Fighting the freeze

Fighting the freeze

December 4, 2009 02:43
settlement freeze protest 248.88 AP

settlement freeze protest 248.88 AP. (photo credit: )


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Settler leaders Avi Na'im and Shaul Goldstein are more likely to be found talking with politicians in the Knesset hallways than outdoors fighting the IDF and the police. Unlike the heads of the hilltop youth who openly defy the law as part of their ideological battle to preserve Jewish life in Judea and Samaria - such as Baruch Marzel and Daniella Weiss - and whose actions they often decry, these two men have looked to strengthen their settlements by working from within the system rather than without. So it was a sign of the sudden spontaneous upheaval that has taken place in settlement communities this week that Goldstein, who heads the Gush Etzion Regional Council, and Na'im, who heads the joint Beit Arye and Ofarim Council, thought nothing of heading to the ramparts. As civil administration inspectors flanked by Border Police pushed their way into settlements across Judea and Samaria this week in their crackdown on West Bank settlement construction, Goldstein raced to the Har Gilo community, located just over the Green Line. Although the forces never arrived, Goldstein had intended to try and bar their way via civil disobedience. Na'im did go out to speak with the inspectors and police at the Beit Arye gate - and was promptly arrested. "I'm who they are fighting with?" a startled Na'im said later that day, adding that he had merely told them to go away and had not actually barred their path. Afterward, Na'im received a round of applause when he entered an emergency meeting of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip - a body he had viewed in the past as too extreme. To Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, a past secretary-general of the Yesha Council, the implication was obvious. The 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction approved by the Security Council last week and enforced this week with lightning speed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak had "radicalized the moderates." The Yesha Council held four emergency meetings this week and called on settlers to protest the moratorium nonviolently and to continue to build. "I have nothing against the soldiers and the police," said Goldstein, adding that he had no intention of resorting to physical violence. He said he understood that in the end, he could not have stopped them, and at best had hoped to delay them. Although there were a number of minor clashes between IDF and Border Police during the four days of inspector visits, the bulk of the protests did not end in blows, with settlers instead blocking the paths of security forces with either their bodies or their vehicles. In the Avnei Hefez settlement, for example, women and children simply stood in a line across the road and refused to move. After a standoff of two hours, the inspectors marched through them to seek out building violations - as they did at all the other settlements they visited, protests not withstanding. "We all have the right to protest," said Goldstein. "We want to show the ministers that they have crossed the line and that this is a democracy." According to Yesha Council head Dani Dayan, the moratorium has created "a new hostile atmosphere" against the government. "We prefer to work in coordination with the government," said Dayan, who was previously a hi-tech businessman and then a teacher at the Ariel University Center of Samaria. But make no mistake, he said - "all of us know very well also how to handle confrontation." While it was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who announced the moratorium last week as a gesture to the Palestinians, most settlers have blamed Barak for the steps he then took to impose arguably the most dramatic limitations on Jewish West Bank construction in the history of the settlement movement. Most of them have refused to meet with Barak, but they did sit down with Netanyahu on Thursday morning. Among other things, the injunctions that Barak hastily handed out to settler leaders, in some cases right before the start of Shabbat last week, stripped them of their power to hand out construction permits all together. Barak has taken people with whom the government could have worked, people who love the law, the land and Zionism, and he has pushed them into the opposition camp, said Schneller. There is now broad consensus among settler leaders who had previously been divided over the best path to preserve their communities' future, he added. In Kiryat Arba, long-time settler activist Boaz Ha'etzni made the same observation. With that in mind, the moratorium has in a way strengthened the fight to preserve Judea and Samaria, Ha'etzni said. To make his point, he drew an analogy between the government's push for a Palestinian state and the process of cooking lobster. Place the lobster in the pot while the water is cold, and warm it up slowly, he said; the lobster will notice the danger only when it is too late to move. But place the lobster suddenly in a hot pot of water, and it will immediately crawl out. This, in effect, is what the government has done, he explained: By moving too harshly, too fast, it has galvanized the kind of opposition that might have been reserved for an actual withdrawal. The moratorium serves as a wake-up call, he said, enabling opponents to mobilize and prevent such a withdrawal. "They acted too early, and that is very convenient for us," he said. Palestinians and left-wing activists have denounced Netanyahu's decision to halt new construction projects as a semantic game, because he has allowed work to continue on some 3,000 new homes already underway in West Bank communities. Indeed, both Barak and Netanyahu bent over backward in the last week to assure settlers that nothing had changed. Netanyahu said in public statements that after 10 months, previous building policies would resume. Barak assured the two settler leaders who deigned to meet with him that the settlement blocs would be an integral part of Israel in any future negotiations with the Palestinians. Settlers have dismissed their words as insignificant. Efrat Council head Oded Ravivi said it was possible that the two leaders might not even recognize the full impact of their actions. But the significance has not been lost on Ravivi, who joined the settler leaders Wednesday in a defiant gesture that involved laying the cornerstone of a new synagogue in his settlement. "For the first time, the legitimacy of the settlements is being undermined," said Ravivi. "There has never been a government that came out with such a declaration." He is well aware how a temporary gesture can quickly become a permanent one. "Once you do it, you cannot do it temporarily," he said. But in spite of the large white sign draped across the entryway to his settlement, stating, "No entrance to Bibi's inspectors," he does not intend to shut the gates on them. "I do not have the right or the ability to do that," he said. Nor, he added, was it effective. Fighting with the IDF and the police wouldn't lead to anything, Ravivi said. He believed that protests, legal action and political lobbying were a better means. "It is going to be a long and tiring battle," he said.

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