'I believe in one law, the law of God'

As Mitchell tells Netanyahu to end construction, settlers make themselves at home at new outposts across W. Bank.

settler protest 248.88 (photo credit: )
settler protest 248.88
(photo credit: )
Even before her new wooden house was built at a fledgling illegal outpost outside the Kiryat Arba settlement, Zavia Davis on Tuesday brought a small purple plastic bathtub to the site, called Mitzpe Avihai. As her daughter Nahala, three, sat in its shallow water, dressed in a white top and a bathing suit bottom, teens carried plywood slabs to a nearby area where a cement foundation for the home had been laid. On Tuesday, the young family joined hundreds of teens and young adults who fanned out across 11 protest sites throughout the West Bank, where settlers had set up or were setting up fledgling outposts. They hammered away at temporary structures, even as US envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to demand a cessation of Jewish building in the West Bank. "What is important is that on this day, people were out building in Judea and Samaria," former Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss, who helped organize the event on behalf of the Land of Israel Faithful, said from another hilltop outpost. The Americans would do better to worry about their occupation of Iraq than to focus their energies on depriving Jews of their legitimate right to build in their homeland, Davis told the small group of reporters who had joined the settlers on the hilltop. Tuesday was not the first time Davis and her husband Arye had tried to set up a new home on this hilltop. A month ago, they made it for three days in a wooden structure at the same site before security forces destroyed it. Now, as she looked at the remnants of that first structure, which were strewn around the newly built stack of plywood, she said, "It's sad that we have to fight this fight." Holding her eight-month-old daughter Kana in her arms, Davis said she had moved to Kiryat Arba when she was four and had come out to the same hilltop to play. "I grew up here, and this is my home," she said. Davis is not the only resident of the site. For the last six months, half a dozen teens have camped out there. They've built a number of structures, most of which have been destroyed by security forces. Sitting on an old sofa in a shack made of plastic and tin siding and plywood, Tzur Natan Durani, 17, had to pause to count before stating that security forces had come seven times in the middle of the night to destroy their homes. Sometimes the soldiers and Border Police also hit them, said Durani, who wore a large light brown skullcap and sported long, brown sidelocks. But they haven't arrested or removed any of the teens from the hilltop, he said. "We return five minutes after they leave," said Durani, smiling at their success in staying put. But not all their interactions with the IDF and Border Police have been negative. On Tuesday, a number of teens who lounged on old sofas outside their hut joked with an IDF officer who sat in a nearby armored van. A native of the Nokdim settlement, Durani said he had first come to Kiryat Arba to study in a yeshiva high school and had been inspired for ideological reasons to help the settlement stake a claim to the hilltop area located up a dirt path outside its security fence. "We saw that Palestinians wanted to get a hold of this hilltop, so we decided to come here," he said. They have not feared the absence of security or the close proximity of Palestinian homes to their encampment. "God is watching over us," said Durani. The teens, he said, wake up early in the morning and spend their days studying and tending to a small herd of goats they keep. Electricity is hard to come by, because they run a generator only at night. For food, they depend heavily on Kiryat Arba residents who prepare meals for them. This afternoon they were given a large rice dish. "It doesn't look like much, but it's good," said another teen, Yair Pelus, who had come to visit from a similar site outside of the Elazar settlement in Gush Etzion. They had placed the pot over a gas burner set up in one corner of the shed. Most of the structure was taken up with mattresses, sofas and even an old car seat, all of which they use for sleeping at night. As a joke, they have placed a poster of Yasser Arafat on the wall. Sometimes, when they are bored, said Durani, they scribble graffiti on the plastic siding as well. Outside they have created a seating area with a library, made up mostly of religious texts. Durani said his favorite book there was by a rabbi who had been killed in the Holocaust and who spoke of the importance of the land of Israel to the Jewish people. He added that he believed that his simple life on the hilltop would help preserve that land. What is important, he said, is not what Mitchell told Netanyahu, but what they are doing in Mitzpe Avihai, which is changing the facts on the ground. He also dismissed as insignificant that his attempts to build on the hilltop were illegal under Israeli law. "I believe in one law, the law of God," he said. Outside of Mitzpe Avihai, according to Weiss, activists gathered on Tuesday to build two new structures at Nofe Yarden, outside the Shilo settlement; in Oz Yonatan, outside of Kochav Ya'acov; and in Sela, near Har Bracha. At Givat He'egoz, outside of Talmon, some 300 people gathered to build a wooden structure, according to Weiss. But not all the fledgling outpost sites were active on Tuesday. Outside of Sussiya, one encampment that had a newly built one-room structure, as well as a couple of huts made from dried palm branches, was empty. A number of large signs littered the path up to the brown dirt hilltop. One said, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one." Then it added it smaller letters, "Don't let the world confuse you." On the road outside the settlements, someone had drawn black graffiti on a small stone cliff, stating in English: "We will never leave our land. Free Palestine."