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Unsettled in West Bank

Jewish activists fear Israel will dismantle their outposts, but are split on whether to resist by violence.

December 04, 2008|Ashraf Khalil | Khalil is a Times staff writer.

The Gaza withdrawal is still regarded as a betrayal -- all the more painful because it was spearheaded by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who helped build many of the settlements. Many settlers lost faith in the government, in the Yesha Council for not fighting hard enough and in the Israeli public for not rallying to their defense.

"They didn't fight for us in Gaza," Admoni, the mother of five, said. "No one cares. People are selfish."

Then came Amona: What started as an army push to remove several outpost buildings devolved into a brawl that left nearly 200 people injured. The incident scarred both sides, and even critics of the settlements were shocked by images of Jews being bloodied by Jewish soldiers. Much of the government's reluctance to confront activist settlers stems from a desire to avoid another Amona.

"Nothing underscores the government's weakness and its capitulation to the settlers more than the continued existence of the illegal outposts," wrote Aluf Benn, a venerable diplomatic correspondent for the daily newspaper Haaretz.

One of the unspoken fears fueling that impotence, Benn wrote, is that Israeli forces in the West Bank are increasingly filled with settlers and their supporters. A serious push against the settlements or outposts could trigger a divisive loyalty test that would split both the army and society.

The result is a confused dynamic between the army and many of the outpost residents. In Chavat Yaer, or Yaer's Farm, an Israeli soldier helps patrol the area and stays in his own trailer provided by the residents. But there are also occasional, seemingly random, crackdowns. Last year, one of the residents installed a swimming pool behind his trailer. The army came in and destroyed it.

While many settlers are nervously tracking the preelection season, others see opportunity in the current political vacuum.

"Before the election is the best time to expand," said Yitz- hak Lasser, the unofficial leader of Chavat Yaer, which has tripled in size in five years. "The government can't do anything."

Does that mean he's working to bring in more caravans within the next three months?

Lasser, who said there were 10 families waiting to move in after the trailers are in place, merely smiled and said, "With the help of God."

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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