Monday, September 17, 2007

'Settlers must move to save their lives'

The letter was peppered with strong language explaining the "life-threatening reality" that awaited her should she stay in the settlement she has lived in for the last 21 years. Anita Finkelstein almost tossed the personally addressed letter from the "One House" movement warning that her home in the Tekoa settlement would soon be in "trapped in hostile territory" because it is located on the Palestinian side of the security barrier.

"I almost threw it in the rubbish before I even opened it because it looked like an advertisement," Finkelstein told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
But because she wasn't sure, she opened the one-page letter that was sent over the last few weeks to 10,000 residents of Judea and Samaria living outside the fence's boundaries. The letter was peppered with strong language explaining the "life-threatening reality" that awaited her should she stay in the settlement she has lived in for the last 21 years.

"We have already learned that military power cannot promise security for those stuck within Palestinian sovereignty. The terror threat that hovers over the heads of thousands of families will only increase," said the letter.

It added that settlers' lives outside of the fence were at a greater risk because of the growing unrest in the Palestinian Authority.

Time was of the essence, the letter warned, because "work on the fence will be completed in a number of months but no solution has been found for the families that live outside of it," said the letter.

It then explained that One House was a non-partisan organization that worked to compensate those who want to leave the West Bank, but can't because their homes have no value on the market.

According to MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz), one of the group's leaders, One House polls show that some 50 percent of the close to 70,000 settlers living outside the security fence are interested in checking out the possibility of leaving.

A few hundred people out of the 2,000 that responded to the letter campaign asked for more information about voluntarily leaving, Vilan told the Post. He and MK Colette Avital (Labor) have already filed a bill in the Knesset to compensate those who want to go, and the Law Committee is scheduled to review it next week, Vilan said.
But settlers in Tekoa contacted by the Post said they threw the letter in the trash. Far from scaring Finkelstein, the letter angered her. She said it was inaccurate and did not properly identify the sender.

"It is an insult to anyone's intelligence, because they pretend they are not a political organization," said Finkelstein. She hadn't heard of One House.
The letter, which was unsigned and offered only a phone number to a messaging center, had no name or signatures attached to it, Finkelstein said.

So she looked One House up on the Internet, where the presence of Vilan's and Avital's name, along with the group's agenda, quickly led her to conclude what she had suspected from the start, that this was a left-wing organization.
It claims to be non-partisan, but there is no avoiding the political implications of gathering a list of names to convince the government that it must support people leaving Judea and Samaria, she said.

The argument One House provides is illogical, because one need only look at the Gaza withdrawal from 2005 to understand that those who planned early didn't fare any better then those who waited until the last moment, said Finkelstein.

Her settlement is growing, Finkelstein said, and property values are not dropping.

As one who opposes the fence, she added that she doesn't believe it offers security.
"What's to stop the Arabs on my side of the wall from [launching Kassams]," she asked. "I feel more concerned for my neighbors who will be hurt by what is going to be thrown over the wall."

Amiel Ungar, also of Tekoa, who didn't receive the letter but was shown it by one of his neighbors, said it was Vilan who should be nervous about safety since he lived on Kibbutz Negba, which is near Gaza.

"We should reciprocate and make an offer to them to come here," Ungar wryly suggested.
Finkelstein said she had been scared about the future of her home back in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed. Since then, she said, "I guess I have become numb."
If anything, Finkelstein added, she has been buoyed lately by the opening in the last few weeks of a new bypass road that cuts half-an-hour off of her trip from the East Talpiot suburb of Jerusalem to her home, so that trip which once took 40 minutes, now takes 10.

Finkelstein said she is feeling more connected rather then less. "It is wonderful," she added.
Shaul Goldstein, who heads the Gush Etzion regional council, said he was encouraged by the new road and dismissed the letter as hypocritical.
In any event, he added, he didn't believe the fence would be completed in his area for another two years. Only one quarter of the fence is completed in the Gush Etzion area. Some portions of it have been delayed by court cases, others by budget shortfalls or lack of finished plans, said Goldstein.

According to the Defense Ministry, only 56 percent, some 450 kilometers of the 790 kilometers that make up the total route, have been finished to date. There are some 26 High Court petitions still under review with respect to the fence, of which eight are in the Gush Etzion area, where Tekoa is located.

According to a rough estimate by the Defense Ministry, it could take until 2010 to finish the fence.

But Vilan, who helped create One House in 2005 along with left-wing activists and settlers who do want to leave their homes, said the issue was not the date of the fence's completion.

Vilan said he was deeply concerned that those who live outside its boundaries are in physical danger and should they want to leave they have no financial recourse to do so.

The letter, he said, reflected the alarm that he felt for their fate. From where he sits, there are only two possibilities with respect to the fate of the close to 70,000 settlers who live on the Palestinian side of the fence.

In the first scenario they will be evacuated as the result of a political agreement worked out with the Palestinians. In the second, should diplomacy fail and a third intifada were to break out, they would be at risk of violent attacks from Palestinians.

From Hamas's point of view, the easiest place to attack Israel is in the territories, said Vilan.

The settlers there are like "hostages," he added. If they want to leave they should know that there is an organization that is working to make it possible.

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