Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 9 News List

In the fight over a settlement, it's Israelis vs Israelis

A group of rabbis says that no prime minister has the right to hand over a piece of Israel, believing biblical law is a higher authority

By Richard Bernstein  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MIGRON, WEST BANK

The Hebrew signs posted along the road to this hilltop settlement on the West Bank say, "The Battle Begins in Migron," and on Tuesday, as a thousand or more people arrived here in a caravan of cars and vans and buses, ostensibly to put a Torah scroll into the synagogue, it was clear that the battle had begun.

There were bearded men holding the scrolls aloft and chanting lines from the prophet Isaiah ("It shall not stand; neither shall it come to pass") while young men danced around them in a circle. Women pushed strollers; men held small children on their shoulders while machine guns were slung over their backs. Everybody had a good time.

But what shall not stand, in the crowd's view, is the announced policy of the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Migron and other illegal outposts like it are going to be dismantled. Sharon, under pressure from the US to implement the terms of the peace plan known as the road map, pledged in a speech last week that he would soon evacuate the illegal settlements, and Migron is the largest and best-known of them all.

Hence the very widespread feeling in Israel that Migron is indeed going to be a battleground, not between Israelis and Palestinians but between Israelis and Israelis, or, more specifically, between the government and a settler movement that is powerful, well-organized and determined not to give an inch.

"To bring a Torah here is the opposite of evacuating a community," Pinchas Wallerstein, an official of the local Israeli administration who is regarded as a sort of father of the settlement movement in this region, said, shouting over the clamor of the Torah installation ceremony. He was asked what will happen if the government, as many people expect, sends the army to take Migron down.

"First we are acting through the courts and we believe we will have the support of the courts," Wallerstein replied. "If not, we'll ask thousands of people to be here, and if we have 10,000 people, they will need 40,000 police and soldiers, and there's no such force in Israel."

Migron is, when not being visited by one or two thousand supporters, a pretty unprepossessing place, a cluster of 40 or so trailers, installed on a rocky, treeless promontory. On Tuesday, the Arab town of Deir Dibwan could be seen glistening in the hazy sun across the valley to the north, a reminder of how close things are on the West Bank.

Migron started a year or so ago, with a couple of trailers, water and electricity connection, then a few more trailers, a total of 42 now, along with a permanent-looking stone building that serves as the synagogue. Many of the young couples who have set up households here grew up in places that were once similar to what Migron is today, a kind of encampment among Arab villages, encircled by a fence. They are in this sense the second settler generation, continuing what is to them a tradition.

"I love this place," Moriya Harell, a 25-year-old graduate of film school said in a conversation last Friday. She was preparing a Sabbath meal while carrying her 7-week-old son, Yaacov, in a sling. "This is my place. I come from a religious home and for me it's a natural thing to live here and to raise my child here."

Harell represents the major trend in the settler movement, namely that it has become essentially a religious movement carried on by people who believe that they are carrying out God's wish by settling on the ancient hills known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria. As Harell's husband, Itay, 29, put it, the classical, most secular Zionism that spurred Israel's creation has become "tired" and the energy now comes from religious conviction.

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