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Jewish World Review / Dec. 28, 1998 / 9 Teves, 5759

Don Feder

Don Feder Zionist dream alive
and well on West Bank

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) HEBRON -- For the U.S. media, the typical Jewish settler on the West Bank is an ultra-nationalist -- a religious zealot with a Hebrew prayer book in one hand and an Uzi in the other, Attila the Yeshiva (rabbinical) student.

In reality, if the Zionist dream is alive anywhere in Israel, it's in Judea and Samaria (aka, the West Bank), the land the patriarchs and prophets trod, Biblical Israel.

Over 170,000 Jews live there in 140 settlements. They are as impossible to categorize as any other diverse group.

Just a stone's throw from Ramallah is the modest settlement of Psagot ("the heights"). Ariel, on the other hand, is a thriving city of more than 16,000, with a college, industrial park and shopping mall.

In the ancient city of Hebron, deep in Apache country, 550 Jews live. Next door, there are 7,000 settlers in Kiryat Arba. Efrata has 18 synagogues, two high schools and a medical center.

Ron Nachman, who carries a cell phone in his holster, could be the mayor of any American city on the move. He is the mayor of Ariel, 18 miles East of Tel Aviv -- in territory the international community has assigned to the Palestinians.

"Ariel has a reputation as a good quality of life -- good schools, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods," Nachman says as he grabs my hand in a Kiwanis Club grip.

He speaks of the 2,000 jobs that Ariel provides for Arabs in neighboring villages. "We -- the Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria -- are the real bridge to peace," Nachman tells me. "You can't coexist with your wife if you don't live in the same house."

David Wilder, an American who's lived in Israel for 18 years and raised six children here, is more subdued than Nachman. He's a spokesman for Hebron's Jewish community. Down the street from his office is cave of Machpelah, where the region's first Jewish settlers (the zealots Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives) are buried.

Wilder notes that Jews lived in the city continually from 1540 to 1929, when rioting Arabs slaughtered 59 Jews, driving out the rest. Abraham's children returned in the wake of the Six Day War.

Hebron's community is an embattled outpost. In 1997, under intense American pressure, Arafat got 80 percent of the city, including the surrounding hills, which make excellent sniper posts.

Several months ago, Wilder relates, two pipe bombs were thrown into a playground just minutes before the children arrived. In August, an elderly rabbi was stabbed to death in his home.

The Israeli army, which maintains a presence in Hebron, does its best to protect the settlers. But the government also severely restricts the settlement's size.

"The reason we don't have more people here is we don't have a place to put them," Wilder confides.

"We have to wait a long time to build even though we own the land. For years, we weren't allowed to do any construction. The Arabs built and built, and we could do nothing." The present settlement covers a small part of Hebron's original Jewish Quarter, where Jews lived for almost 400 years.

Sholmo Riskind is the chief rabbi of Efrat (population 8,000). For 19 years, he was the rabbi of New York's Lincoln Square Synagogue, known for its innovative programs, which drew 1,200 to Sabbath services.

He's even more satisfied with his work in Efrat, noting that residents just built a pediatric center for a nearby Arab village. As an act of neighborliness, "we're paying for 50 percent of their nursery school and training the teachers."

"Israel is the place of the confirmation of God's covenant," the rabbi says. "At best, in the Diaspora you're writing the footnotes of history. In Israel, you're writing the chapter headings."

Nachman predicts Arafat will declare his Palestinian state next May, and Israel will incorporate the 60 percent of the West Bank it then holds, including Ariel. "Clinton and Netanyahu will build the Palestinian state, Arafat will annex us to Israel," Nachman says with a touch of irony.

From Israel's pre-'67 borders to the sea is nine miles. It needs the territories for strategic depth. The West Bank supplies 30 percent of Israel's drinking water -- a resource the nation does not have in abundance.

The millennia-old dream of a resurrected Jewish homeland will survive or perish on the West Bank.

When asked why she would subject her children to the dangers of settlement life, Evita Mazor, who lives in Psagot, put it simply. "If nobody's here, it will come to Jerusalem. If we leave Jerusalem, it will come to Tel Aviv."

The English learned the same lesson, in a different context, 1,000 year ago -- you can pay the Danegeld, but the Dane won't go away.


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©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.