JERUSALEM (Jul. 8)
They are young, determined, stubborn and self-styled pioneering Zionists, living in trailers on isolated West Bank hills.
The Israeli left calls them obstacles to peace. They call themselves obstacles to war.
“Yes, I am crazy,” says Ayal Hanneman, a husband and father of five in the Yair outpost in the southern Hebron mountains.
“Abraham was crazy. God told him to sacrifice his only son, and he started to do so because he believed in God. So I am doing what Abraham would do today, settling the land.”
The Yair outpost is one of 20 tiny communities that Israeli settlers have set up in the past year and that Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has ordered dismantled.
The West Bank Regional Council, known as Yesha, and Ben-Eliezer reached a compromise last week to dismantle 11 of the outposts immediately, following Labor Party accusations that they were purposefully trying to aggravate Arab neighbors by settling nearby.
Critics also claim the settlements are illegal.
Tzachi Shevach, 26, moved with two other young men a year ago to the Asa-El outpost adjacent to the Yatir Forest.
“I always wanted to move to a place like this. It is a place I can build,” says Shevach, who grew up in a moshav near Netanya.
“I like the quiet and the view. In the beginning, we lived under the water tower until the trailers came.”
The Southern Hebron Hills regional council provides the residents with a generator and water.
The Asa-El settlers are not Orthodox. “I was educated with Zionism and settlement,” Shevach says.
“Every outpost means continuous communities. These places strengthen security also within the Green Line,” he says, referring to the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.
The Yesha regional council publicly has claimed victory in the compromise to evacuate 11 outposts, most of them unpopulated or only on the drawing boards.
A spokesman for the defense minister told JTA that all of the outposts will be evacuated but gave no timetable.
He refused to comment on whether the outposts are obstacles to peace or to war, saying that the defense minister “does not relate to the issue from a political standpoint.”
He said that Ben-Eliezer’s opposition to them is based on military considerations and that evacuation prevents danger to the settlers.
Asa-El has refused to let the army send solders to guard them, in contrast to other places where settlers’ presence demands more army manpower.
Three soldiers are stationed at the Yair outpost, for example, where Hanneman lives along with another two families.
But at Asa-El, Shevach says, “All of us were soldiers. We are independent and take care of ourselves. There is always one person here. We are not afraid but not apathetic.
“We know where we are. And we are growing. A young couple is scheduled to move here next week.”
Anar Apirion, 23, lives with five other young men and one woman, all Orthodox, on the Avigail outpost between Hebron and Arad.
Apirion, who grew up in the Kedumim settlement in the West Bank area known as Shomron, notes that his hometown was once a tiny outpost, but now has 700 families.
“I feel I am doing something and strengthening the land,” he says. “Every place in Israel is dangerous, and we are making it safer.
“I love the quiet,” he adds, looking out on the barren and windy vista southeast of Hebron.
He says he is not taking away land from the Arabs. “They can live on their lands but under our government. We are on government land.”
The community grows wheat and raises goats and chickens. They also make and deliver pizza to the local communities and soldiers. Several of them also work nearby.
There are two trailers for the men.
The woman, Adi Lemberger, 22, from Efrat, lives in an old bus converted to a trailer.
“I came here by coincidence, visiting friends. I fell in love with the place,” says Lemberger, whose family emigrated from the United States. She, like her friends, doesn’t think the outposts are against the law.
Ben-Eliezer’s spokesman said the outposts are illegal in the sense that the government has not authorized them.
“I am not a criminal,” Apirion says. “It is not against the law for a Jew to live where he wants to in Israel.”
Despite their commitment, the outpost residents say they wouldn’t confront the army if Ben-Eliezer evacuates them.
“I don’t believe it will happen,” says Apirion. “I wouldn’t help them, but I wouldn’t argue with a solider.”
Besides, the settlers believe that time is on their side.
Despite Ben-Eliezer’s promise, which was made just before a Labor Party convention, they believe they have de facto status, exactly like the original settlements like Ofra in the West Bank.
That, too, started as a lonely outpost with four families without government authorization. Today it has 600 families.
Shevach says there have been no incidents with Arabs since he and his friends moved to Asa-El last year.
“Before we came, the Arabs threw stones at cars. Since we have been here, nothing has happened because we can see everything from the hill,” he says. “Our presence prevents problems.”