Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Russian Immigrants on West Bank Have Little Patience for Peace Talks

July 7, 2000
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

“Yitzhak Rabin came to heaven and is knocking on the doors of Paradise.

“The angel tells him: `You are too late, my dear. There is no place, everything has already been handed over to the Palestinians.'”

This joke, popular among Russian Israeli settlers on the West Bank, reflects the growing fears among many in Israel’s largest immigrant community about the peace process.

Thousands of Russian-born Israelis, fearing Prime Minister Ehud Barak is prepared to make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians, demonstrated in Jerusalem this week.

These concerns among the roughly 1 million-strong community are being fanned by leading Russian politicians, including Cabinet member Natan Sharansky.

Avigdor Lieberman, a leader of the Israel, Our Home Party, which drew the bulk of the Russian settlers’ vote in the 1999 election, recently warned, “War is inevitable within a year.”

And the appearance in downtown Jerusalem of thousands of immigrants, who carried such signs as “This Peace Is Killing Us” and “Yes to Peace, No to Capitulation,” testifies that the movement has a strong base among the Russian grass roots.

“Our people in general can’t understand why Israel should surrender the land. When they hear of any territorial concession, the immediate question is, `What for? Why should we do that?” said Benny Briskin, who came to Israel from Moscow in the mid-1980s and is now the head of the Russian desk of the Yesha Council, a leading organization of Jewish settlers.

The hawkish views of Russian Israelis, within Israel proper as well as in the West Bank, can be traced to several factors — among them, a nationalistic Zionism borne out of reaction to the anti-Israel rhetoric they were bombarded with in the former Soviet Union.

“I think there is going to be a very serious deterioration of the situation as a result of the peace process, including clashes around the settlements with numerous victims. The Arabs are not going to stop,” said Alexander Averbuch, a Moscow-born mathematician who now edits a Russian-language newspaper in Russia.

Observers here agree that this drive to the right is spearheaded by Russian West Bank settlers who are spreading doomsday scenarios.

“Something should be done. Disaster is coming. Our doctor tried to stop it, he did not succeed,” said a 35-year-old bearded Russian settler who asked not to be identified.

The settler was referring to Baruch Goldstein, who opened fire inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in February 1994, killing 29 Palestinian worshipers.

Sergey Lugovskoy, a Russian-born immigrant who lives on the West Bank, is spreading the word to future Israelis.

“National disaster is taking place in Israel. I personally think that Jews have to be together even during the war, but you, people, when preparing to make aliyah, have to know that we are on the verge of a total war. Think and decide for yourself,” Lugovskoy recently told a group of potential emigres studying Hebrew in a Moscow classroom sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Lugovskoy, a veteran Jewish underground activist who lives in Kiryat Arba, was visiting Moscow.

His eldest son, Marc, a 19-year-old soldier in the Israeli army, believes that he and his father will likely be killed in an upcoming war because, he said, “Arabs will only want more.”

Other Russians, who constitute 20 percent of the roughly 220,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank, also foresee dangerous developments in the near future.

Even some of those who live in areas that are all but certain to remain within Israeli jurisdiction are concerned.

Despite gloomy forecasts, the Russian population in the West Bank is growing.

Some families who settled there because of low prices are selling their apartments, which keeps the real estate prices at a low level.

But others, more ideologically motivated, are taking their places.

Mikhail Galperin, who recently bought an apartment in Tekoa, a settlement that is all but certain to remain in Israel.

As he recently told his friends in Russia: “If there won’t be Tekoa, there won’t be Israel.”

But Galperin’s calm appeared to be the rule, not the exception, among Russian settlers on the West Bank.

The son of Irina Radunskaya, a pensioner living on the West Bank, recently returned to Russia with his family.

“I am not afraid, because the kids are away, but I have a feeling that any moment everything can collapse,” she said. “This state miraculously emerged as a miracle, and it could just as easily disappear.”

Recommended from JTA