We don't want to wait, some settlers say

Like many of the 7,000 people here, Beni Raz did not come to Karnei Shomron for ideological reasons. Having grown up on a kibbutz and then having four children, he wanted to live in a small community, with space so that his family could have "a good life." So in 1993, during a time when "we went to Kalkilya on Shabbat to eat humous," Raz moved his family to this West Bank settlement about 10 km, west of Nablus, thinking a coming peace would allow him to stay for the remainder of his days. Thirteen years later, he is desperate to leave. "I'm looking 100 meters ahead, and I see this won't be a part of the country," Raz said. "We're saying, 'We don't want to wait, let's go now.'" The we is Bayit Ehad (One Home), a movement Raz started a few months before disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which is stepping up its efforts to convince the government to pay compensation to West Bank settlers who want to return across the Green Line now rather than wait until, presumably, they are forced out in a further withdrawal. Bayit Ehad is being joined in its efforts by MKs from both Labor and Meretz, who say they will sponsor legislation in the next Knesset which would help them leave. In the plans of top Kadima politicians, as well as the route of the security fence, Karnei Shomron would remain under Israeli control for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, Raz said the fence and the larger, more hi-tech checkpoints the army is constructing around its perimeter are the writing on the wall for settlements like his. Since the international community would never agree to Israel keeping settlements deep inside the West Bank, he said, settlers like him would rather get on with their lives than wait for an inevitable day when they were evicted. According to an informal survey by Bayit Ehad and the Labor Party, those settlers make up at least half of approximately 80,000 secular Israelis living in the West Bank. "We don't want to be a card for the government to play in negotiations," Raz said. "Most of us are not ideologues. We just came here for a good life, and we're very happy to have it somewhere else." Despite claims of popular support, Raz said he lost his job at the local council because of hard-line elements who wanted to send a warning message to the community that breaking ranks and trying to leave would not be tolerated. It is such people that MK Colette Avital (Labor) is trying to help. As she watched the Gaza withdrawal unfold, she decided to assist those settlers who tried to leave peacefully, but were stopped due to intimidation by their neighbors. "For a very long time I have believed there has to be a solution. The intimidation against those who, we knew, wanted to leave the settlements of Gush Katif and were not allowed to made us understand that we had to bring the solution to those who wanted it," said Avital, who works with Bayit Ehad. "We needed to see some sort of alternative, so that those who want to leave can." In the next Knesset, Avital plans to introduce legislation providing the compensation Bayit Ehad is looking for with the stipulation that settlers move to pre-1967 Israel. The law would also make the vacated home the property of the government, preventing new families from moving in. Avital noted that Labor, which has clearly stated its intent to withdraw from settlements in the West Bank, has seen its support grow there as it has taken on the banner of settler compensation. The terms of Avital's plan suit Bayit Ehad, and Raz in particular, who said he was happy to resettle in the Negev or Galilee, given the proper funding and opportunities to build a new home and find a new job. "We want to build our future; all we want to know is where," he said.