Jewish settlers shaken by Rabin's intentions

June 26, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

SHILOH, ISRAELI-OCCUPIED WEST BANK XTC — SHILOH, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- Batya Medad, once of Long Island, N.Y., lives in a modern neighborhood clawed into a hilltop and surrounded by barbed wire and Arab villages.

She worries that her neighbors might kill her.

The election this week that will put Yitzhak Rabin at the head of the Israeli government threatens her safety and her community, says the 43-year-old mother of five.

"The most dangerous thing is if the Arabs are no longer afraid. When they are not afraid, they kill," she says.

Mrs. Medad is a settler. Mr. Rabin has repeated his campaign vows that the next government will not champion communities such as hers, built as outposts of Jewish claims to biblical lands.

The day after the election, he asked the current government to put a freeze on new construction. And he reaffirmed that he will move quickly to give autonomy to Palestinians over Arab areas, such as the one where Mrs. Medad lives.

His plans have sent a shudder through the Jewish settler communities, which spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza with the encouragement of the Likud-led government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

A leader of the settlers' movement warned yesterday that Mr. Rabin's policies might bring confrontations.

"A large part of the public will be willing to carry out an adventurous struggle against Rabin," Ephraim Meir told an Israeli newspaper. "If the struggle fails and autonomy is implemented, there is already talk of using weapons against the Arabs."

"We'll do everything in our power to prevent" Mr. Rabin's plans, said Yechiel Leiter, a spokesman for the settlers. He said they would defy the government, as they did 15 years ago when Mr. Rabin was prime minister before the more sympathetic Likud took power.

"I don't know if we will be running on hilltops with backpacks and erecting tents to start settlements once again, but we will try to create facts on the ground as we did before," he said.

The Judea and Samaria Council, the main settlers' organization, hurriedly met yesterday to discuss a strategy of opposition to Mr. Rabin.

"They will be in the streets. They will block roads. They will claim that the land is theirs," predicted Ehud Sprinzak, an Israeli expert rightist political movements. "It's going to get interesting."

About 100,000 Jewish settlers live in the territories seized from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel has not annexed the bulk of that land, in part because it is home to 1.7 million Palestinians and in part because of international opposition.

No country, including the United States, recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the captured territory.

Through the years, Jews who claim historical and biblical rights to the territories have been building and building. These settlements now range from a handful of sun-baked mobile homes set in the sandy desert to luxurious and expansive towns that sprawl across the hilltops.

The Shamir government poured money into roads, utility lines, security and financial incentives to foster the settlements. But Mr. Rabin sees them as an obstacle to peace with the Arabs and a costly drain on the economy for just 2 percent of Israel's population.

He has vowed to stop settlements outside the Jordan Valley and Golan Heights. Those areas that border Jordan and Syria are necessary for defense, he contends.

"We must transfer these funds to other objectives," Mr. Rabin said Wednesday of the money spent on what he calls "political" settlements.

Mrs. Medad says she "can't conceive of Israel without" settlements like hers. She sees her role as patriotic.

"We consider ourselves as continuing the Zionist movement. We are doing just what good Jews should be doing," she said yesterday.

She and her husband came to Israel from New York in 1970 and moved from Jerusalem to Shiloh in 1981. "I always thought it would be hypocritical staying in the city, when Jews should live out here," she said.

Shiloh is a string of 130 red-roofed suburban-style homes on a treeless hill 20 miles north of Jerusalem. It was started in 1978 by seven families as a protest to the Camp David accords and sits on what Mrs. Medad says was Joshua's biblical capital.

It is ringed by fences and barbed wire. Yesterday, a teacher holding class at the entrance stopped to greet an approaching car with an automatic rifle on his shoulder.

The settlement, midway between the Arab cities of Nablus and Ramallah, is ringed by several smaller Palestinian villages that are built, according to tradition, in the valleys below.

Last year, Rachael Druck, a Shiloh mother of seven, died when a bus taking settlers to protest the Madrid peace talks was ambushed on a nearby road. Earlier this year, a young Jewish boy was wounded in a similar bus ambush.

In the past, settlers knew that the government would strike back at such attacks. With a new government, Mrs. Medad is not sure.

"The Arabs could become much more violent," she says. "They (( will begin to believe that nobody will do anything."

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