Expelled settlers replant Zionist dream in West Bank
In the barren, rocky landscape of the West Bank in the northern Jordan Valley, Yossi Hazut and his family, expelled from Israeli settlements in Gaza, dream of reconstructing their Zionist dream.
Last week, the Israeli government approved this site at Maskiot, a former military base, to become the first new Israeli settlement to be authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1992.
Hazut and his comrades are hoping to soon see 30 new houses rise up on the arid slopes of the Samaria hills.
The 27-year-old, with fire in his eyes, brushes off international condemnation of the Israeli government’s green light for the construction of the new settlement.
“This is Israeli land,” he says, eating soup. “The Jordan Valley, this is our security belt. It is of utmost importance for the people of Israel that we be here.”
For 10 months, Hazut and more than a dozen other families who were uprooted from Israel’s settlement of Shirat Hayam in the Gaza Strip in September 2005 have camped out in a mobile home in the neighbouring settlement of Hemdat, on a hilltop overlooking the majestic Jordan Valley.
During the Gaza pullout, these families lived through the pain of being forced from their homes. But when it was time to choose a new place to settle, they again opted to lay roots in occupied territory that could one day potentially become part of a Palestinian state should a global peace deal finally be reached.
“We went the see the settlements in the Galilee, in the Golan and then Maskiot,” he says. “We voted and Maskiot was chosen.”
“Our approach is Zionist and political. Our mission is here.”
If Israeli government construction of the new pre-fabricated homes in Maskiot begins before the end of January as Hazut hopes, they will take several months to be finished. Hazut plans to surround the houses with date palms and grapevines.
If it sees the light of day, the new settlement will be next to a base built by the Israeli army in Maskiot in 1982, which was transformed three years ago into a “Pre-Military Torah Institute”, which prepares 45 young religious Jews for service in the Israeli army.
The programme includes 12 to 18 months of physical training, weapons handling, and courses in the Torah, Jewish culture and Israeli military history.
Rabbi Shlomo Azuelos (48) directs the institute.
“The coming of the settlers will provide needed vital fresh air to this region,” he says.
“Here, we have a pioneer, Zionist spirit. To make the arid hills fertile. Be here where we are needed, and not where it is pleasant to be.”
The modest white buildings of the institute stand on terraces of red earth, connected by rocky paths, between shrubs and flowers. On the side, there is a small enclosure for donkeys and two camels.
On the wall of the refectory hang photos of students lying on their stomachs firing M-16 assault rifles, on patrols in the desert, playing paint-ball, or beaming in swimsuits under a waterfall.
Shai Eigner (19) is one of them. Five years ago, he was waiting for his school bus when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up 3m from him. His right arm was partially ripped off, his hand decimated, his chest studded with shrapnel.
He was declared severely disabled and judged unfit for military duty by doctors. He is in Maskiot to prepare for new tests and to “manage to enter a combat unit”.
“A colony must be established here,” says the young man with a short beard and a serious stare.
“It’s up to us, just like throughout the land of Israel. We have to populate this region. Because if we are not here, the Arabs will come.”—AFP