The unlikeliest outpost protest spot

Until she surfed the Net, Moriya Halamesh didn't know that activists planned a protest Tuesday at the outpost of Ma'aleh Rehavam where she lives. "It's true," said a neighbor who stopped to visit the mother of two in her kitchen. "There's a demonstration here." Newspapers don't make it to the doorway of her small modular home perched on a hilltop some 15 kilometers as the crow flies from the Dead Sea. It is accessible only by a small narrow rocky road outside of the Nokdim settlement. Residents like Halamesh had barely heard that Defense Minister Amir Peretz had upheld the eviction orders for 12 unauthorized outposts, including theirs, last week. Neither did they know that Peace Now is heading to court on Wednesday to force the Defense Ministry to act on the order. While residents of the 25-member outpost built four and a half years ago were busy going about their daily lives, right-wing activists planned a tree-planting and torch-lighting protest at Ma'aleh Rehavam on Tuesday evening to coincide with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's expected first meeting with US President George W. Bush in Washington. "We are going to speak out against the evil intentions of Olmert's administration, which is solely operating under the guidance of [the left-wing activist group] Peace Now that wishes to eradicate many settlements," said Anita Finkelstein, who lives in the neighboring settlement of Tekoa. "We want to show everyone that this is our land and we will help build it," said Finkelstein. She is a member of two demonstration-sponsoring groups. Halamesh, who is due to give birth in a few weeks, said she was pleased that activists were fighting for her outpost. "We believe it can help if people make a lot of noise," said Halamesh. The more important the outpost seems to people, the more secure it is, she added. "A person in Tel Aviv hears the word 'outpost' and he doesn't think that they are talking about a home, where I am bringing up my children," said Halamesh, as she leaned over to wipe her small son's nose. Security is something she knows little about. She grew up with the underlying fear that the government would evacuate her Samarian settlement of Ateret. So the fact that an eviction order had already been signed for Ma'aleh Rehavam did not stop her from moving there last year for the peace and quiet of the sandy barren landscape and to be close to her husband's three brothers who already lived there. Her sister-in-law Limor said that the outpost itself differs from others in Judea and Samaria in that it was started by singles, some of whom, like her husband, have since married. It was named after the slain tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi. Moriya said that until the Gaza pullout she hadn't truly believed that the government would move against her mixed community of religious and secular residents. In the aftermath of Gaza she now considers it likely and yet she is placing her faith in God to prevent it from happening here. But what would happen at the outpost should soldiers arrive to take them away is hard to say, said Moriya. As she spoke, the afternoon sun streamed through her kitchen windows overlooking the Judean hills. Behind her a small kitten was curled up on a cloth by the stove. Limor, who moved to the outpost two years ago and can point to the spot where her wedding was held, said she had little say over the tactics chosen to protest any impending eviction. "The battle for Judea and Samaria belongs to everyone," said Limor. Moriya said she didn't know if an impending evacuation would look like Gush Katif, which passed relatively peacefully last summer, or like the demolition of nine homes in Amona in which more than 150 activists and 86 security personnel were wounded in violent clashes. While she doesn't approve of violence, Moriya said, she felt a deeper sense of connection because there teenagers fought hard against the demolition of the homes. "People kill each other over parking spaces, and here they were fighting for their homes," she said. Moriya and others at the outpost stand firm in their belief that they have a legal right to be there. Outpost secretary Drori Bar-Levav, who has been actively fighting on behalf of the community, said he had a long list of documents including rental agreements and authorization documents showing they had a right to be there. Peace Now spokesman Dror Etkes said that the state and the court clearly felt otherwise or they would not be looking to evacuate the outpost. Moriya said that her presence at the outpost went beyond the state and was authorized by God. The laws of the State of Israel are secondary to the laws of God, she said. "If the law told me to break Shabbat or to eat pork I wouldn't do it," she said. On her kitchen wall hangs a map of Greater Israel. Pointing to it, she showed how Israel today lives in only a portion of that land. The outpost's presence here is also defensive, Limor said. Since the outpost was built the children from Nokdim feel more comfortable coming here on their bicycles, said Limor. These are the last homes before the Dead Sea. "We watch over the nearby settlement, which watches over the next settlement and the next, which ultimately guards Jerusalem," she said.