Settler raises funds for community’s future


LOS ANGELES, March 18 (JTA) — Raphaella Segal acts like an enthusiastic booster from any small American town eager to lure new residents.

She carries a briefcase full of multi-colored brochures boasting of her community’s comfortable climate, panoramic views, affordable housing, fine schools, good public transportation and congenial atmosphere.

But then there’s the page listing some of the community’s current needs: 40 bullet-proof vests at $1,200 each, an armored ambulance at $150,000, two armored jeeps and emergency generators.

Segal is the representative of Kedumim, billed as “The First Jewish Settlement in Samaria.” She has come to the United States to enlist the ideological and financial support of Jews and Christians for her municipality, and, in a larger sense, for the Jewish settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

Many people, in Israel and abroad, see the 200,000-plus Jewish settlers as provocateurs whose presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — land that may one day become a Palestinian state — is an obstacle to peace.

For settlers and their supporters, however, the presence of Jews in areas that were the cradle of biblical Jewish civilization is perfectly natural, even divinely sanctioned.

Despite nearly half a year of violence in the West Bank and Gaza — including daily attacks on Jewish settlements and Israeli vehicles — Segal sought to assure listeners on her fundraising tour that life in Kedumim continues as usual.

Segal is a lively Orthodox woman who at 47 already has nine children and five grandchildren. When not on two-week tours of the United States — which she makes about five times a year — she works as an optometrist at a hospital in Petach Tikvah and runs a private eye clinic in Tel Aviv.

Accompanying her is Shosh Shilloh, assistant to the mayor of Kedumim, a former army lieutenant with a degree in ortho-optics. With only four children and a grandson, Shilloh lags behind the Kedumim average of five children per family, Segal points out with a smile.

Kedumim — literally, “ancient times” — was established over Hannukah 1975 by national religious Israelis. Many were alumni of B’nai Akivah youth groups and identified with the Gush Emunim, or “Bloc of the Faithful,” settlement movement.

Segal quickly explodes the stereotype that Orthodox women are homebodies subordinate to men, pointing out that a woman, Daniella Weiss, was elected mayor when Kedumim became a municipality eight years ago.

“She beat out five men in the election,” Segal says. “Her deputy is a woman, and so are the heads of many departments and schools.”

Located about 25 miles east of Tel Aviv and three miles west of Nablus, Kedumim is built on several hills, and on a clear day one can see the Mediterranean coastal plain. The settlement’s population of 3,500 lives in 10 linked neighborhoods.

Most residents are Orthodox. The community has separate elementary and high schools for boys and girls — and no mixed swimming in its pool — but, insists Segal, “we are not intolerant.”

Kedumim has absorbed 60 non-Orthodox Russian families and 10 Ethiopian families. An additional 100 Ethiopian girls study in the high school, “without government support,” Segal points out. There also are 50 French and five American families.

Segal ticks off other features of Kedumim: a special school for children with attention deficit disorders, a music school, senior citizens club, Holocaust research center, archaeological museum, industrial park, agricultural area, greenhouses, orchards and guest houses for tourists.

Many Israelis believe that most of the Jewish settlements will have to be abandoned in any final peace deal with the Palestinians — or even without one, according to the type of “unilateral separation” plan advanced by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his supporters on the left.

Yet Kedumim residents maintain a cheery optimism. Some 200 new homes are being built, and Segal says the community hopes to grow to 10,000 residents within five years.

So pleasant a place is Kedumim, Segal says, that — in contrast to many kibbutzim — most of the founders’ children and grandchildren stay put, building their own homes in new neighborhoods.

For all its idyllic-sounding features, however, Kedumim today is an embattled town that sees itself as the guardian of the Land of Israel against Palestinian terror and Israeli “appeasers.”

“Kedumim protects western Samaria” — the northern part of the West Bank — “from further Palestinian encroachment from the east,” one brochure notes. “To the south and east lie the small isolated settlements near Shechem,” the Hebrew name for Nablus.

“A strong Kedumim is their best chance for survival, as Palestinian territory and terrorism creep toward them,” the brochure states.

Segal conveys a pervasive sense that her town is the defender of true Zionism. Her sentences are studded with such phrases as, “we are doing the work of the Jewish people,” or “we feel the burden of history to stay here.”

Since the outbreak of Palestinian violence last September, Kedumim’s siege mentality has intensified. One resident, Rabbi Benjamin Herling, was killed in October when a group of settlers who had gone hiking near Nablus came under Palestinian gunfire.

“We constantly listen to the radio for news of new terrorist attacks,” Segal says. “Some people won’t travel at night. We are always on guard. Some kids are showing psychological problems.”

Shilloh relates that when her nine-year old daughter Ayelet gets in the family car, she immediately lies down and goes to sleep, and won’t get up until she reaches home.

Kedumim is flanked on two sides by Arab villages, whose residents still work in the settlement’s olive groves despite the violence, Segal says.

“We have no trouble with the local Arabs, though they no longer buy at our supermarket,” Segal says. “We don’t want to chase the Arabs out, but we should have never given Jericho and Gaza to them,” she says, referring to the first land transfers under the Oslo peace process.

Kedumim voters enthusiastically welcomed the election of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has visited the town on a number of occasions.

“He must take the gloves off in fighting Arab terrorism,” Segal declares.

As for the future, Segal predicts: “It will get worse in the short term, but better in the long run.”

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