Settlers gear up for battle to save outposts

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migron, west bank | A battered shipping container was Itai Harel’s first home on this steep, windswept hilltop.

Now he lives in a trailer with running water and electricity, and land has been leveled for more permanent housing in this illegal settlement outpost. He and his fellow young settlers are gearing up to fight for their new hilltop home.

Migron, the largest and most established of the 100 or so illegal Jewish outposts established across the West Bank, is on the front lines of a looming showdown between the settler movement and the Israeli government. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently pledged to dismantle such settlements in accordance with the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan. On Sunday, Dec. 28, Israel ordered the removal of four of the outposts. The settlers can now petition against the action in the courts.

Meanwhile, settler rabbis called upon supporters to physically prevent the settlements’ dismantlement, and called upon army officers not to order their soldiers to dismantle the settlements.

Harel expressed similar sentiments. “We are staying here. It’s our home,” said Harel, 29, vowing to return if the government somehow manages to remove them.

“It is our right to be here; this is our national home,” he said, sweeping his hand toward the view of Arab villages and Jewish settlements on nearby hillsides.

However, the settlers’ position may have been undercut by the National Religious Party, the main settler political body. Its chairman, Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam, said Monday, Dec. 29, that the NRP would support the removal of four unauthorized outposts if no way could be found to authorize them.

During the past two years, 42 families have moved here. They are young, defiant and fiercely ideological. Casting themselves as part of a continuum of ancient and modern Jewish history, they view their unauthorized building of an outpost about 20 minutes drive north of Jerusalem as key to strengthening the Jewish claim to biblical Israel.

Critics and the U.S. government see the outposts, built hastily and without government approval, as yet another obstacle to peace efforts with the Palestinians.

At Migron, a private security guard armed with an Uzi machine gun mans the entrance. A fence topped with rings of barbed wire surrounds the outpost.

“It’s clear it is worth the price,” said Harel. “We are here to live … an ideal.”

As long as settlement building continues, “we will be doomed to more and more international condemnation, economic recession and violence,” said Dror Etkes, who coordinates Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project. “Another settlement is another rock in the occupation and oppression” of the Palestinians.