Jewish settlers claim biblical birthright to land
YITZHAR, West Bank |
YITZHAR, West Bank (Reuters) - Jewish settler Avraham Binyamin says any Israeli withdrawal from occupied land would be like severing a limb from his body.
As one of some 300,000 Israelis living in enclaves built on West Bank land that Palestinians seek for a state, Binyamin expresses a view held by many that the area is a Jewish biblical birthright and must never be relinquished, not even for peace.
Though not all settlers object to the U.S.-sponsored peace talks that began on September 2, many are fiercely opposed and say they will do whatever is needed to keep their homes and prevent an accord.
"The national being of any people, particularly the Jewish people, is like a body, you cannot give up parts of your body," said Binyamin, 25, a teacher from Yitzhar, a settlement known for its tense relations with neighboring Palestinian villages.
The religiously devout father of two says the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank should be relocated to neighboring Arab lands.
"I can sometimes very much understand their pain and their need," he says. "But from the national perspective, it's either me or them -- and I prefer it to be me."
Yitzhar, a small hilltop enclave housing 180 families, was built on the site of a military outpost in 1985 and overlooks six Palestinian villages, 45 km (30 miles) north of Jerusalem.
The houses have the trademark red-tiled roofs that adorn so many settlements, setting them apart from the flat roofs of the Arab villages and making them highly visible from afar.
Some of the settlers carry guns strapped to their backs as they walk down the neat streets, providing security for their tight-knit community.
The question of settlements has immediately come to the fore at the peace negotiations, with a partial freeze on Jewish building in the West Bank ending on Sunday.
The Palestinians have threatened to quit the talks unless the moratorium is extended.
They say the settlements, along with building in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed without international recognition, will make it impossible for them to create a viable state. Israel has so far refused to countenance any extension.
"We, as Jews, believe that the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel because a divine promise was given to us. The Bible is our legal document," says Binyamin, who serves as a spokesman for Yitzhar, which rarely opens up for the media.
To underline the point, most settlers balk at the term "West Bank" for the territory Israel captured in 1967, instead using the region's biblical names, Judea and Samaria.
Such beliefs underscore how hard it will be to reach a peace deal; the Palestinians take for granted that, at a minimum, dozens of smaller settlements, including Yitzhar, must go as part of an accord.
Tensions between Yitzhar and its neighbors remain high. Palestinians accuse settlers of destroying olive trees and setting fields ablaze. Settlers accuse Palestinians of torching crops and tractors.
Yitzhar's settlers are among some 100,000 that Israel is seen as likely to remove as part of any agreement to establish a Palestinian state. Most live in enclaves built beyond a barrier of fences and walls that Israel put up across West Bank land following a wave of Palestinian suicide attacks from 2000-2007.
Binyamin said any move to evacuate West Bank settlers would meet with stronger resistance than a pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, when 8,000 Jews put up spirited but ultimately futile protests.
But not everyone in Yitzhar objects to a deal with the Palestinians.
Michal Avraham, a German-born bookkeeper and mother of eight, says it would make her "very happy one day to see a real peace, real fair coexistence," even if the chances are slim.
"I would be very happy to wander around in my car in any village or place peacefully, as I do when I visit my family in Europe," she said.
(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Kevin Liffey)
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