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Israeli settlers grow more militant

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JERUSALEM, June 19 (JTA) — After a period of relative quiet, settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are gearing up for what they describe as the “final battle for our home.”

And as happened five years ago before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the extremist fringe of the settler movement is making statements that can well be interpreted as threats on the premier’s life.

The settler protests are growing as their fears increase that an agreement with the Palestinians is nearing — one that will require them to give up their homes when Israel gives up additional lands to the Palestinians and the final boundary lines are drawn.

Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who is leading the Israeli negotiating team, predicted this week that an agreement would be reached “within the next two weeks.”

The settlers, for their part, do not want to wait until that happens.

In Jerusalem on Monday, thousands of Jewish settlers converged on the Knesset to protest any further territorial concessions and what they say are government plans to abandon settlements.

Many of the demonstrators were youths who were bused in after Jewish settlements declared a school strike as part of the protest.

“It’s impossible for decisions of abandoning or uprooting families to be passed without an outcry,” said Yehudit Tayar, a spokeswoman for the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“It’s only moral and right that our children, our elderly and us, come out” to protest.

Those opposed to a peace deal with the Palestinians this week distributed tens of thousands of CD-ROMs titled, “How Much Is Your Life Worth?”

The diskettes include graphics depicting the potential threat of a future Palestinian state to Israel’s security, as well as accusations that Palestinians derive their propaganda from Nazi sources.

Militant rabbis are also weighing in.

As they did in 1995, they issued statements that giving up any portion of the Land of Israel is contrary to Jewish law.

After Palestinian violence erupted in the territories last month, settler groups set up a protest tent in front of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s residence in Jerusalem. Since then, demonstrators have appeared there on a daily basis, and many seem to be in a competition for developing the most inflammatory rhetoric.

Benny Katzover, one of the more radical settler leaders, this week called Education Minister Yossi Sarid of the dovish Meretz Party “an executioner among executioners,” because he is “ready to transfer tens of thousands of Jews to the enlightened regime of his excellency Yasser Arafat.”

He was referring to the possibility that some West Bank settlements would become part of the self-rule areas.

Katzover also suggested that protesters not stick to the “law book” in their demonstrations.

Many recent statements recalled the atmosphere of incitement that preceded the Rabin assassination.

For example, Rabbi Daniel Shilo of Kedumim reiterated recently that “the transfer of parts of Eretz Yisrael amounts to treason.”

Similarly, Shimon Riklin, leader of a group of young, militant settlers, recently warned: “If Barak evacuates settlements, he might be murdered.”

Carmi Gillon, head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, recently warned against such statements, saying the possibility of their leading to violence should not be underestimated.

He drew parallels to the activities in 1982 of the Jewish underground, which was uncovered just as it was about to blow up mosques on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Perhaps the biggest concern prompted by the heated rhetoric is that it will prompt another Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin, to try to change the course of history.

Right-wing fanatics have been known to celebrate on Nov. 4, the anniversary of Rabin’s murder, and threatening letters arrive regularly at the premier’s office.

An anonymous letter, recently sent to Moledet Knesset Member Benny Elon, read, “To the best of my judgment, one should prepare a shelf plan to assassinate Ehud Barak. Just like the Oslo Accord process was slowed down after the annihilation of Yitzhak Rabin, one can prevent withdrawal in the Golan by annihilating Ehud Barak.”

A recent poll commissioned by the Israeli daily Ma’ariv indicated that 46 percent of Israelis believe there is a real danger that another premier will be murdered.

Settler preparations for the “final battle” are strongest in the areas where radicalism is usually most pronounced — Hebron, Beit-El and Kedumim.

Significantly, anti-government activities are at a lower volume in areas like Gush Etzion and Ariel — areas that Israel has no intention of conceding.

Sources in the Shin Bet have stated time and again that ever since Rabin’s murder they have worked under the assumption that another political assassination is possible.

For their part, moderate settler leaders maintain that their camp will not be responsible for any violence.

In their view, Barak is to be blamed for deliberately creating an atmosphere of civil unrest to recruit public opinion against the settlers.

They add, however, that they will not add to this atmosphere.

Shlomo Filber, director general of the Yesha Council, said settlers should avoid illegal activities because this would only play into the hands of those wanting to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Similarly, Rabbi Zalman Melamed of Yesha’s rabbinical council last week urged protesters not to use violence, either physical or verbal.

“Even if, God forbid, we will be shot at, we shall not return the fire. We will be ready to be hurt, but we shall not hurt.”

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