'Today's Israel has reached a dead end'

Danny Halamish feels abandoned by Israel, with the government intending to dismantle his home in the wildcat Jewish outpost of Maale Rehavam in the heart of the occupied West Bank.

“Every day that passes makes my being Israeli less meaningful to me. I have to think twice before I say I’m Israeli,” says Halamish outside his caravan in what is one of dozens of unauthorised settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory, which Israel has occupied since 1967.

“It is clear that today’s Israel has reached a dead end and has no future,” the 35-year-old formerly observant Jew says.

The tiny outpost on the border of the Judean desert was co-founded by Drori Bar Levav, who named it after far-right Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi who was killed by Palestinians two weeks after the settlers arrived in October 2001.

With the new Israeli government in place and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declaring his first objective will be to dismantle wildcat settlements, everyone here fears that his or her home may be one of the first to go.

Israel is committed, under the internationally sponsored road-map peace plan, to dismantle all outposts built since March 2001, an issue that has tarnished relations between the Jewish state and the United States.

But Bar Levav refuses to accept the government’s decision, claiming Maale Rehavam was created with the blessing of then prime minister Ariel Sharon.

“We settled here with the approval of Arik Sharon who personally called us to say, ‘Congratulations. Be strong and brave,’” Bar Levav says.
“There is no law for our evacuation. There is only a promise by [Sharon’s aide] Dov Weissglas to [US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice to dismantle settlements built after March 2001.”

Settlement watchdog Peace Now says there are more than 100 unauthorised outposts across the West Bank, the vast majority built over the past five years.

But despite their looming eviction, residents in the caravan-dotted outpost are obviously striking deeper roots, planting vineyards near a newly paved road climbing up the bare hillside towards the outpost’s entrance.

Halamish knows the evacuation of his small outpost will be a mere precursor to the government’s more ambitious plan to uproot tens of thousands of settlers and redraw Israel’s borders in a bid to separate from the Palestinians.

“They want to take us down as a first step towards the dismantling of larger settlements. The government is now unequivocally against us,” he says.

Halamish’s sister-in-law, Moriah, who moved to Maale Rehavam together with her husband, is not bothered any longer by the thought of being evicted.

“We are not afraid of evacuation, which has been in the back of our minds for a long time. We are now fighting against the evacuation on the legal front and preparing for the next stages,” she says.

In any event, Bar Levav and the Halamishes are sure that even if the legal battle fails, they will not leave their homes. “Olmert now wants to kick us out with no compensation and he expects us not to resist?” Bar Levav says.

“We will fight like we did in Amona,” Moriah says, referring to the violent eviction of an unauthorised outpost last February where about 250 people were injured during clashes between police and right-wing activists.

“There will be more Amonas, and people will understand that the price is too high. But we hope things will not get there. But we will not go like lambs to the slaughter,” Bar Levav says.

But less than their looming evacuation, it was last summer’s uprooting of all 8 000 Jewish settlers who lived in the Gaza Strip that marked a watershed in Danny Halamish’s attitude towards the state.

“I did not disengage from Israel, Israel has disengaged from us. I haven’t changed,” he says with a sigh. “We do not accept the government’s decision. Who decides what happens here? Does Israel decide on everything? I don’t think so.

“The battle we have entered is not over geography but over identity—if they evacuate us and destroy everything, it means we lost the battle, but not the war,” for the historic return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.—AFP

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