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Next Step : Jewish Settlers Vow to Fight for Land : Israel's government worries that rightist militias may create an armed underground to thwart any peace settlement with Arabs.

June 01, 1993|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — High in the dusty, brown Judean Hills southeast of Jerusalem and deep in the pine forests north of the Israeli capital, a new Jewish army is training against the day that Israel withdraws from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and turns the two regions over to a Palestinian government.

"We won't go--we will fight," said Baruch Marzel, the leader of the ultranationalist Kach movement, which is forming the new "defense force."

"We will fight the Arabs. We pray that we won't have to fight other Jews. But we will not leave our homes, our communities and this holy land."

Marzel's hope, and that of others who have settled on the territory Israel captured from the Arabs 26 years ago in the Six-Day War, is that their very threat to fight if necessary will discourage Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians on self-government for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"We hope that our resistance against Arab domination under the guise of a peace agreement would not turn into a civil war, but resist we will," said Marzel, 34, who lives in the largely Palestinian city of Hebron with his wife and six children and who seeks to carry on the militant Zionism of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

"We have the people, and more are joining us. We have the guns, and we are getting more. We are doing the training and improving all the time. We are raising funds and seeking international support. Most of all, we have the determination to resist to the very end, to the very end."

Up and down the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip and on the Golan Heights, Israeli settlers are saying they are prepared to fight to hold on to territory--their homes, their farms, their communities built with blood and sweat--that they fear Rabin will yield in "land-for-peace" deals with the Arabs.

Although Marzel declined to provide detailed information on the new haganah, or defense force, because of police investigations, Israel Television filmed training sessions for the so-called "Judean Police," as well as settlers' patrols through Hebron and the adjacent Israeli community of Kiryat Arba.

"What happened in Yamit (an Israeli settlement on the Sinai Peninsula that was forcibly evacuated on the Sinai's return to Egypt in 1982) will be child's play compared to what will happen here," an army officer, identified only as "M," said as he trained the Kach recruits on firearms. "What we saw there will not be repeated. The struggle will be many times more bitter here.

"When the government understands this and sees the resistance," the officer added, "it will simply stop and retreat, and no one will have to leave his land."

But another reserve army officer training the "Judean Police" added: "I know people for whom there is no way back. If you put them up against the wall, they will use their weapons."

Although the preparations may be little more than political shadowboxing meant to deter Rabin, members of his governing coalition in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, worry that groups such as the "Judean Police" and the "Committee for Security of the Roads of Judea and Samaria," both formed by Kach, are the start of an armed underground that could upset any agreements.

"All the necessary conditions for the creation of militias or paramilitary organizations are increasing," Dedi Zucker, chairman of the Knesset's constitution and law committee, commented. "We have a minority group with a high level of motivation. They are armed and surrounded by an enemy and live under the shadow of a very difficult political threat."

But Ehud Sprinzak, a Hebrew University political scientist who tracks the radical right, contended that the settlers' heightened bravado, particularly the threats of civil war, were signs of weakness rather than strength.

"We have a history of underground movements in this country, and they are not something you do in public," Sprinzak said. "Beyond this, most of these people do not want to be seen as 'settlers,' but as ordinary Israelis. They don't want to be perceived as extremists, as followers of Meir Kahane, and they don't see themselves, at least not yet, as backed up against the wall."

A greater danger, according to Sprinzak, will be "provocative terrorism" by extremists, Jewish and Palestinian, seeking to draw the other side into violence that would make negotiations difficult and undercut any eventual agreement.

"Say that on the eve of a peace agreement, a desperate group of settlers, well-trained reservists in the Israeli army, blew up half a dozen mosques," Sprinzak said. "The next day, the Palestinians would be rioting in the streets, attacking every settlement in sight and Israeli forces would have to put down the disturbances.

"The scenario could also run the other way--Palestinian rejectionists attacking an Israeli school, for example--and the result would be the same. Extremists on both sides will be using provocative terrorism. For them, it does not matter who escalates, who shoots first."

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