Settlers: We are protecting the peace

Givat Asaf secretary: If you take us out of here, Israel will be in danger.

maoz esther outpost 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
maoz esther outpost 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
As US President Barack Obama called in his address in Cairo Thursday afternoon to end settlement construction, Benny Gal, secretary of the unauthorized Givat Asaf outpost, was busy giving his own speech. "The issue isn't Givat Asaf, nor is it about outposts or settlements," Gal said as he stood near his home in the hilltop community on the eastern outskirts of Ramallah, holding his young daughter in his arms. "This is about Israel, and if you take us out of here, it's Israel that will be in danger. The dismantling of one outpost is a huge boost for terrorism, and it's a windfall for those who seek to destroy us." He was of course addressing recent US demands to freeze settlement expansion and uproot unauthorized outposts such as Givat Asaf. As he spoke, gazing through the mid-afternoon glare at the nearby Palestinian village of Deir Dibwan, some 300 km. away, Obama was making a very different case, and speaking, in some sense, about him. "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's," the US president said at Cairo University. "It is time for these settlements to stop." Such statements are rejected out of hand by residents here, who view the increase in American pressure as misguided and ill-informed. "I think it's symptomatic of Western thought," Gal said. "They read so deeply into a situation that in reality, is quite simple. We're the Jewish people and this is our home, and the Arabs are not going to stop attacking us if we leave Givat Asaf. If Israel pulls back from the settlements, Ben-Gurion Airport will become the next target. You have to ask yourself, what could we possibly gain from another disengagement?" Gal's and Obama's words come at a time of high tension in the area, as 26 unauthorized outposts - Givat Asaf included - have been slated for destruction by the government, and the residents of this cluster of nearly two-dozen corrugated steel caravans - erected and named for Ofra resident Asaf Hershkovitz, 30, a father of two who was murdered by Hamas terrorists as he drove to work on the nearby road on May 1, 2001 - are well aware of it. "We know all about the government's plan, and we're prepared to oppose it," said one of the young men who studies in the outpost's small beit midrash. "But that's in principle. On an everyday basis, we just keep living our lives." And according to the residents, that means a quiet, seemingly-mundane existence. "There's 20 families that live here, and 100 kids between them," Gal said. "On a day-to-day basis, that's what our life revolves around, family, our children and Torah. On that level, we're not doing anything so monumental, but if you step back and look at it, our presence here is safeguarding the rest of the country." But therein lies the root of contention between Gal's stream of thought and that of President Obama. While many Jewish residents of the West Bank see themselves as an insurance policy for peace, the US administration views them as the direct opposite. "But that's not a new phenomenon," Gal said. "When [prime minister] Menachem Begin proposed an attack on Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in 1981, the Americans were firmly opposed to it. But Begin went through with it, and when it was all said and done, that decision came to be a source of warmth between the two countries." That said, Gal and the other residents of Givat Asaf worry about the impending destruction of their home. "We know it's there, but we're not worried about it," he said. Still, as the day drew on, and a group of soldiers stopped at the junction below to wait for their next ride, the teens inside the outpost's beit midrash came outside to watch them. "What are they doing here?" one of the young men asked. "I don't know," said another, betraying a slight unease. "I think they're just passing through."