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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Itamar: Religious West Bank settlers
Israeli army jeep patrols Itamar settlement
The settlement is heavily defended
The Jewish settlement of Itamar seeks to present itself as a vision of rural tranquillity.

High in the windswept hills above the West Bank town of Nablus, the residents live in simple groups of homes linked by dirt tracks.

They earn their living by growing organic crops and raising sheep and goats.


We are the emissaries of the people of Israel, except the people of Israel don't realise it

Itamar resident
But the illusion of a peaceful farming community is just that - an illusion.

Itamar is just one of a string of heavily defended Jewish settlements occupying the heights above Nablus, the most populous city in the West Bank and the repeated target of Israeli incursions aimed at Palestinian militant groups.

The Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are a constant reminder to Palestinians of the occupation of large parts of what they and most of the international community see as their land, and a source of great resentment.

Settlers are often heavily armed and travel about the West Bank on especially constructed roads that by-pass and isolate Palestinian towns and villages .

Attacks on settlements

In the past four weeks alone, Palestinian gunmen have killed nine of Itamar's settlers.

Burned out house in Itamar settlement
Five died in the latest attack
The most recent assault, for which the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility, saw a mother and her three children shot dead.

Rachel Shako, 40, and her sons Naira, 16, Save, 12, and Alicia, five, died in their home after it was taken over by two gunmen. A security guard also died in the attack.

Unlike those settlers who were attracted by the promise of cheap housing in areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the residents of Itamar see themselves as pioneers.

Itamar, which was founded 15 years ago, is home to about 500 settlers.

Most are members of Gush Emunim, a messianic settler movement which argues that there is a religious imperative for Jews to settle the West Bank.

International law has a different view.

It sees this and other Jewish settlements as illegally built on land occupied by Israel in 1967.

Israeli militant

To add fuel to the fire, one of Itamar's founders, Gilad Zar, was the son of Moshe Zar - a militant Israeli convicted in the mid-1980s for assisting those who planted the bombs that crippled the then Mayor of Nablus, Bassam Shaka.

Gilad Zar died last year when Palestinian ambushed him in his car, pouring bullets into the vehicle.

But the unswerving faith of the settlers and their belief that their arrival in the hills around Nablus was pre-ordained by God keeps them there, running the almost daily risk of being attacked.

"We are the emissaries of the people of Israel, except the people of Israel don't realise it," insists one of Itamar's residents, quoted on the settlement's website.

"You need a lot of faith here, otherwise you couldn't last a second with all the dangers hiding behind every rock."


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