Israel:Clashes Drag Down Upscale Settlers : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Clashes Drag Down Upscale Settlers Mideast: In the Jewish community of Efrat, the uprising has shaken residents' belief that they can bridge the gap with their Palestinian neighbors.

By TYLER MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer

EFRAT, West Bank--With its rows of neat stone houses, curbed streets and Volvo station wagons, this quiet bedroom community of 1,300 families seems a better fit for the hills around Silicon Valley than the front lines of the latest Arab-Israeli conflict. Strung along a series of hillocks just a 20-minute drive south of Jerusalem, Efrat is a Jewish settlement in the West Bank that has drawn its residents as much for the quality of life as for ideological commitment. The schools are good, the air is clean, the streets are safe, and, although some homes are said to top the half-million-dollar mark, the prices of more modest dwellings are within reach of young professionals working in Jerusalem.

"In normal times, it's a great life," said Eve Haro, a mother of seven whose husband has a medical practice in Jerusalem. But these are not normal times in the West Bank--or for Efrat. The 6-week-old Palestinian uprising has shaken people here--shaken their belief that they might somehow find a way to live with the Palestinians around them, not as friends certainly, but at least as civil neighbors. That possibility, if it ever existed, has vanished with bewildering speed, and for a settlement whose residents just a few weeks ago thought they had it all, that's been a shock. "There was a feeling we're all here together," Haro said. "Unfortunately, that bubble has burst." Residents here say that, unlike many of the more hard-line, traditionally Orthodox settlements, Efrat has tried to reach out to neighboring Palestinian villages during its 17-year existence--albeit with mixed results. Relations with the small Arab community of Sheikh Ibraham, barely a few hundred yards east of the settlement's boundaries, have never been good, but there had been hope elsewhere. Settlers, for example, say they donated a medical clinic to another neighboring Arab village, Wadi Nis, and that when Efrat paved its roads and installed its sewage and water systems, it did the same for Wadi Nis. "When we built Efrat," Haro said, "we provided the infrastructure for them too." Now, efforts to build ties with Wadi Nis seem doomed. Two weeks ago, one of Efrat's five synagogues was desecrated with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans, and Haro's 18-year-old daughter now goes to school in a bulletproof bus escorted by an Israeli Defense Forces jeep.

There also has been shooting into the settlement from Palestinian neighborhoods in the southern outskirts of nearby Bethlehem. Palestinians consider the West Bank settlements legitimate targets because most were established in violation of international law. The presence of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza remains one of the most contentious points between Israelis and Palestinians, who revile the often abusive settlers. Many Israelis, too, oppose fighting a war to protect settlers, who constitute a tiny minority of Israel's Jews.

Palestinians scoff at the thought of coexistence. "You sit in Artass [a Palestinian village just south of Bethlehem] and the houses of Efrat just keep coming closer," said Mohammed abu Hawa, a resident of Arab East Jerusalem who frequents Palestinian areas around the settlement. "How can you make peace with someone who takes your land?" The recent violence has been traumatic, especially for the children of Efrat. "We're dealing with nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night," said Haro, whose 4-year-old daughter recently presented her with a paper sword, saying, "This will help protect you." Another Efrat mother, Tzafnat Hollander, admits she occasionally resorts to lies to calm her children. "Yes, sometimes I tell them the shooting is far away, which isn't true," she said. Property prices are down in the settlement, but real estate agent Jerry Farkas says he doesn't know by how much. "If no one's buying," he said, "it's hard to know what the prices are." Despite the dramatic turn in their lives over recent weeks and signs that conditions here could get worse before they get better, few say that leaving is an option. "We've just invested three years of our lives building this house," Hollander said. "This is still a good place." She and others say there's really nowhere for them to go. "If we move, where do we go?" Hollander asked rhetorically. "Violence is not just in the [West Bank]; they've shot Scud [missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf War] at Tel Aviv. If we move to the United States or Europe, it will trigger anti-Semitism, and we've seen this movie already." Although Jewish settlements constructed in the West Bank after the 1967 Middle East War contravene international agreement, residents here say they have a legal--and moral--right to be there. They say that earlier this century, Jews owned much of the land on which Efrat was built but were driven from it during Israel's 1948 war of independence. Land not held previously by Jews was bought legally from Arabs, they say. "To say we shouldn't be here is to validate 'ethnic cleansing,' " Haro said. Palestinians see it differently. "The land for Efrat was confiscated from Arab owners in 1980," said Khalil Tufakji, director of the Palestinian Department of Maps and an expert on Jewish settlements. "The people of Efrat may be academic and professional, but that doesn't legalize what they are doing." Amid the enmity, the people of Efrat are adjusting to a different lifestyle.

There's talk of erecting a perimeter fence around the settlement. Volunteer security patrols have been stepped up. And Haro's teenagers now carry mobile telephones so they can contact their parents at any time. The Hollanders, who live at the northern edge of the settlement, have installed security lights outside their home and keep an Uzi assault weapon and two-way radios in the house. And after a break of a few weeks, construction on the next stage of Efrat's expansion to the north has cautiously resumed but under extremely tight security. Palestinian workers are allowed into the settlement, but only after each name is noted. They toil under the eyes of Jewish security guards.

"I feel badly for them, but what can we do?" Haro said of the workers. "You don't know who you can trust anymore." The workers themselves say that working under guard is humiliating but that there are no jobs elsewhere. Mohammed Tawfiq, a member of a construction crew, echoed Haro's words: "What can we do?" Tawfiq's contractor boss, Assam abu Guya, said the answer is to learn to live together, and Hollander agreed. "We don't have a place to go--they don't have a place to go," she said. "We'll just have to find a way to get along."

-- Martin Thompson (, November 12, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ