Behind the Headlines: Settlers in the Jericho Region Are Angry, Worried About Future

The “Gaza-Jericho” peace plan has stunned residents of Jewish settlements in the Jericho region, who are angry about the surprise agreement with the Palestinians and worried about their own future.

They are afraid of the unknown — fearful that Israel will ultimately withdraw from the region and leave them behind to fend for themselves.

In this mountaintop community nine miles from Jericho, the news is only now beginning to sink in. While a few residents have joined protest demonstrations in Jerusalem, most are still debating how best to deal with the situation.

Established in 1977, Mitzpe Jericho is a nonagricultural settlement of religious Zionists, numbering about 125 families. Many of the adults work in Jerusalem, a 35-minute drive from the heart of Jericho. The rest work in nearby settlements.

“We were really shocked when we heard Jericho was part of the peace agreement,” said Jerry Boaz, the settlement’s security chief. “I think we’re just starting to realize the enormity of the situation.”

The settlers’ first priority, he said, is to learn exactly what the plan entails. “Will only Jericho be affected, or will the surrounding areas be affected as well? I’ve heard rumors that the plan could encompass territory right up to Jerusalem,” he said.

“As disturbed as we are by the peace proposal, what really hurts is the way it was formulated,” Boaz said. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “pushed through the plan without our knowledge.”

“I’m not just talking about the people who live in the territories,” he continued. “It came as a big shock to all Israelis, regardless of where they live. How could this be done without the vote of the people?”

Ruti Klein, a resident of Mitzpe Jericho for the past 14 years, was equally surprised by the peace proposal.

“To put it simply, I was shocked,” said the mother of five. “People always spoke about giving back Gaza, so I was prepared for that. Rabin gave a lot of attention to the Golan. But in the end, it was Jericho he was discussing under the table.”

FEELS ‘CHEATED BY THE SUBTERFUGE’

Klein said she feels “cheated by the subterfuge. The least the government could have done was inform us ahead of time.”

While she cannot foresee a time when Jewish settlers will be physically forced to leave the West Bank, as was the case at the Sinai settlement of Yamit, “I’m afraid that living here will become so dangerous, so difficult that we will have to leave.”

By way of example, she recalled how as a teen-ager she used to walk to the Western Wall every Saturday night. “I used to feel so safe going to the Kotel, but now I’m afraid to go there at night. No one has told me I can’t go, but it’s dangerous, so the result is the same.”

She has not yet decided on a course of action, but stressed, “I don’t see any of us taking up arms against other Jews. That is our red line. Of course, I can’t say how we’ll react if the government comes and forces us out.”

“This is our land,” she said. “If that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.”

The members of Vered Jericho, a secular settlement two miles from Jericho, are equally dismayed by the proposed autonomy plan.

Established in 1979, the settlement now has 35 families. Many of the settlers work the land, while others commute to Jerusalem or nearby settlements.

Miriam Sarid, who has lived at the settlement for 11 years, said she moved to the West Bank for a variety of reasons, not all of them ideological.

“We were looking for a place within easy commuting distance to Jerusalem, where we could afford to buy a house with a garden,” she said. “My husband, Motti, wanted to try his hand at growing grapes, and the area was perfect.

“We also wanted to live in a place where we would make a difference to the security of the State of Israel,” she added. “I feel we are doing that.”

Sarid said she is worried about what the future will bring. “Some nitty-gritty issues have to be worked out, and fast,” she said.

“If this area is under Palestinian autonomy, where will I shop? Will I need a visa every time I want to go to Jerusalem? Where will my children go to school? What happens if there’s an accident on the road? Who do I call, the Israelis or the Palestinians?”

Whether she and her family will remain is uncertain. “I don’t see myself as a Jew living under Jordanian rule,” she said, referring to the possibility of an eventual Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in the West Bank.

She added: “I guess we’ll decide when the time comes.”

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