Gush Etzion rallies in last-ditch effort against fence

Gush Etzion settlers vowed to block bulldozers with their bodies as part of a campaign against construction of the security fence there, due to begin in the next few days. Many settlers are angry that some communities, such as Nokdim, Tekoa and Karmei Tzur, will be left stranded on the eastern side of the barrier, increasing the likelihood that they will be evacuated in a final settlement with the Palestinians. Others, like Nadia Matar of Women in Green, oppose the fence on principle. "I call it a Berlin Wall," she said, arguing that it divides the Land of Israel. "Whatever route it takes, it will be a bad one." But her goal is to close the ranks with those who, buoyed by official meetings, thought the Gush Etzion Regional Council could reach a compromise with the government. "The fence is a strategic mistake," said Shaul Goldstein, Gush Etzion Regional Council head. Despite this, however, he is prepared to accept the government's decision. "With the exception of one section, we can live with the proposed route," he said. Matar was set Friday morning to lead a tour of the proposed, 60-kilometer route of the security fence in Gush Etzion to show settlers how they had been "tricked." "It's one thing to see the route on a map," said Chaim Makovsky, an activist from the settlement of Neveh Daniel. "But it's another thing to see what it looks like in the field." Ironically, the barrier was originally supposed to include all of Gush Etzion, but the local regional council opposed the idea of being cut off from more far-flung settlements like Kiryat Arba. Then, in June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that 30 kilometers had to be rerouted to better accommodate the needs of Palestinians. The result was even less favorable to the settlers than if they had just gone along with the original plan. "I blame the settler leadership," said Marc Luria, a spokesman for Tafnit, the political successor to the now-defunct Security Fence for Israel group. "The fence could have been built already." The delays cost lives in suicide attacks within the Green Line, said Luria. By contrast, Matar argued that Sunday's suicide bombing in Netanya proved that a partially built fence does not work. "The only way to prevent terrorism is by the IDF taking control of cities now under the [Palestinian Authority]." Palestinians are already lifted over the fence by contractors with cranes or go through gates with only cursory vehicle inspections, said Makovsky. Matar said that Gush Eztion settlers planned to be more aggressive in their protests than their counterparts from Gush Katif. "The campaign of love and turning the other cheek is over," she promised. The Defense Ministry said it hoped protesters "won't interfere with the construction, which is intended to provide security and defense to the dwellers of the Gush," according to a spokeswoman.