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Profile: Illegal Israeli Settlements Continue to Spring up on Palestinian Lands

All Things Considered: August 28, 2002

Settlers



JACKI LYDEN, host:

Since the beginning of the latest Palestinian uprising, Jewish settlers have established dozens of illegal outposts in the occupied territories. Despite repeated promises by Israel's defense minister to shut them down, almost no action has been taken against this illegal seizure of Palestinian land. NPR's Anne Garrels reports.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

The hills of the West Bank are now dotted with so-called outposts. Often they're no more than a mobile home or two. Often they're established by the children of original Jewish settlers who wish to make their own mark on what they believe is the Jews' biblical homeland.

SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY

GARRELS: Far from shutting down, the unauthorized outpost of Nefain ne Himya(ph) is expanding. Workers are reinforcing the electricity poles in preparation for winter, the road's being graded and in addition to the four caravans where families already live, there are fresh foundations for six more. This barren, rocky hilltop is about half a mile from the mother settlement of Rehelim.

Droor Etkis(ph), a researcher with Peace Now, a leftist organization which opposes the settlements, says these outposts are a way of establishing new facts on the ground.

Mr. DROOR ETKIS (Peace Now): They are stretching the volume of the settlement as much as they can. First, they construct as far as they can, and then they start to fill the hills in between with new containers and trailers in order to create some kind of a geographical consequency(ph) between the mother settlement, so to say, and the new outpost.

GARRELS: After a recent tour, Etkis estimates there are now as many 90 illegal outposts; Amona(ph), the largest, now has 21 families.

Mr. ETKIS: This game is going on, of course, since the Israeli government doesn't do anything seriously in order to avoid it.

GARRELS: There's a very deep argument about the utility of the settlement movement in Israel's post-1967 history. It was encouraged by all governments in one form or another; some for strategic reasons, others for ideological ones. Despite occasional promises to limit expansion and sporadic appeals from the US, the settlements have grown steadily. Ezra Rosenfeld, spokesman for Yesha, the settlers' organization, calls the outposts a security asset.

Mr. EZRA ROSENFELD (Spokesperson, Yesha): If we take a hilltop near a community of 500 families, and if there are five, quote-unquote, "crazy individuals," idealistic people who are willing to go up and to live on this hilltop in a mobile home, this hilltop is now protected in a manner which is far more effective than if the army would have to patrol the area.

GARRELS: But the Israeli army is patrolling these areas. Soldiers are permanently posted at many of the outposts. Opponents argue these outposts further inflame the situation in the West Bank, divert national resources from other more pressing security priorities and put soldiers in unnecessary risk.

In addition to Peace Now, another organization called Green House(ph) has raised its voice. This time, opposition is not coming from the left, but from retired intelligence officers, military officers and prominent businessmen like Koby Huberman.

Mr. KOBY HUBERMAN (Green House): It is a political move by the right-wing part of the government with the hidden blessing of the prime minister, we believe, so that the settlers could take that action. We argue about the fact that this is illegal, and at the same time, the military forces are forced to support such activities by protecting those settlements.

GARRELS: In late June, after one reservist was killed and three wounded protecting an outpost, Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer said he would dismantle a few. Two weeks ago, he said he would remove many more. As chairman of the Labor Party, confronted by a dovish challenger, he needs to show he's not a clone of Likud Party incumbent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But Ezra Rosenfeld, the settlers' spokesman, is happy to say he's seen nothing more than words so far.

Mr. ROSENFELD: If he felt that it was beneficial to his political career to talk about the fact that these were outposts which he evacuated, then I have no difficulty with him doing so.

GARRELS: In other words, there were no outposts that were removed.

Mr. ROSENFELD: I don't know of any people who are now homeless as a result.

GARRELS: As the US seeks to revive peace negotiations and help formulate boundaries for an eventual Palestinian state, American officials say the Israeli settlement machine stands as one of their most formidable obstacles. Anne Garrels, NPR News, Givat Aish-Kodesh(ph), on the West Bank.

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