West Bank Settlers Vow Resistance to Withdrawal

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As many as 70,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank could be forced from their homes if Prime Minister-Designate Ehud Olmert goes ahead with his plan for more unilateral withdrawals from occupied territory. West Bankers say that, unlike their counterparts in Gaza, they will fight to stay in their homes.

RENE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rene Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Some Israelis who settled in the West Bank are wondering how long they can stay. They live on occupied territory, which may be outside the areas that Israel is willing to defend. The new Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he wants to set Israel's final borders within four years. And if there's no resumption of talks with Palestinians, the prime minister says he will act on his own. Some large Jewish settlements would remain in place, while an estimated 70,000 settlers would have to leave.

NPR's Linda Gradstein spoke to some of them.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Thirty years ago, Yakov Yardain(ph) was one of the founders of the Jewish settlement of Shilo, in the heart of the West Bank - about halfway between the two large Palestinian towns of Rahmalla and Nablus.

Today, with 250 families living in comfortable red-roofed houses, Shilo looks like a prosperous American suburb. But there's a mood of apprehension here.

Yardain says Shilo's settlers are more worried than ever before about the chances that their own government will uproot them. He says some of his neighbors have put off planned renovations.

Mr. YAKOV YARDAIN (Resident, Shilo): I think that this time it's really dangerous to spend money. And everyone is afraid. (Unintelligible) is hard. It's like in the song...

GRADSTEIN: But Yardain says Shilo's residents have felt threatened before, during past Israeli/Palestinian peace talks that focused on potential Israeli withdraws from occupied territory.

And yet, he says, Shilo has continued to grow. Batsha and Yussarel Medad(ph) moved to the settlement 25 years ago, and raised their five children here. Batsha says she doesn't want to even think of the possibility that she might have to leave her home. But she says Israel's withdraw from Gaza and the forced relocation of its 9,000 settlers broke a psychological barrier.

Ms. BATSHA MEDAD (Resident, Shilo): I never thought that this engagement would happen. And all the times I wrote and spoke against it, I always stressed that it wasn't an issue of a few sweet families. It's the entire country in danger, and that if that isn't stopped, they'd be after us next.

GRADSTEIN: Batsha says she has no intention of leaving Shilo. Her husband Yussarel says he was more worried before last month's Israeli election. The victory of Ehud Olmert's Kadima party was less than expected, and Yussarel says it won't be easy for the new government to move ahead with its plan to pull out of parts of the West Bank.

Mr. YUSSAREL MEDAD (Resident, Shilo): Ehud Olmert, if he's smart, even in his own policies, should say to himself, to the people and to the United States, I did not get a mandate for further disengagement. Only if I could improve Israel's society and social and welfare, in two years, maybe I could then do it.

GRADSTEIN: Shilo Founder Yakov Yardain says the residents have also learned from last summer's experiences in Gaza. There, rabbis urge the settlers not to fight the soldiers who came to evacuate them. Yardain says the Gaza settlers made it too easy for the state to kick them out.

Earlier this year, there was a violent clash between settlers and troops in the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Amona, not far from Shilo. More than 300 Israelis - soldiers and settlers were wounded when troops came to dismantle eight empty houses in the settlement. That violent resistance, Yardain says, is the new model.

Mr. YARDAIN: We want this good boys; we like, like it was in Amona. It won't be so easy to take us out and fight on everyplace.

GRADSTEIN: Any proposed evacuation would also be expensive. Yakov Yardain says it will cost tens of billions of dollars, money Israel doesn't have. And he says he doubts the Bush administration or the rest of the international community would agree to support Olmert's plan.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News.

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