Israeli youths defy eviction from land


SHVUT AMI OUTPOST, West Bank -- For two months, Jewish youths have been renovating an old stone house on this muddy hilltop in the northern West Bank. The house is not theirs, however. It belongs to a Palestinian family. And their seizure of it, along with the land around it, for a new settlement outpost is a violation of Israeli law. The police have evicted the group five times, but they keep coming back.

Yedidya Slonim, 16, one of the renovators here, who grew up in another West Bank settlement, Tzofim, said of the police: "We come back straight away, as soon as they've gone. They come every week for half a day. It doesn't bother us so much."

The cat-and-mouse contest here lays bare a key dilemma of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: Israel has pledged that it will permit no new settlements in the territory it has occupied since the 1967 war, no more expropriation of Palestinian land and the dismantling of unauthorized outposts - like this one - erected since March 2001, but it has never applied the muscle needed to do so.

"Shvut Ami is a chronicle of failure of law enforcement," said Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer who represents the Palestinian owners of the house on behalf of Yesh Din, an Israeli volunteer organization that fights for Palestinian rights. In this respect, he said, the area is "a jungle."

So the settlers continue building a patchwork of communities to try to preclude the drawing of a border between Israel and a future Palestinian state. At the vanguard are the hilltop youth, teenagers like Yedidya, who work to complicate the demographic map ever more.

A settler organization called the Land of Israel Faithful has promised to set up an additional seven outposts over the eight-day Hanukkah holiday - and to "strengthen" Shvut Ami.

According to Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group that tracks settlement activity, most of the hundred or so outposts in existence are built at least partially on private Palestinian land.

Shvut Ami is across a valley from Mitzpeh Ishai, an area of the Jewish settlement of Kedumim. Kedumim was established in the 1970s among Palestinian villages.

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