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