Israeli Officials, Jewish Settlers Gearing Up for Wave of Soviet Jews

Israelis are eagerly anticipating a flood of immigrants from the Soviet Union, none more so than Gush Emunim activists who hope to settle as many as possible in the West Bank.

Optimism has soared as a result of the liberalization of Soviet emigration policy. Since the beginning of the year, nearly 42.000 Jews have left the Soviet Union, and more than 5,000 of them have come to Israel.

While nearly 90 percent of the Soviet emigres still opt to go to the United States, that is expected to change soon because of new American visa policies.

Since Sunday, Soviet Jews and others desiring to settle in the United States have had to apply directly to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for visas.

The United States has placed a ceiling of 50,000 on the number of Soviet Jews it will admit as refugees in the next 12 months. But up to 300,000 are expected to apply for those slots.

Assuming that the large-scale exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union will continue, and with more restrictive American immigration policies in place, Israelis expect 100,000 Jews will come here from the Soviet Union over the next three years.

While that would be the culmination of more than 20 years of aliyah activism here and abroad, it poses severe economic challenges.

The Cabinet, which held its regular weekly meeting Tuesday instead of Sunday because of Rosh Hashanah, took up the delicate subject of financing the absorption of so many newcomers in a relatively short period of time.

The Jewish Agency for Israel estimates it will cost Israel $3 billion to resettle an estimated 100,000 Soviet Jews expected to arrive here in the next three to five years.

Finance Minister Shimon Peres hopes to raise $500 million from Diaspora Jewry to cover the immediate absorption of Soviet Jews. Another half-billion would come from private loans backed by the United States. The remaining $2 billion would be raised in Israel.

But Peres told the Cabinet he did not support the idea of imposing an absorption tax on Israelis to fund that $2 billion.

30 NEW FAMILIES IN ARIEL

Likud Knesset member Michael Kleiner also emphatically rejected new taxes for absorption. “One should not allow immigration to become a bandwagon to impose more taxes,” he said.

Kleiner demanded that the government immediately establish a national absorption authority, headed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, to prepare within a month a “national emergency plan” for the absorption of Soviet Jews.

The financial constraints are not an issue for the militant Gush Emunim settlers movement. They are hoping that, whatever the cost, a large number of Soviet Jews expected to arrive in Israel will be persuaded to settle in the West Bank.

Gush Emunim activists are touring absorption centers all over the country trying to persuade Soviet immigrants already in Israel to settle across the “Green Line,” the demarcation line between pre-1967 Israel and the territories it administers.

They are taking immigrants on tours of Jewish settlements. Several dozen families have moved to the West Bank in the last few months.

Ariel, the largest Jewish town in the West Bank, has absorbed 30 immigrant families since the beginning of the year. They joined 40 Soviet families already living there.

Naomi Safir, one of the Gush Emunim activists dealing with immigrants, said Tuesday that the movement has been in touch with potential immigrants still in the Soviet Union. “Some of our residents have sent them gifts, such as books,” she said.

There are about 50 empty apartments awaiting immigrants in Kiryat Arba, the Jewish township adjacent to Hebron. So far, 15 Soviet families have settled in the town, among them former refusenik Yosef Begun.

150 EMPTY APARTMENTS

The municipality renovated a building to serve as an absorption center, where the immigrants will live and study Hebrew. After nine months, they will get permanent housing.

Mayor Shalom Wach of Kiryat Arba expects an additional 50 families will have settled there by next Rosh Hashanah.

These activists are anxious to increase the Jewish presence in the territories in the face of the Palestinian uprising, which has slowed down settlement activity.

As a spur, the Ministry of Construction and Housing has offered special mortgages to potential settlers in the western Samaria region. The ministry, headed by David Levy, a Herut hard-liner, went ahead with the program despite a veto by the Finance Ministry.

According to figures supplied by Amana, Gush Emunim’s settlement division, there are 150 empty apartments throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip ready for occupation by immigrants.

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