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A settler stakes claim for himself, for Israel - Baltimore Sun, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    A settler stakes claim for himself, for Israel West Bank: A father and son tend sheep on their isolated farm, with four Israeli soldiers to guard their
    Message 1 of 1 , May 22, 2002
      A settler stakes claim for himself, for Israel
      West Bank: A father and son tend sheep on their
      isolated farm, with four Israeli soldiers to guard
      their "settlement."
      By Peter Hermann
      Sun Foreign Staff
      Originally published May 22, 2002


      IN THE HEBRON HILLS, West Bank - Ever since he watched
      American Westerns on television three decades ago,
      Shlomo Mor knew he wanted a ranch. He dreamed of
      having a flock of sheep. Open vistas. Room to roam.

      He has that now atop a hill he calls Mor Mountain.
      Until last week, he and a son were the only people on
      a 1,000-acre farm where they tend 105 sheep, 10 dogs
      and two goats.

      Mor Mountain, among the newest Jewish settlements in
      the West Bank, illustrates how they come to be and how
      they evolve into permanent communities.

      Last week, the Israeli army assigned four soldiers to
      guard the two residents. The World Zionist
      Organization, an umbrella organization for Zionist
      philanthropy and development, paid for the paving of a
      one-lane, two-mile access road, in effect the Mors'

      For the rightist government of Prime Minister Ariel
      Sharon, the farm is another foothold in the West Bank,
      territory at the heart of the conflict between
      Israelis and Palestinians. It is land that many
      Israelis believe God promised to the Jews and that
      Palestinians no less firmly believe is a necessary
      part of a future Palestinian state.

      Sharon has vowed never to dismantle a settlement;
      Palestinians vow that there can be no true peace until
      most of the settlements are gone.

      For Mor and the Israeli government, the situation on
      the hilltop could not be better. Mor gets to gaze out
      over land leased for a nominal fee from the
      government, and Israeli authorities have found a way
      to populate - Palestinians would say steal - another
      sliver of the West Bank.

      Mor knows the government is using him to further its
      political aim of controlling as much of the West Bank
      as possible though the creation and expansion of
      Jewish settlements.

      "I know why I'm here," he said, sipping instant coffee
      in his trailer. "Israel wants to make sure this land
      remains in Israeli hands. I'm protecting their back. I
      came here on my own free will, so I can't complain."

      He arrived on March 7, 1999, to live amid a landscape
      composed mostly of rocks and scrub. He planned to
      raise goats and sell their milk to Bedouin tribes and
      Palestinian villages. But the Palestinian uprising
      that began in September 2000 ended friendly contacts
      between settlers and villagers.

      Mor replaced most of his goats with sheep and intended
      to sell them for meat. A year and a half later, he is
      beginning to breed them.

      His work now consists of little more than feeding his
      flock, which takes only a couple of hours each day. He
      spends the rest of his time planting trees and keeping
      watch - for thieves or potential attackers.

      Mor knows that the soldiers sent to stand at the four
      corners of his ranch are really there to expand the
      Israeli military's hold on the area and that his
      presence is a perfect excuse to justify their patrols.

      Soldiers guard settlements throughout the West Bank
      and Gaza Strip, but Mor Mountain, given its tiny
      population, underscores the burden the settlements
      impose on the Israeli army and the vast resources
      devoted to protecting them from their Palestinian

      The soldiers guarding the Mors are reservists, forced
      to leave their jobs and family under emergency call-up
      orders originally put into effect to fight Palestinian
      militants in Gaza.

      Some Israeli lawmakers call the deployment at Mor
      Mountain an insult to the army.

      "The very fact that reserve soldiers are sent to guard
      isolated farms like that is scandalous," Anat Maor of
      the left-wing Meretz Party told parliament.

      Dror Etkes of the group Peace Now says there are at
      least 30 outposts like Mor's farm, and others with
      empty trailers waiting for settlers to arrive.

      "The idea is to settle as much of the land as possible
      to avoid the possibility of establishing a Palestinian
      state," Etkes said. "Once there are people there, it
      is much easier [for the government] to say they can
      stay. If you are going to argue that God promised
      people this land, then people have to live there."

      Leaders of the settler movement say the Israeli
      government is not doing enough to aid their cause.
      Outposts such as Mor Mountain don't mean much, says
      Ezra Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Yesha settlers'

      "If you got two guys living in five trailers this
      year, and you go back next year, maybe you got five
      guys living in 10 trailers," he said. "More often than
      not, unfortunately, you won't find anything."

      If the government wants to populate isolated areas
      such as Mor Mountain, Rosenfeld says, it is obligated
      to protect them.

      "It would be easier, I admit, if everyone lived in one
      town with a big wall," he said. "But that is not the
      reality. In order to populate the land, we need
      so-called crazies to go out to hills and inhabit them.
      The cost is inefficient use of soldiers."

      Settlements have been a contentious issue since the
      first one, Kfar Etzion, was established south of
      Bethlehem almost immediately after Israel's capture of
      the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli
      war. But building began in earnest after the
      right-wing Likud Party came to power, in 1977.

      By 1980, the number of Jewish settlements had grown to
      53, with 12,000 residents. In 1990, 78,000 settlers
      occupied 106 settlements. In 2000, nearly 200,000
      lived in 123 settlements.

      Sharon was one of the expansion program's main
      architects, first as agriculture minister from 1977 to
      1981, giving him the power to expropriate land, then
      as minister of housing and construction from 1990 to
      1992, with authority to build.

      The interim peace accords reached in Oslo, Norway, in
      1993 called upon Israel and the Palestinians to
      maintain the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza
      Strip until a final peace agreement. Israel pledged
      not to build new settlements or expand old ones, but
      said it retained the right to "natural growth" within
      settlements' existing borders.

      By whatever name it chooses to call it, Palestinians
      say, Israel has steadily seized control of more of
      their land.

      Grasping for control

      Peace Now and other groups say that Sharon's
      government has created 34 West Bank settlements since
      he became prime minister 15 months ago.

      A report released last week by the Israeli human
      rights group B'Tselem noted that settlers inhabit only
      1.7 percent of the West Bank but effectively control
      42 percent of the land. Municipal boundaries are much
      larger than the actual living area, and regional
      councils have been awarded control of vast tracts,
      often without Palestinians being informed.

      That is the story of Mor's hilltop farm. His trailer
      and sheep pen occupy only a small plot, but his lease
      covers the rugged area between two larger settlements,
      Tene and Shima, and stretches to the Palestinian town
      of Daharia, home to about 60,000 people under
      Palestinian Authority control.

      His farm is along Highway 60, a winding road following
      an ancient trade route through the heart of the West
      Bank, a route Palestinians are now forbidden to use.
      The highway, and a parallel dry riverbed, are
      nicknamed "the way of the thieves." Mor says he is
      happy to act as a buffer between Daharia, the
      neighboring settlements and the Israeli city of

      Visitors to Mor's Mountain drive to the well-guarded
      settlement of Tene, population 700, then head
      northeast on a roller-coaster road to a fence topped
      with barbed wire and floodlights. A pack of dogs,
      including Mor's Great Dane, greets every visitor.
      While he disdains outsiders, Mor is relaxed.

      Mor, 55, spent three decades in the Israeli army as a
      soldier, tank commander and drill sergeant for drug
      addicts trying to adjust to army life. Afterward, he
      managed an agricultural consulting and educational
      firm. Now, instead of fatigues or coat and tie, he
      wears blue jeans and a disheveled T-shirt that hides a
      9 mm pistol tucked in the back of his pants.

      Inside the sparsely furnished trailer, an M-16 assault
      rifle leans against a wall near a cluttered kitchen
      table. A generator supplies electricity. Mor keeps
      binoculars on a pole in his yard so he can survey the
      hills and patrols at night with night-vision goggles
      and a dune buggy.

      "I don't need soldiers to guard me," said Mor, after
      four of them shook his hand before a shift change.
      They are not real soldiers, he says, but air force
      personnel usually assigned to guard munitions dumps
      and barracks.

      "If something happened, I would have to go out and
      shoot." said Mor, pointing to his rifle. He and his
      son Aviad, 23, rotate guard duty every night. Aviad
      sleeps on the couch, his clothes and shoes on, ready
      to jump at the first sound.

      'A very high price'

      Still, Mor says he has no regrets. He remembers the
      move from his comfortable three-story home in

      "I had dreamed for 30 years to own a farm," he said,
      sitting on a leather couch. "I dreamt it ever since
      watching cowboy movies. I came here to be alone and
      for the clean air. I can see people where I want and
      when I want."

      His change of lifestyle came at considerable cost. His
      wife tried to live on the farm but left after three
      months, taking his 7-year- old daughter and
      11-year-old son. He has three other grown children,
      including Aviad, who dropped out of business school to
      come live with and help protect his father.

      "This is my father's dream, not mine," said Aviad, who
      finished his regular army service 18 months ago and
      was embarking on his own career. "I was concerned
      about my father's safety. My goal is to partner with
      my father until we see some success. Then I'll do what
      I want to do."

      Shlomo Mor is a practical man. He has no grand
      illusions of holding onto this land at all costs, and
      as a career military officer he understands that the
      politics that enabled him to realize his dream might
      in the end force him to give it up.

      "I understand that to make peace, the Palestinians
      have to have a land to live on," Mor said. "It might
      be this land.

      "That is a very high price for me," he said. "But if
      my government comes and says it is the only way to
      make peace, then I will leave."

      Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun

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