlers of Kfar Darom, the army severed this road back in the 1990s and diverted all Palestinian traffic onto bypass roads. Over the last five years, Salah a-Din Street has become part of the military fortifications that surround the settlement. Now, not a soul can be seen on it.

Once, the army sacrificed a nearby field so that it could erect a barbed-wire fence; another time, it destroyed low concrete buildings north of the road; another time, a building south of it; another time, a gas station. And every few weeks, an army bulldozer would chew up a dunam of fertile land here or five there, uproot 20 date trees here or 30 there. And so this is the scene visible yesterday from Bashir's roof: destruction and desolation, wire fences and military outposts, concrete barriers and earthen banks - and arising from their midst, the flourishing settlement of Kfar Darom.

From Bashir's rooftop, not much was visible of what was taking place in Kfar Darom. Occasionally, a group of settlers or policemen could be seen, but from a distance of 300 meters, no one looked particularly harried or upset. The famous synagogue was out of the range of vision.

The closest house to Kfar Darom belongs to Khalil Bashir, the school principal. For the last four years, it has been an army outpost. Despite the difficulties, the family refused to leave. But for four years, only family members have been allowed to enter; guests were permitted only rarely.

It was from this house that an Israel Defense Forces officer shot one of Khalil's sons, 15-year-old Yusuf Bashir, in February 2004. Yusuf was escorting a visiting UN delegation back to their car when a bullet hit his spine. Today, he can walk again, but he is in constant pain. The IDF officer was suspended, but the results of the military police investigation into the incident are still unknown.

Khalil's family has been locked into its house since Monday. The army arrived that night, Khalil told Haaretz by telephone, and informed him that the entire family would have to remain in the house for the next three weeks. Since then, he said, the family has been penned up in one room, with soldiers standing guard over them. The Red Cross brought water on Wednesday and will bring more today.

"Tuesday night, some of the religious soldiers prayed as if our wall were the Western Wall," Khalil related. "The children were scared to death, frightened that these were extremists who would murder them."

Though the media has reported repeatedly on the deployment of the Palestinian police, no PA policemen were visible at noon yesterday in Dir al-Balah's western neighborhood. Nor were any armed men visible. The streets were empty, perhaps because of the heat. Suddenly, a few jeeps belonging to the PA's National Security Service appeared, and stern-faced officers ordered everyone off the roofs. The settlers, they explained, have been complaining that there are too many people on the roofs opposite Kfar Darom. So the IDF notified the PA, which sent policemen to get people off the roofs - lest one of the settlers open fire at them.