a privileged white american christian
Tue, Apr. 12th, 2005, 02:19 pm
Who poisoned sheep at outpost?
By MATTHEW GUTMAN
Who sprinkled a potent rat poison in the terraced fields near the Maon Farm illegal outpost over the past two weeks? Was it, as police believe is most likely, the Maon outpost settlers, or was it local Palestinians, or perhaps even the foreign and Israeli activists that the settlers here sneeringly call "provocateurs"?
The Judea and Samaria Police say they don't yet know and haven't ruled out any possibilities. What is clear, however, is that with the implementation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement drawing nearer, the battle for tiny parcels of land like this one outside Maon Farm is to become ever-more contentious, possibly even violent.
The Palestinians said Sunday that 15 of their sheep – the primary source of income in the village – died and a dozen others took ill since an alert shepherd detected what looked like green candies in the fields almost two weeks ago. Local shepherds said they tossed out dozens of liters of milk and tens of kilos of meat from contaminated animals.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority autopsies confirm part of the carnage. The authority found that several gazelles, a snake and a rare squirrel died from consuming the poison which was laid in neat piles in a pasture claimed by both the settlers and the Palestinians. However, an authority veterinarian's autopsy found that only wild animals had traces of poison in them. Sheep from the At-Tuwani flock, provided to the authorities as part of the investigation, had no evidence of poison in their systems.
The authority's toxicology expert Dr. Batik Peled said that "such cases of poison are not difficult to detect, because generally animals the size of sheep have eaten a substantial amount of the poison to have been killed by it." "What's fishy here," she added, "is that the poison was carefully laid out in piles in linear rows, which made clearing it quite easy."
While government permission is required to purchase the poison, "it is very easy to get your hands on it," said Peled.
A few days after the first detection of the poison – in fields declared "an IDF firing zone," in early March – shepherds reported that two sheep had died and that 15 more had become ill, while an additional sheep was said to have died this week. Some 300 people live in At-Tuwani.
Police see a steady proliferation of settler-Palestinian strife, said Supt. Shlomi Sagi, spokesman for the Judea and Samaria Police Division. "Each side seems more intent on harassing the other and making sure to send complaints about it to the police," he said.
Juma Musa Raba'i, an At-Tuwani shepherd and farmer said Sunday that the settlers harassed the villagers continuously over the weekend, snapping their olive saplings in half and laying down even more poison. Pro-Palestinian activists from the "Christian Peacemakers Team" and "Dove Operation" have issued seven press releases on the subject since Thursday.
However, Raba'i said no one in the village had witnessed the dissemination of poison, which villagers claim settlers sprinkle in the fields at night. "They [police] always say we lack evidence. They are right. But when I do something they always seem to have enough evidence."
But the Hebron Police Department, ostensibly tasked with keeping the peace in these remote sparsely populated hills, said they had received only a single complaint in the past week: the Maon settlement's security officer complained on Saturday that Palestinians broke his camera. "What this man was doing in those fields with his camera on Shabbat only God knows," said one of the district's police officers on Sunday.
Yehoshafat Tor, founder of the six-family stronghold of Maon Farm denied any connection to the poisoning. "There is no love lost between us [and the Palestinians] but those were our own wheat fields, why would we poison the wheat we planted?" After hearing of the incident he wondered why the Palestinians took their flock along when they came to remove the poison.
For the past half year the Palestinians and the settlers of Maon have waged a running battle of retaliation. The Maon Farm settlers so regularly harass local villagers that the IDF now escorts children of the neighboring hamlet of Tuba to and from their school in At-Tuwani. Last month, police arrested Gadi Levanon, one of the repeat harassers. Some beatings have left international pro-Palestinian activists and local Palestinian shepherds with broken bones.
The settlers claim that the Palestinians are encroaching ever-closer to the boundaries of the community. They also complain that the Palestinians uprooted their olive saplings and damaged their crops – farmed outside the boundaries of the settlement and technically in the same firing zone the Palestinians are forbidden to use as pasture.
This pasture is just a ridge away from the site of the original Maon Farm, which became the first settlement outpost ever dismantled during the Ehud Barak administration in 1999. It was also here that the biblical David, declared an outlaw by King Saul, hid out from the vengeful king over 2,500 years ago.
Their neighbors, said Maon's Dudi Eldar, are emboldened by the presence of international observers whose cameras are constantly switched on. "There is constant provocation here," he said, "and when there is repeated threatening provocation, what do you expect might happen?" Both Eldar and Maon Farm founder Yehoshafat Tor are mystified by the media attention. "Why here?" asks Tor, who believes that God designated this land for the Jews.
The overburdened police force in Judea and Samaria and the IDF have a hard time reining in the settlers – preferring to act as buffers instead. They are, however, also so stymied by the Palestinians and highly-organized activists that they have essentially thrown up their hands in defeat.
"The bad news is," said a Hebron-area officer, "this is only going to get worse as disengagement approaches."
Sat, Apr. 9th, 2005, 07:30 pm
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By SAMANTHA M. SHAPIRO
Moshe Zar lives in a castle-size home atop a hill in the West Bank, near the Palestinian city of Nablus. Although Zar, 65, is Jewish, his house isn't in a gated, guarded Israeli settlement, nor is it built in the suburb-in-the-desert style typical of those settlements. It is an enormous Arab-style house -- bigger than any building for miles around. Stone statues of roaring lions flank the doorway, and the driveway ends at a chain-link fence adorned with barbed wire. A giant antenna towers above the roof. No one is sure what it is for. (''Communications,'' Zar explains cryptically.)
Zar doesn't hold any official position, although in practice, he functions as a sort of a Wild West-style vigilante mayor of his stretch of the West Bank, inspiring awe among many of the Jews there and fear among the Palestinians. Unlike most settlers, he doesn't have an army posting by his home; when disturbed, he has been known to lean his head out of a parapet and threaten to open fire on uninvited guests. He is a religious Zionist and a longtime friend of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and in the 1980's he achieved moderate fame for his role in the Jewish Underground, a terrorist group that planted bombs in the cars of Arab mayors and plotted to destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war; since 1979, Zar has been buying land in the territory from individual Palestinians. It is a controversial practice; some Palestinians who have sold land to Jews have been killed as collaborators. A number of Palestinians have taken Zar to court on claims that he falsified contracts. In 1983, a group of Palestinians attacked and stabbed Zar near his castle.
The inside of Zar's castle is heavy with velvet curtains, mirrored tapestries and chandeliers in the style of North African Jewry. There is a synagogue on the ground floor, and one wall near the library is almost entirely taken up by a sponge-painted map of an expanded state of Israel that includes all of the West Bank and portions of Jordan and Lebanon. Zar commissioned the painting himself. He sees his land deals in the West Bank as one step in a program to advance Jewish settlement throughout the Israel illustrated on his wall map.
In the spring of 2001, one of Zar's sons, Gilad, who did patrol duty for the regional settlers' security force, was shot and killed on a road near here. While the Zar family was sitting shiva in the castle, some of Zar's teenage grandchildren and a few of their friends decided to take their tents and sleeping bags and ''settle'' the empty hill facing Zar's hill in honor of Gilad.
All over the West Bank in recent years, and particularly since the start of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000, Israeli teenagers and young adults, almost all of them passionately religious, have been doing what Zar's grandchildren did -- claiming a small piece of land for their own. They are motivated sometimes by personal grief, sometimes by political anger, sometimes just by the youthful desire to be part of a daring adventure. Because they usually move onto hilltops, the Israeli media have taken to calling the most radical and colorful of these young settlers the ''hilltop youth.'' When these young settlers claim a new hill, they also claim the land around it, which in some cases Palestinians have been farming for many years. The new settlers don't seize the land in any official way; they simply uproot Palestinians' trees or shoot in the air at any Palestinian who comes close. About 70 of these small encampments, known in Israel as outposts, have been built in the last two years; together they represent a movement that intends to transform the West Bank, and the conflict in the Middle East, from the ground up.
That spring, a dozen kids from surrounding settlements joined Zar's grandchildren in their encampment, which they would later call Ramat Gilad, meaning ''Gilad Heights.'' They built huts to live in and a makeshift outdoor kitchen where they cooked sandy dinners. They constructed an eight-foot-high Star of David that they covered with light bulbs so the Jews in nearby settlements and the Palestinians in Gitt, the village below, could see it. When I visited Ramat Gilad not long ago, the star was the first thing all of the young people there wanted to show me, adding that as soon as they got money, they wanted to build a cement wall to support a larger star, done up in ''fluorescents.''
''It's the only thing Arabs understand,'' explains 18-year-old Tamar Tzur, an occasional visitor to Ramat Gilad. Seven years ago, Tzur was in a car with her family outside the West Bank settlement of Beit El when Palestinians fired on them, killing her mother and brother. The Israeli government offered her an exemption from army service and a bulletproof car, she says; she refused both. ''I will not drive around in a cage with dark windows and show the Arabs I am weak and afraid,'' she says, her fair skin flushing. ''The only thing that will stop the Arabs is a Jewish star on every hilltop.''
A few hours after the first tents were pitched at Ramat Gilad, soldiers from the Israeli Army came and dismantled the camp. But the teenagers returned the next day with reinforcements, including Moshe Zar himself, and when the soldiers came again to remove the tents, they were outnumbered. The next time soldiers arrived at Ramat Gilad, it was not to dismantle the outpost but to defend it. The ministry of defense had apparently decided that Ramat Gilad could stay.
The goal of the teenagers who built the outpost is to one day create a permanent Israeli town, and step by step, their dream is moving forward. The Yesha Council, the political organization that represents settlers, placed six trailers on the site. A nearby settlement provided water tanks and gas-burning generators for electricity. Much of the day-to-day maintenance of the site is performed by a constantly rotating band of teenagers from the area who hang out on the outpost after school, on Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, and on vacations. Two families have moved into the trailers -- Moshe Zar's daughter and her 11 children, and a young couple from an area yeshiva -- and now live there full time. There is a plan for a prominent rabbi from a local settlement to move in; he would probably bring followers to fill the remaining empty trailers.
There are no phone lines at Ramat Gilad. There's no garbage pickup, either, but that's not because the Israeli government hasn't tried to send trucks up to the outpost. One teenage girl, a regular visitor to Ramat Gilad, xplained that at first the outpost was added to the regular garbage-pickup route. But, she said, the trucks were driven by Israeli Arabs, ''so some people threw stones at them until they didn't come back.''
The diplomatic ''quartet'' that has been trying to negotiate a new Middle East peace process -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- has labeled the new outposts an obstacle to peace. One step in the first phase of the ''road map'' that the quartet endorsed last fall was the dismantling of the outposts; that phase was scheduled to begin last October. But to date only a few outposts have been removed, and new ones continue to appear.
Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Sharon, claims that nearly all of the 70 new outposts are legal expansions of existing settlements, not new settlements. They are a necessary means of defense for the settlers, he maintains, serving as strategic lookouts and providing a first line of defense against Palestinian attacks on more established settlements. In the last two years, more than 170 settlers have been killed in the territories. The outposts, Gissin says, are a justifiable response. ''You wouldn't see these outposts if the Palestinians hadn't rejected the chance to negotiate in 2000,'' Gissin says. ''Until there is an agreement, Jews have as much a right to settle in their ancestral homeland and live unrestricted as Palestinians do.''
On the surface, tiny outposts like Ramat Gilad appear to be ad hoc and unauthorized. Their population is small -- estimates of the total number of outpost residents range from 500 to 1,000. It's clear that they have some contact with the government -- who else sends the soldiers and the garbage trucks? -- but it is a relationship that for the most part is invisible.
According to Ezra Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Yesha Council, the low profile is by design. ''There is a time for everything,'' he told me and then sketched out a potential series of events for the next few months. ''Let's say there's a war in Iraq. Well, then the government can build 10,000 new housing units in Judea and Samaria'' -- the biblical names for the area that settlers prefer to use -- ''and it won't be on the front pages or all over the talk shows. So in the meantime, we can do this with the outposts. The government's hands are clean; they have no involvement. It's small potatoes, so it doesn't get covered outside of Israel.''
Palestinians who live near the outposts understand Rosenfeld's vision of the future, and it scares them. Mustafa Bargouthi, a leader of Civil Society, a Palestinian group that promotes democracy, grew up in Ramallah and watched the settlements of Psagot and Beit El begin as a few trailers on hilltops. ''Now Ramallah is surrounded by settlements on both sides,'' Bargouthi says, ''cities that have taken away agricultural lands and prevented us from using our streets and roads.''
To Barghouti, outposts like Ramat Gilad are Israeli cities-in-waiting. ''Like most Palestinians,'' he says, ''I look at the little outpost and see a monster opening its mouth very wide to eat us.''
Most outpost residents were born on settlements. They are the first generation of Israelis to be native to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They don't have a memory, as their parents do, of moving onto disputed territory under military occupation. To them, the West Bank is simply home, a home with very hostile neighbors. Their memories are of being pelted with stones when their parents drove them into Ramallah to buy groceries. While the first generation of settlers spoke of ideology all the time, giving speeches and publishing monographs, the lectures I heard outpost residents give one another were about singing with enough passion to stir angels and about ''bringing more sweetness into the world.''
But the messianic passion that drove their parents to the West Bank is only stronger in this generation, the first to pass through a religious Zionist school system that teaches that both personal and global redemption can be hastened by Jewish settlement throughout the biblical land of Israel. What is most startling about the outposts, to an outsider, is how the language and imagery of peace exists right next to the language and imagery of violence. There is, on the one hand, a strong hippie vibe. Boys wind their side curls into dreadlocks and wear outsize, brightly colored knitted yarmulkes that look more like the floppy ski hats American teenagers wear to raves. Most outposts I visited had a guitar or two, many of which, marked up with hand-lettered slogans about beating swords into plowshares, would be quite at home in Berkeley.
But other guitars, papered with bumper stickers that read ''Repentance will lead to transfer of the Arabs'' -- meaning the wholesale removal of Palestinians from the territories -- wouldn't make the cut.
Outpost construction has its roots in the protest movement that was sparked by the 1993 Oslo accords. The forebears of the outpost youth objected not just to the peace deal itself, which included the idea of ceding control of large sections of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians, but also to the American-style consumerism that took root in Israel during that relatively peaceful time. The enemies, then and now, are Coca-Cola and television as much as the Palestinians.
The archetype for the outpost lifestyle is a farm called World Hill. In the late 1990's, Avri and Sharona Ran, a charismatic, earthy, middle-aged Orthodox couple, left their farm inside Israel and built an outpost on a hilltop close to Itamar, an existing settlement beside the Palestinian city of Nablus. They have moved east every year or two since, leaving a fully functioning, army-protected outpost at each stop.
World Hill is a stunningly beautiful full-scale farm, about 15 miles inside the West Bank. Staffed by a crew of about 20 teenagers and young adults, the farm produces organic goat's milk and cheese for sale across Israel. It holds a mythic place in the imagination of young people on outposts all over the West Bank.
The Rans' farm also plays a central role in the lives of the residents of Khirbat Yanun, a small Palestinian village below the Rans' most recent outpost, Hill 777. In the last five years, the period in which the Rans have been settling the area, Khirbat Yanun has come under a steady barrage of escalating attacks, which on occasion have caused the villagers to flee Yanun en masse.
Abdellatif Sbeih, the village's mayor, blames the young people from the hilltops for the attacks. ''They come at the night, the young ones with the long hair, and they smash the generator so there are no lights or electricity,'' he says. ''They beat people up with the butts of the machine guns.''
When the young people attack, Sbeih says, he can see Avri Ran watching from a hilltop. ''He is the chief of all the people who live in the caravans,'' Sbeih believes. ''He tells them what to do, and they follow his orders. These young settlers are much more radical than the older ones are, but who is guilty? It is the older ones who taught them to be this way.''
During the week, Shlomi Abutbul, 17, and Hayim Baum, 16, sometimes come and sleep in the trailer at Ramat Gilad that functions as a synagogue. They dropped out of a yeshiva at an established settlement nearby several months ago in order to travel around the outposts, and they came to Ramat Gilad to earn money picking olives for Moshe Zar. They often get into fistfights with the Palestinians who are trying to harvest the same olives; when Shlomi offers me a freckled, dimpled grin, he reveals some freshly broken teeth. Hayim says it's O.K. with their school and with their parents that they've dropped out, because they weren't good at learning Torah. And now, he says, they're doing something important.
Friday morning finds Shlomi pushing a broom around Ramat Gilad's filthy kitchen, listening to Aretha Franklin and packing his and Hayim's belongings -- Backstreet Boys CD's, prayer books, a battered high school library book titled ''Stories About the Land of Israel'' -- into a giant suitcase. Hayim has embarked on the mile-and-a-half hike to the supermarket at the nearest settlement to get food for the evening Shabbat meal. He can't carry enough supplies in his backpack for the dozens of young people who will be coming to pray at the outpost synagogue or just to hang out over Shabbat, so all day long people from neighboring settlements stop by with loaves of challah bread and tubs of hummus to augment the meat stew the boys are cooking.
Once night falls and Shabbat begins, youths from area settlements hike up and down the pitch-black hills surrounding the outpost. None of them wear flak jackets, and only a few of them carry guns. Watching them, it's easy to forget how many settlers have died in the West Bank during the second intifada, shot by snipers or killed in an armed assault by Palestinian militants.
The traffic of kids almost makes the outpost feel like it is part of a normal neighborhood, but Uri Maizelis, 40, one of the four reserve soldiers stationed at Ramat Gilad, calls the situation there a ''textbook ambush scenario.'' When residents and visitors approach and leave the outpost, they can be easily seen -- and thus be easily shot at -- by Palestinians in Gitt, at the bottom of the hill.
On many Shabbat evenings, at around the same time, Moshe Zar returns to his hill after attending synagogue at Ramat Gilad. ''You think the Palestinians don't see the pattern?'' Maizelis asks.
That night, when a group of boys head down the hill to give me a tour of the area, the soldiers call out to us anxiously from behind their concrete bulletproof blocks.
''You aren't taking a gun?'' one shouts. ''You really think this is a good time to take a walk?''
When we don't answer, he yells, ''We are not coming after you if something happens!''
When we return, they are still furious. ''The people here are so crazy,'' another soldier, Yigal Shimoni, says when I stop to talk. ''The family in that caravan,'' he says, pointing to the trailers where Moshe Zar's daughter and her family live, a few yards away, ''the mother goes out driving at 8 o'clock at night with her babies for groceries! I would never drive here in anything but a tank and never ever would I take my babies. I am wearing night-vision glasses and a bulletproof vest and a helmet, and I am not going for a walk down there.''
Maizelis gestures to the Arab village a few hundred yards below, whose a thousand tiny white lights wind all around Ramat Gilad and beyond that to Nablus. ''Do you see this?'' he asks. ''This is Palestine. The air is clean. We have many holy places here. But this is not a place to be right now.''
At the last outpost that Maizelis was assigned to guard, a bunch of kids decided to walk into the local Arab village one afternoon. ''The whole village came charging out screaming, 'Allah akbar!''' he recalls. ''We had to run in and save them. That's not what I am in the army to do. I am here to protect my country, not die so five crazy people can live on a hill and bother Arabs.'' While we are talking, news comes over Shimoni's beeper that a soldier has died in an explosion near a Jewish settlement in Gaza.
Maizelis's distaste for the occupation is shared by a majority of Israelis, as expressed in opinion poll after opinion poll. A recent one found that 78 percent of Israelis would be willing to give up the vast majority of settlements in order to strike a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
But despite those polls, and despite international laws prohibiting settlement in occupied territories, Jewish settlement in the West Bank has expanded continually since the land was captured in the 1967 war. At first, settlement was rare, undertaken only by religious extremists. In that era, the government tried to prevent the building of settlements in Palestinian population centers, a policy that led to repeated evacuations of religious settlers by soldiers.
When the Likud Party came to power in 1977, though, the government began constructing Jewish villages and cities all over the territories. Ariel Sharon, then the minister of agriculture, engineered a settlement plan with financial incentives that made the territories an attractive home even for Israelis who didn't feel strongly about the political ideology that drove the settlement project. The settlements grew quickly, and there are now 400,000 Israelis living outside the country's 1967 borders -- 200,000 in East Jerusalem, and another 200,000 deeper into the West Bank and Gaza.
In some ways, today's outposts are reminiscent of the pre-1977 settlement wave, when a tiny band of ideologically charged religious radicals frustrated the government by establishing outlaw settlements. But the relationship between the government and the new outposts is much more complicated. Although the national government does not finance the outposts directly, the municipal settlement councils that do finance them receive money from the government.
Gissin, Sharon's senior adviser, explains that most of the outposts are positioned within the municipal boundaries that the Israeli government has designated as under settlers' control -- an area that is many times the size of the land that settlements are currently built on. Within the boundaries of this ''master plan,'' as Gissin calls it, the government considers outpost creation legal.
Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a peace group that protests Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, says that the government's true intentions -- to expand Jewish settlement in the West Bank -- are clear from the shape and size of the ''master plan.'' The areas it encompasses, Halper says, are designated for settlement expansion, and the outposts that sit on that land are the first step in that expansion.
''The secret about these outposts is most aren't really a wildcat thing,'' Halper says, ''just an initiative within frameworks that have already been approved.''
If Halper is right that the young outpost residents are useful instruments of the established settlers and the national government, able to advance a plan the government cannot articulate formally, it is also true that the outpost settlers can be politically extreme, unpredictable and difficult to control. Young settlers sometimes claim lands outside the areas the government has slated for Israeli control; this means that the army has to send soldiers to remote and isolated locations, creating what a senior official in the ministry of defense calls a ''military burden.'' And at the most radical outposts, people talk seriously about replacing the democratically elected Israeli government with a Jewish kingdom or a theocracy. After Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer tried to dismantle 30 unauthorized outposts last fall, the Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, issued a secret report warning of threats to his life from young settlers. One does not have to look too far to find evidence of this. Yehudit Shish, 18, who is from Jerusalem but boards at a girls' school in Kiryat Arba, a settlement next to Hebron, cheerily offered from the trailer where her dorm is, ''I would love to see Ben-Eliezer dead.'' Her only concern about such an assassination is that ''if he got shot, someone just like him would rise up in his place and the secular people would support him even more.'' (Ben-Eliezer stepped down as defense minister and was voted out as leader of the Labor Party in October.)
Last October, young settlers attacked Israeli soldiers and police officers when they came to dismantle another of Moshe Zar's outposts, called Gilad Farm. (Like Ramat Gilad, the outpost was named after Moshe Zar's murdered son.) Gilad Farm is built on land Zar claims to privately own, but is outside of the government's ''master plan.'' When the army came to remove the two shipping containers that were the only solid structures on that outpost, they were met by more than 1,000 young settlers who had traveled from different settlements and outposts across the West Bank to defend the encampment. (They had heard about the evacuation on Arutz 7, a right-wing pirate radio station that is for many outpost residents the only source of news.) The youths slashed tires, called police ''Nazis'' and threw punches at everyone from soldiers to journalists.
In the fighting at Gilad Farm, the government and army appeared to be at odds with a new generation of extremists -- more radical than the first -- in a losing battle for control of the West Bank. But Rosenfeld, the Yesha Council spokesman, claims that the rift was less deep than it seemed. ''We reviewed every single outpost together with Ben-Eliezer,'' he told me, adding that settlers erected some outposts ''just so Ben-Eliezer could take down something tangible'' and look as if he was taking a stand against the settlers. Rosenfeld said that what happened at Gilad Farm was the result of a miscommunication between Ben-Eliezer and the settlers; normally, he said, it is an amicable collaboration. Tami Shiekman, Ben-Eliezer's current spokeswoman, vehemently denies Rosenfeld's claim of collusion, calling it ''ridiculous.'' Officials in the defense ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, say they do negotiate with settler leaders over evacuations to prevent messy, violent confrontations, but deny that they approve some outposts just so they can appear to dismantle them.
Ben-Eliezer resigned in part because of the Sharon-led government's unwillingness to diminish the allocations for settlers in the national budget; his spokesman at the time insisted that the government was and is against any illegal outposts and handed me a list of 22 that they dismantled.
But Gilad Farm, where the near-riot occurred, is on the list, and two months after the ''dismantling,'' the young settlers are still there, along with soldiers in a tank. I find them one night gathered under a tarp strung with bare light bulbs behind a pen that holds an aged, mangy horse. They sit in a circle around a jumble of schoolbooks, cans of RC Cola and guns. They pass a guitar around, calling out chords to ''Esa Einai,'' a pop-music version of Psalm 121 popular on Arutz 7. When the popcorn rhythm of gunfire arises from Nablus, they cast a few sidelong glances down the hill but keep strumming.
David, 17, runs around with a hacksaw slung over his shoulder, chopping branches off olive trees to stoke the campfire. His friend Rachel, a giddy 16-year-old with neon pink rubber bands on her braces, shows off the buckets of olives that she and her friends picked from nearby groves -- farmed until recently by local Palestinians -- and the new machine Moshe Zar gave them to pump olive oil into bottles and cork them.
Rachel and David don't want their full names printed here because they say they are wanted by the police. It's not that big a deal to be wanted by the police, Rachel says -- ''when they come, we just run into the olive trees'' -- but no one wants to be arrested. It happened to one of their friends, and now he is forbidden to come back to the West Bank. ''He's only 17, and he has to live his whole life in Tel Aviv or something,'' Rachel says, her eyes wide with the drama of it.
Gilad Farm was not the only outpost on Ben-Eliezer's list that I visited after it was ''evacuated.'' There was Mizpe Eshtamoa in the hills near Hebron, which, while empty, is still guarded by the army. The mellow yeshiva students in their early 20's who lived there have moved to a tidy row of brand-new trailers less than a mile away, closer to the borders of an existing settlement. ''Ben-Eliezer gave us these,'' Yoni Hirsch, 24, said with a sardonic grin. ''He said in a few months we could move back to the old outpost and keep the new one. Ben-Eliezer built us a new outpost, so we thank him very much.''
Maon Farm is also on Ben-Eliezer's ''dismantled'' list. But when I visited, the outpost was being rebuilt in the forest 200 yards from the hill where the army destroyed the young settlers' cabins and homes. It is a particularly volatile outpost: last year, a resident of Maon Farm was among a group arrested and charged with planting a bomb at an Arab school in Jerusalem.
The founder of Maon Farm, Yehoshefat Tor, says he still thinks the bombing was a good idea. ''The Torah says we should kill all the Arabs,'' he told me. ''Not just Arabs who maybe help terrorists. Everybody.''
His neighbor at Maon Farm, David Ben Zvi, a 27-year-old shepherd who lives with his wife and children in a blue-and-white city bus, tells me that he would like to see a ''Jewish Taliban'' that would run the country according to the Torah. ''This is my land, but it is not my nation,'' he says. ''I am waiting for King Messiah, a serious leader, to take out the Knesset, to say, 'The army is mine.'''
The mainstream leaders of the settlement movement have publicly denounced the radical acts and rhetoric of fringe outposts like Maon Farm. There are some yeshiva rabbis who forbade their students from going to the protests at Gilad Farm, and others who have instructed their students to dismantle outposts they have set up.
Still, the Likud government, having increased its power in last month's elections, does not want to provoke a confrontation with the outposts that would alienate the right-wing religious parties. Moreover, the settlers are a group that Ariel Sharon himself helped build and that he has continued to support, both in and out of government.
After the Wye River accords mandated the dismantling of some settlements in 1998, Sharon, then in the middle of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority as Israel's foreign minister, delivered a rousing endorsement of the nascent outpost movement in a speech to the extreme right-wing Tsomet Party. ''Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours,'' Sharon said. ''Everything we don't grab will go to them,'' he said, meaning the Palestinians.
When Israeli doctors or phone repairmen travel to the West Bank, they come outfitted with flak jackets and armed guards and ride in bulletproof steel vans whose windows are slivers of darkened double-thick glass. But to the young Israelis who live on the outposts, that kind of caution is unheard of. Every kid I drove around with in the West Bank sped through the hills in a busted car with the windows rolled down, blaring music that they lowered only to recite the Jewish traveler's prayer.
It's not just that protective gear is prohibitively expensive; fearlessness is a crucial part of the outpost ideology. Young people on outposts have been told, by their parents and by their leaders, that they are protecting Israel. They have been raised with an understanding that their bodies and homes are ''facts on the ground,'' the only obstacle to an Arab takeover. This is the point that Gissin, Sharon's adviser, emphasized when we talked: outposts are the most effective means that the settlers have to protect established settlements from attack.
I asked Gissin why, if the outposts are just about defense, it is necessary for families with young children to live on them full time and for teenage kids to hang around them. He replied that in the minds of Palestinian terrorists there is no longer a distinction between civilians and soldiers. ''Palestinians attack civilians,'' he said. ''They don't attack military army outposts. They go after families with six or seven children.'' Since a war is being waged against civilians, Gissin seemed to be saying, it is only appropriate that civilians be the ones to avenge it.
Young settlers on outposts seem to Palestinians to be embodying their nightmare fear: that the state of Israel is a lawless, boundless, anarchic occupation, and not the effort of a group of refugees to establish a homeland in borders delineated by the United Nations.
At the same time, the outpost settlers are re-enacting the Jewish nightmare of living under siege conditions surrounded by hostile neighbors. When settlement leaders talk about outposts, they evoke themes that run deep in Jewish history. Attacks on Israel, which they point out preceded any attempts at settling in the West Bank, are seen as part of a long history of attacks on Jews. They portray outposts as a retort to the horror of living in ghettos, powerless and ashamed. Living without a fence, unafraid, is seen as a repudiation of the long Jewish history of victimization, of being driven out by pogroms and conversion campaigns.
An 18-year-old boy named Eliezer boiled the rhetoric down for me one bright night when, walking unarmed and alone down a West Bank road, we heard a loud rustling in the bushes. I suggested running away -- we were in what Uri Maizelis, the soldier, would have called a ''textbook ambush scenario.'' Eliezer wouldn't hear of it. ''You can't be afraid,'' he said. ''You have to be proud that you're Jewish.''
The redemption these young Israeli settlers are seeking in the hills of the West Bank also draws on deep Jewish themes -- on the dream that many years of exile will be supplanted by a return to Israel, to wholeness and home. For the secular Zionists who built the state, that dream meant having a place of refuge for Jews from around the world. For the outpost settlers, it means something quite different: a biblical Israel, a bigger home. In their temporary villages on hilltops, these settlers have managed to replicate many of the conditions of the diaspora that the state of Israel was supposed to eradicate. They seem less like colonizers and more like Jews in exile, a minority among hostile, foreign neighbors. But this time they have been exiled not by war or by a foreign power, but by the intensity of their own fierce dream.
Samantha M. Shapiro is a journalist living in New York City.
Women in Green
Women of Israel's Tomorrow
Jewish Council of Settlements
Judea Electronic Magazine
Zionist Organization of America
“Dear friends, colleagues, and brothers and sisters in humanity:
“Coming back home from Cairo on the 10th of February 2005, after I had participated in a weeklong Muslim-Christian dialogue arranged by the churches, I experienced a severe humiliation and harassment by Israeli security.
“I went to the Israeli airline El Al check in counters. A security woman greeted me and began asking routine questions (In what language would you like to speak? Is that your bag? Did anybody use it? Who packed it?) Everything went well until she realized I had just participated in a Muslim-Christian dialogue, which included people from Arab countries.
“At that moment her entire demeanor changed. She took my passport, ticket, and itinerary and disappeared for 15 minutes. When she returned, she asked me "Who is Munib Younan? Is he related to you?" I told her "Yes, he's my father." Then she told me, "We must check your bag and your person." I replied, "It is not a problem. I know you care for my security." But I was fully aware that what was to come was designed only to intimidate and humiliate me.
“I followed her and entered a part of a room covered with curtains. It was very cold there. Behind it was an open area connecting the check-in counters with the porters. I was forced to remove all my jewelry, including my cross, the symbol of my Christian faith. She then checked every part of my body with her instruments. I was even checked between my legs in a most uncomfortable manner. What was at first an annoyance became an outrage when this woman told me that I had to take off my trousers because she had to check the buttons of my jeans. I refused. I explained that I have my dignity and it is barbaric and inhuman to force me to disrobe. She disregarded my refusal and, in spite of my continued objection, persisted in the demand that I remove my jeans. I confronted her racist behavior. She knew that I am Arab and treated me in this manner simply because of my race, even though I am an Israeli citizen. I then asked for the names of all those involved.
“Subsequently, I asked to talk with her supervisor who was Mr. Beni Meir. I explained to him my point of view, but he was equally adamant: Either I removed my pants or I would be detained and would not be allowed on the plane to return home. Faced with these two equally unacceptable options I began to feel a sense of panic, and began to shake physically. The security person then closed the curtains and, once more, ordered me to strip off my trousers. Realizing that I was completely at her mercy, I complied. I felt physically and emotionally ill. I am a 23 year-old woman reduced to tears by the brutality of a so-called security woman. Words cannot express to you my innermost feelings, standing half naked in front of a security person whose actions were designed specifically to humiliate me under the guise of security. It was a grave affront to my dignity and an attack upon and a denial of my human rights. As an Arab woman, to be forced to strip, even if the offending person is female, is an offense to both my honor and my values. They are either not sensitive to that or deliberately wanted to humiliate me simply because I am an Israeli Arab.
“After this part of my ordeal was finished, I was visibly shaken. I felt that the people who perpetrated these indignities were not only behaving in an inhuman manner, but also seemed to take pleasure in handing out degrading orders and watching me suffer. After I had re-dressed, the security people decided to check my suitcase, in the same disgusting fashion, checking and nosing into absolutely everything, including my personal Holy Bible. Then they checked my bag and decided that I couldn't be allowed to keep it with me. Since they had already checked through the bag, it was readily apparent that they confiscated my bag only to increase my discomfort, telling me that they would bring it to the boarding gate. By that time I was even beginning to question myself, asking if I could possibly have innocently done something to trigger suspicion. Of course I had not, but the treatment I had received so far was having a serious negative effect. My depression and sadness became deeper.
“I walked to the boarding gate holding only my purse and my passport. Once there I was ordered to stand away from the queue like a criminal, and wait until they called me. Again I walked through a metal detector, and was checked by a security woman. Once more I was taken to a special room and was ordered to take off my jacket, shoes, and jewelry and to submit to yet another bodily search. My bag was finally returned to me, but my boarding pass was withheld. When I sought to enter the shuttle bus to the plane they informed me that I could not board the bus because they had to check my boarding pass. For what reason one can only guess! By virtue of this tactic I was the last to get onto the bus…eyed by the security men and women as if I were a common criminal, although, in truth, it was they who had demonstrated their utter disregard for the laws of human decency. I was humiliated, insulted, affronted, and disgraced in front of those people, who claim that they are caring for our security. It is eminently clear that 'security' is only the transparent cover for their crude attempts to steal from others their dignity. May God forgive them. Annalissa.”
Sometimes, the rage in me boils pretty damn hot. This news release just came out of CPTNet and concerns the village I stayed at for a few days. The case has been assigned to a settler investigator, who will no doubt do NOTHING. Shit.
AT-TUWANI: Poison pellets spread on hillside where Palestinian sheep graze
By Diana Zimmerman and Kim Lamberty
Early Tuesday morning, 22 March, a Palestinian shepherd from At-Tuwani
discovered poison pellets spread over the hillside outside of the
Palestinian town of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. The shepherd
immediately summoned other people from the village, including Christian
Peacemaker Team members Kim Lamberty and Luna Villota who are currently
"The pellets are small and turquoise blue, similar to rodent poison in the
United States," reported Lamberty. "They are spread under bushes and in the
grass, pretty much anywhere the sheep graze."
About twenty dunams (five acres) of land is affected on the east side of the
Israeli settlement outpost Havot Ma'on, considered an "illegal" settlement
by the Israeli government. The village shepherds did not see the pellets on
Monday and believe they were placed during the night. The Israeli police
responded to their call and took samples of the pellets for testing. They
informed the villagers that an investigator who lives in the settlement of
Ma'on has been assigned to the case.
The villagers are also concerned about a communal well in the area where the
pellets were found. In the past an At-Tuwani well was fouled with carcasses
of dead chickens. The villagers fear that this well may have also been
poisoned by the pellets.
The contaminated site is the same area where Palestinians farmers and
herders were attacked on Saturday, 19 March by twelve settlers from the
First off, I wish to apologize to all of you whom have been looking here for updates on my trip. I am full of good excuses why there haven't been any.
No, I didn't come back and lapse into a lazy-daze of American culture, or dive headfirst into a flurry of work-related nonsense. I have been slowly unpacking my memories and my thoughts onto cold computer screens as carefully as I can. I took about 20 pages of notes while I was visiting the Middle East, and I've taken painstaking detail in trying to recreate my exact feelings, moods, and thoughts as they occurred. Quite a task in and of itself, but to add a layer of complexity to the situation, I've also been suffering through a pretty acute level of indecisiveness and general confusion. Let me explain.
When I left, I think I was harboring a general fantasy that I was going to come back to America a changed man. Whether I turned into an on-fire Prophet, railing against the powers that be, or just simply felt pulled more strongly in the general direction that I felt God was taking me, I would have been happy. Instead, I return a confused man. I feel no ultimatum, I feel no instant advice, no "commentary" on the "situation". I feel sad, I feel like I have no clue what I did, who I met, or what the significance of seeing any of this means.
But I do know that I've changed. Stereotypes have changed, and my proclivity to accept easy answers has vastly changed. I will no longer allow someone to railroad me into narrowing it down to a simple one-liner. I see now that people's lives are caught in the flux of a terrible tragedy and to begin to simplify it is akin to viewing human suffering as a solvable, or mildly problematic task.
I also now know a few things. Occupation is violence. Occupation is a logical thing. Security is a real issue to Israelis. It's not about Jew vs. Muslim. It's not about Arab vs. Israeli. It's not about Settler vs. Islamist. As Rich (my delegation leader) pointed out, it's about people who are willing to wage war versus people who are willing to wage peace. I know that blind Christian Zionism is resulting in people dying. I know that American foreign policy is resulting in people dying. I now know that Palestinian hospitality is among the most beautiful in the world. I know that I hate guns and find them entirely contrary to any sense of spirituality. I know that Israel is a beautiful country, and Israelis have a beautiful culture. I know that Israelis probably had no choice left but to build their own nation.
I could probably keep going. But why?
I came back with only one mandate. To tell the story. Everyone I talked to said "Please, tell your friends about what you have seen." Now, I'm not the most verbally articulate fellow in the world, but I do know that I can write "good enough". While I was there, I met a man named Atallah, and Atallah's story became my center of Palestine. I want to tell his story, and others like it. So, I think I'm going back. I'm going to go back as sort of an independent journalist, and write his story. I don't know how this is going to work, or how I'm going to do it, but I really hope that something comes together. It just felt right, and I have to go on my gut for this one.
Pray for some clarity.
Tue, Mar. 1st, 2005, 10:08 am
Israeli occupation forces broke "cease-fire" within first week
Palestine News Network
As the media buys the Israeli line that they will not continue "negotiations" with the Palestinians after the Tel Aviv explosion, no mention has been made, including by the Palestinian Authority, that Israeli occupation forces broke the "cease-fire" long ago. It was one-sided through its entirety.
Israeli army head Mofaz says Islamic Jihad's Tel Aviv explosion broke the "cease-fire," deflecting from reality that Israeli occupation forces broke the "cease-fire" by killing six Palestinians within its first week. Mofaz said the Israelis may conduct more targeted assassinations against Islamic Jihad leaders.
Sharon says the "third party" involved in the explosion is Syria, not Hizbollah. Sharon also said it does not decrease the responsibility of the PA.
Syria denies any involvement. The Syrian Foreign Minister said, "We are with the Palestinian peace efforts."
The Tel Aviv explosion came during a several week "cease-fire" declared in Sharm Al Sheikh in which Israeli occupation forces killed six Palestinians and continued building settlements, the Apartheid Wall, and imposing checkpoints.
During four "cease-fires" in the past two years, Israeli occupation forces have not stopped killing Palestinians, but claim the Palestinians broke said "cease-fires" when one eventually shoots back. This fact did not make it into the media in the past, and it is has not now either.
So all the time that I've been in Jerusalem, I've heard about Hebron: it's war torn, the soldiers are everywhere, right-wing and left-wing extremists call it home. And it's true. However, if I could bring each and every one of you here, there would be one thing you wouldn't call it: dangerous. Perhaps I'm being a little naive, but we walked on the streets for several hours yesterday, talking with kids, watching men play some dice game on the side of the streets, having coffee and looking at photos with the baker at a local bakery (they all simply invite you in for coffee and to talk and hear your story). The times I feel most dangerous is when I pass kids younger than me in Israeli uniforms with really, really big guns. It's quite apparent who the power lies with.