Jump to content
Clubplanet Nightlife Community
Sign in to follow this  

Sharon Laments 'Occupation' and Israeli Settlers Shudde

Recommended Posts

June 1, 2003

Sharon Laments 'Occupation' and Israeli Settlers Shudder


TAMAR SETTLEMENT, West Bank, May 30 — The newspaper headline that caught the rabbi's eye was a pun on Shalom Ahshav, the Hebrew name of one of Israel's most dovish groups, Peace Now.

"Sharon Ahshav," it read, under a picture of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"It's astonishing," Rabbi Avichai Ronzki murmured, scooping up the newspaper.

It has been, for Israel's settlers, a most unsettling week. First the Israeli government endorsed the idea of eventually creating a Palestinian state, giving qualified backing to an American-backed peace plan. Then Mr. Sharon criticized what he called Israel's "occupation" in the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, captured in the 1967 war.

This is a right-wing Israeli government, and Mr. Sharon is a visionary and engineer of the settlement movement, which since the war has moved more than 200,000 Israelis into the West Bank and Gaza. Yet in a conflict in which every word can be inspected for political freight, in which names for everything from the city streets to the violence itself are contested, Mr. Sharon has adopted a term — "occupation" — that is central to the lexicon of Israeli doves and Palestinians.

For settlers, it was almost as though President Bush had described Texas as American-occupied territory.

"They are talking about giving up the land," said Rabbi Ronzki, who is a brigadier general in the Israeli reserves and a founder of this Israeli redoubt in the West Bank, a village of red-roofed cottages, armed men and laughing schoolchildren in the windswept hills above the Palestinian city of Nablus. In terms of educating the Israeli public, Rabbi Ronzki said, "the damage is huge."

Yet Rabbi Ronzki, 51, is a patient man in a patient movement. He is the father of six children, all of whom, he believes, will live as adults in Itamar, as his two married daughters already do. Settlers have long believed that trailers, water towers and other "facts on the ground" matter more than words; the fact remains that Mr. Sharon has yet to act to restrain settlement.

But that is not the same as saying that words do not matter. Rabbi Ronzki worried that Mr. Sharon had shaken an ideological foundation of his dominant Likud Party.

"The flag of the Likud was always ownership of the land of Israel — both sides of the Jordan River," he said, referring to settlers' motivating dream of holding all of the Jewish biblical domain.

Mr. Sharon is not talking these days about dreams, but about hard economic and diplomatic realities. His words are reverberating through Israeli society as settlers, politicians and analysts try to gauge their consequences.

It is a discussion that goes beyond a narrower debate, which is also raging, over whether Mr. Sharon is playing a deep game, preparing his old allies to surrender their homes, or using words rather than substantive concessions to ease American pressure for progress on the peace plan.

"The intentions are less important here than the dynamic that is being unleashed," said Yaron Ezrahi, a dovish political scientist at Hebrew University. He called Mr. Sharon's remarks "enormously significant," because so much of the Israeli debate had been "a conflict of language, of languages, of words." If this government fell, he argued, a left-wing leadership would have new political immunity to aggressively pursue the peace plan and act against settlement.

Settlers and others who favor a "greater Israel" prefer to speak of the land as having been "liberated" in the 1967 war, smudging any boundary between it and land taken in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that accompanied Israel's founding.

But last Monday, a day after his government reluctantly backed the peace plan, Mr. Sharon told angry legislators from Likud: "You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation. Holding 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."

A careful man, he used the word occupation — in Hebrew, kibush — at least four times.

They definitely did not like the word. Mr. Sharon was attacked as undermining his own government's effort to label the territories as "disputed," rather than "occupied." The next day, he said his mission was not to parrot everything he said in the past. But he also said that what he had meant was that the Palestinians were occupied, but that the territory was not — a formula that appeared to satisfy no one.

"Whether he wanted to or not, Sharon broke a huge taboo, and no murky clarification can get him out of it," the columnist Amnon Dankner wrote today in the Israeli daily Maariv. "He used the terminology of the left, and thus also adopted the basic outlook of the left, which has been arguing for many years that we are occupiers in the territories, that occupation is a bad idea and in fact mortally harmful to Israel."

Shaul Goldstein, a settler leader from the relatively moderate Gush Etzion settlement bloc, a community south of Jerusalem, said by telephone: "I was very, very surprised by the prime minister, and angry. I don't feel like one who occupies area. It's our area, our homeland."

Yet Mr. Goldstein is also taking part in an effort by settler leaders to draw up their own version of a partition plan that would give some autonomy to Palestinians. Settlers are divided over the plan, but it is a recognition that times may be changing.

At 75, Mr. Sharon appears once more to have positioned himself in the political center. An opinion poll published today by Maariv reported that 62 percent of Israelis supported "ending the Israeli occupation of the territories." Opposed were 32 percent, and 6 percent were undecided. The poll, of 593 people, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Supported by the government, settlers have tightened their grip on the West Bank during Mr. Sharon's tenure, with new roads and fences as well as outposts. They include Jewish immigrants from all over the world, but their strength is reinforced now by younger settlers born into the West Bank and the movement.

"They were born here, they grew up here, and their conviction of holding to the land is absolute," Rabbi Ronzki said last November.

From the right, Mr. Sharon has been booed this week and greeted by furious protesters who call his support for the peace plan treason. Settler leaders have been meeting late into the night debating what to do.

Rabbi Ronzki is among those who reject the peace plan. But he served as a captain of paratroopers under General Sharon in the Sinai desert in 1973, and he admires him as a man of vision and great cunning. He hopes that his old general is simply playing along with the Americans, believing that the Palestinians will never act decisively to stop terrorism and that he will be released from any obligations under the peace plan.

Mr. Sharon has often spoken of "painful concessions" for peace, but he has not specified what settlements he might remove. The new peace plan calls for Israel to dismantle immediately settlement outposts built since Mr. Sharon took office more than two years ago, and to freeze settlement growth. He is resisting these steps.

Mr. Sharon emphasizes his roots as a pragmatic Zionist, rather than as a devoutly religious one like Rabbi Ronzki, and it may be that he glimpses a chance to achieve an agreement on his terms. His allies say he envisions retaining as many settlements as possible while permitting a Palestinian state in less than half the West Bank, with Israel in control of its borders and airspace. But to Palestinians, settlements are a provocation and a barrier to a viable state. Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister, says that in a final deal, Israel must remove all settlements and depart the West Bank entirely.

Rabbi Ronzki seemed wounded by Mr. Sharon's reference to Israel's economic crisis as a reason to divide the land. The settlement movement, he said, had far higher values than money, adding that the suffering of Jews today was nothing compared with what they experienced in the past.

During the 1973 war, Rabbi Ronzki lost more than 20 friends, an experience that he said had turned him to religion and deep study of the Bible. In 1980, he and his wife, Ronit, moved to this hilltop with half a dozen other families to found Itamar.

Like most settlers, he recalls the early days as halcyon, a time of "excellent relationships with our Arab neighbors."

"We shopped in Nablus for everything we needed," he said last fall. It was his dream, he said today, that the two peoples would live harmoniously together again someday.

Although another Palestinian uprising preceded the 1993 Oslo agreement, Rabbi Ronzki, like most settlers, blames Oslo and the subsequent return of Yasir Arafat for the current enmity. The problem, he says, is the governing Palestinian Authority and its leadership.

Now about 100 families live here, and a ribbon of asphalt stretches east along a ridge to join Itamar to newer outposts. Israeli soldiers stand guard against infiltration by gunmen, but children still do not lock their bicycles.

The beauty of the landscape is recorded on the rabbi's walls, in the oil paintings of anemone-starred valleys by Mrs. Ronzki, an artist. Today, the view was lunar, as a dust storm washed white the scrub grass and limestone ribbing of the hills, blurring the nearby Palestinian towns.

Rabbi Ronzki now has a long white beard and close-cropped, iron-gray hair, and he runs a yeshiva here. A year ago, three of the yeshiva students were killed by a Palestinian gunman who attacked at night. Less than a month later, a mother, three of her children and another Itamar resident were killed in a second attack. The next day some settlers went on a rampage; they drove to the nearby Palestinian town of Burin and shot a 22-year-old stonecutter dead.

As settlers tend to do, the rabbi took the long view, recalling how previous peace plans came to nothing. It was possible Mr. Sharon was going through some sort of transformation, Rabbi Ronzki said. But he dismissed the notion that the Palestinian leadership was changing. For that reason, he said, the new plan would also fail, and Jewish life in Itamar would continue.

"In the end, we know nothing will be achieved or changed," he said, as he parted today with a visitor. With an M-16 rifle over his shoulders, he was preparing to go out and do his reserve duty, continuing the struggle in the West Bank.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Jun. 10, 2003

Israel begins dismantling settlement outposts


Israeli troops on Monday began dismantling uninhabited West Bank settlement outposts, taking down a few of the dozens of outposts Israel has to remove under a US-backed peace plan.

The army took down the Neve Erez South outpost near the Palestinian town of Ramallah, which consisted of two empty trailers, an Israeli watchdog group said. The military then dismantled the Amona North outpost near Ofra on the West Bank, which only consisted of a water tower, according to a nearby resident.

About 100 settlers then blocked Amona North's exit, not allowing the IDF vehicles, which had dismantled the outpost Monday night from leaving the area. The settlers tried to remove the parts of the torn-down water tower from the IDF vehicle in an attempt to reconstitute it. The uninhabited outpost has been declared a closed military zone by the IDF, Army Radio reported.

The IDF said that many valuable lessons were learned from outpost removals in the past, and that this time the IDF would remove several outposts simultaneously in different areas, in order to prevent settlers from gathering at outposts and resisting in numbers.

The IDF is expected to remove another 7 outposts Monday night. Only one of these outposts, Ein Horon, is inhabited. All in all, ninety-four settlement outposts are to be dismantled in the coming days.

The IDF and Police dismantled three more uninhabited settlement outposts in the West Bank close to midnight Monday. The outposts removed were Mizpe near Itamar in the northern West Bank; an outpost near Alon Moreh and the Einav South outpost. One caravan was removed from each outpost.

Later Monday night, hundreds of settlers from the Beit El area in the West Bank headed for the Beit El East outpost in order to protest its removal. The settlers said they would resist the outpost's removal in a "stubborn and resolute" manner.

Some settlers arrived in busses from the Jerusalem area, and were acting under the auspices of the Rabbis of Beit El. Beit El East is a populated outpost, and according to the settlers, is scheduled for removal later Monday night.

The committee of Settler Rabbis has called on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to give the order to remove settlement outposts.

"We plead with the Prime Minister not to give this blatantly immoral order to dismantle outposts and settlements in order to give them over to the enemy," said the committee in a statement Monday night.

The Rabbis urged IDF soldiers and Police to think seriously about the moral implications of the orders they receive to dismantle outposts. The Rabbis also called on the wider public to empathize with the settlers and to make their way to outposts earmarked for removal. They urged settlers to document everything that happened during outpost removals.

Sitting under the sign "It's forbidden to give them a state," in a small crowded room in Jerusalem, leaders of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha Council) promised to wage a democratic war against Sharon's implementation of the road map.

"This is the last battle for the state of Israel," said Shaul Goldstein, mayor of the Etzion region, as he helped launch a bloodless battle to save 15 outposts the army began tearing today Monday.

Their game plan includes: parliamentary pressure within the coalition, legal cases in the courts, and demonstrations at the sites. They have also pledged to return and rebuild on the same sites.

Five of the outposts are populated and it's expected the heaviest protest will be reserved for those outposts.

Council Chairman Benzi Lieberman said, "We are fighting for our homes." He and other council members believe that tearing down outposts is just a first step on the part of Prime Minister Sharon, who they believe intends to take down all the 102 outposts and to dismantle settlements.

Lieberman also made a call to the hilltop youth, settler youth who have spearheaded the establishment of hastily constructed outposts termed illegal by the government and have physically resisted the dismantling of those outposts in the past, to be responsible and not turn violent. "Do not raise your hand against soldiers, even if the soldiers raise their hand against you," said Lieberman.

He warned that Sharon's capitulation to terror will only lead to more terror attacks against Israelis.

They blamed the United States for pressuring Sharon to bow to terror. Goldstein said, "Bush fought terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. The only place the world will sacrifice civilians to terror will be here," said Goldstein.

In his meeting with settler leaders earlier Monday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz handed a list of 15 unauthorized outposts that the army plans to dismantle later in the evening. Among them, four are populated: Nofei Nahmia, NG 693 near Yitzhar, Gilad ranch, and Shvei Shomron Maarav Walla reports that Adi Mintz, head of the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha Council), said the meeting was "difficult".

"We understood that the process is part of the road map, not a one-time event," said Mintz. "We see this as the beginning of an attempt to bring destruction on the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and Gaza," he said, promising a bitter fight. "We have thousands, even tens of thousands, who are ready to fight," said Mintz, adding that the struggle would be nonviolent.

Mofaz said that settlers will not receive advance notice when the next outposts are removed, but that they will take place "soon".

Israel media reports, meanwhile, said the Israeli military has drawn up a list of 15 settlement outposts, nearly all uninhabited, that are to be removed in coming days.

The overall military commander of the West Bank, Central Command chief Major-General Moshe Kaplinski met with settlers leaders, prior to their meeting with Mofaz, gave them the list and asked them to remove the outposts voluntarily.

Settler leaders said they would not cooperate, but would not use violence in confronting soldiers. "If we are evacuated, we'll return the night after and establish 10 new outposts," said Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a settler spokesman.

On Monday afternoon, troops began destroying trailers at the Neve Erez South outpost, Mor-Yosef said. The outpost is about 200 meters from another settler enclave where several families have been living in shipping containers for the past three years, according to the Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now. There were no reports of confrontations with settlers.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo rejected the move as "just a symbolic step." "Sharon is playing a game of deception through the evacuation of some of the empty trailers in order to give legitimacy to the tens of settlements he established during his term in office," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday he was determined to carry out the peace plan, despite growing opposition from his constituents, including activists from his Likud party who booed him at a convention Sunday.

"It wasn't easy," Sharon said. "Yesterday, at the Likud convention it was even harder, but this is the policy I have decided on and I will implement it."

According to a poll released Monday by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, 59 percent of Israelis would agree to establishment of a Palestinian state in the framework of peace, up from 49 percent last year, and 59 percent support the evacuation of all but the largest blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, compared to 50 percent a year ago.

The poll questioned 1,103 Israelis between April 27 and May 23 and quoted a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

With The Associated Press

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Poll: 59% of Israelis support evacuation of settlements


Despite unrelenting violence, more Israelis are optimistic about peace prospects and are willing to make significant concessions for peace than a year ago, according to a survey released Monday by a Tel Aviv University think tank.

The poll, by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, found that support for peace moves had returned to its 2001 level, after a significant dip last year as violence increased.

According to the poll, 59 percent of Israelis would agree to establishment of a Palestinian state in the framework of peace, up from 49 percent last year, and 59 percent support the evacuation of all but the largest blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, compared to 50 percent a year ago.

The poll showed that 43 percent of Israelis were prepared to leave the Arab sections of Jerusalem in the framework of peace, almost unchanged from a year earlier.

The poll questioned 1,103 Israelis between April 27 and May 23 and quoted a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

In other findings, 34 percent of Israelis felt a war was likely within three years, a sharp decline from the 2002 survey, when 79 percent predicted a war. Similarly, the current poll found 43 percent optimistic that peace with Israel's neighbors would be strengthened in the coming three years, compared to only 21 percent last year.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Jun. 9, 2003

Report: Bush refused secret request by Sharon


According to a report by Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon secretly presented the US with three requests to help facilitate his implementation of the road map.

The first request was an official joint Arab statement recognizing Israel as a Jewish democratic state and acknowledging its right to exist in peace and security. The statement would reinforce domestic support for Sharon's implementation of the road map.

The second was that the US press Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas to waive the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In return Israel would approve the formation of a Palestinian state with temporary borders as soon as early next year if the Palestinians fulfill their security obligations.

The third demand was that the Bush administration itself issue an official statement supporting Sharon's call on the Palestinian to waive the right of return as a condition for the formation of their state. According to al-Watan, the Bush administration refused Sharon's demand out of fear it would endanger progress on the roadmap.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Israelis Vow to Fight to Keep Settlements

By STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writer

AMONA, West Bank - Israeli soldiers began tearing down settlement outposts in the West Bank on Monday — one of Israel's obligations under a new Mideast peace plan — but settlers threatened to turn out by the thousands to frustrate the effort.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas rejected Palestinian criticism of his peace overtures to Israel, saying he was trying to end his people's suffering and foster creation of an independent state.

Under the "road map" peace plan, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is required to remove scores of outposts in the West Bank, some empty and many others inhabited by just a few people. The Palestinians are supposed to disarm militants and ensure an end to attacks against Israelis.

Secretary of State Colin Powell welcomed Monday's operation. "I hope that in discharging this commitment, they would be able to remove these unauthorized outposts in a peaceful way," Powell said during a visit to Santiago, Chile.

Sharon faced settler anger as removal of the outposts got under way, with Israeli troops pulling down two empty trailers that made up the Neve Erez South outpost near the Palestinian town of Ramallah.

The military pulled down a water tower at the Amona outpost. More than 100 people — mainly children — from a nearby Jewish settlement rushed over and blocked the road with stones and a human chain, preventing soldiers from hauling the 15-foot-tall tower away on a truck.

"Ariel Sharon is an old man who changed his way and now he has surrendered to terror," said Daniel Cassuto, a resident of the nearby Ofra settlement.

An army statement said unauthorized structures were removed from five outposts on Monday. Israel Radio said early Tuesday that four others were dismantled, one by settlers. All were uninhabited.

Settlers said they would put up stiffer resistance at several populated outposts slated for removal.

"We have thousands, even tens of thousands, who are ready to fight," said settler leader Adi Mintz, adding that the struggle would be nonviolent.

About 220,000 settlers live in 150 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, lands occupied by Israel in the 1967 war and claimed by the Palestinians for their future state. The outposts generally are set up on hills near an established settlement in hopes of providing a basis for a larger enclave.

Palestinians were not impressed by Monday's actions.

"Sharon is playing a game of deception through the evacuation of some of the empty trailers in order to give legitimacy to the tens of settlements he established," Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

In violence Monday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians in an exchange of fire near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in central Gaza after nightfall, the military said.

At last week's summit, Abbas called for an end to attacks on Israelis, but militants rebuffed that by raiding an army post in Gaza on Sunday and killing four soldiers. Three militants were killed.

"We must do our utmost to end the bloodshed ... and continue with the political process so we can convince the world that this is our path," Abbas said on Monday in response.

In his first news conference since taking office April 30, Abbas said the road map, which envisions an end to 32 months of violence and creation of a Palestinian state by 2005, was the only way to get Israel to free Palestinian prisoners, ease travel restrictions and stop demolishing homes.

"I am trying to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people and get a foothold on the path that will lead us to a Palestinian state," he said.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had joined in the criticism of the summit, but Abbas said Monday he coordinated every move with Arafat.

Under the road map, Israel has to dismantle dozens of outposts established since Sharon came to power in March 2001. According to Peace Now, there are 102 outposts with 1,000 residents, including 62 built in the past two years. Israeli and U.S. officials also say there are about 100 outposts, most built since March 2001.

Israel TV said the government has listed 94 outposts, but did not give a breakdown of those built before and after March 1, 2001.

Sharon, a major settlement builder, never promised explicitly to remove all the outposts and has acknowledged he has differences with the United States on the issue. His aides have said a distinction would be made between outposts considered legal and illegal, suggesting there would be less than full compliance.

Army commanders met Monday with settler leaders, gave them a list of outposts — 15, mostly uninhabited ones, according to media reports — and asked them to remove the sites voluntarily. Settlers said they would not cooperate.

"If we are evacuated, we'll return the night after and establish 10 new outposts," said Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a settler spokesman.

In a joint statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush on Monday praised the prospects for peace in the Middle East since the launch of the "road map" at a three-way summit last week, the Kremlin said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow on Monday and urged Russia to play a key role in the process by using its traditionally strong relations with Arab countries to "help convince the Palestinians of the need to end the violence and terror."


AP correspondents Ravi Nessman and Lefteris Pitarakis contributed to this report from Ramallah and Neve Erez.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this