[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 08:04 GMT
Settlers 'cut off' by W Bank barrier
By Raffi Berg
BBC, in Tekoa settlement

Tekoa yeshiva (photo: Noam Sharon. All rights reserved)
The yeshiva lies at the heart of Tekoa settlement
Religious zeal is the driving force which has drawn hundreds of young Jews from around the world to study under the enigmatic Rabbi Menachem Fruman in the settlement of Tekoa.

"There are no diamonds here, there is no gas and there is no gold. It's a desert, but we're here because of a divine belief to settle this land," said Rabbi Fruman.

"From here you can see 3,000 years of Jewish history," he says with a sweeping gesture across the plains of the West Bank.

The heart of the settlement - its yeshiva or religious seminary - is a vibrant place, a cacophony of noise where youths pray out loud or argue over the minutiae of religious texts.

Tekoa faces an uncertain future east of the West Bank barrier

Outside, the settlement is quiet, with nothing stirring.

The roads are devoid of traffic, the tennis and basketball courts stand empty, the peace disturbed only by a young religious couple slowly pushing a pram.

Situated on a rift overlooking valleys on three sides, Tekoa seems idyllic, with its red-roofed houses, manicured lawns and a vineyard soaking up the sun.

Apart from the army base at one end, there is little sign that this is a place mired in political controversy - flanked on three sides by areas transferred to Palestinian Authority control under the 1994 Oslo peace accords.

Future borders

"[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon told me long ago that Tekoa would have to go," says Rabbi Fruman, sitting down on a couch in his spartan office, his doting dog settling by his side.

"I know Sharon personally. He is a man of his word and I believe him," he said.

Rabbi Menachem Fruman (photo: Noam Sharon. All rights reserved)
I talked with [Sheikh Ahmed] Yassin in Gaza. He said to me: 'I and you can make peace in five minutes'
Menachem Fruman

These are unsettling times for places like Tekoa, home to 300 families.

Previously championed by Ariel Sharon, the fate of the smaller, more isolated West Bank settlements has been left hanging in the balance since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005.

Their future is all the more uncertain since the advent in the past few years of the West Bank barrier.

Snaking around Israel's pre-1967 perimeter - jutting deeper into the West Bank in places - Israel says the barrier is a defensive measure to protect it from attacks by Palestinian militants.

The Palestinians say it is intended to annexe occupied land, and its route has been declared illegal in an advisory ruling by the International Court of Justice.

And yet, even if the current planned route is completed some 80,000 settlers in 70 settlements - Tekoa among them - will be marooned.

Thrown out

"If the barrier stays there a long time, it's more likely to become a physical, geographic border," said Peter Medding, of the Hebrew University's Political Science Department.

"Whatever borders are going to be drawn... I think it's true to say many Jewish settlers are ultimately going to be faced with a choice of living under the Palestinian Authority or leaving."

Widely regarded by international community as illegal under international law according to Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49), which prohibits an occupying power transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory
8,500 Jewish settlers lived in 21 settlements in Gaza amid 1.3m Palestinians
Israel argues international conventions relating to occupied land do not apply to West Bank because they were not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state in the first place

It is a realisation which has led some settler families, especially those who moved to the West Bank for lifestyle, rather than ideological reasons, to want to leave - although there is no compensation deal in place as there was for Gaza.

But the talk in Tekoa is of staying.

Boaz Moshkovich, 46, has lived there for 16 years. An immigrant from the former Soviet Union, he says he will never leave the settlement of his own accord.

"I'm not interested in compensation," said the softly-spoken computer programmer, relaxing in the sunshine in his lush back garden.

"I will only be thrown out by force."

He concedes, though, that if the area eventually falls under Palestinian rule, he would not stay.

"I would not live under a Palestinian government because I see what's happening under the Palestinian regime. It would be suicide for sure."

God's word

Rabbi Fruman disagrees and has formulated his own peace plan to the Palestinian Authority under which the settlers would be allowed to stay.

The proposal attracted the interest of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom Rabbi Fruman met several times.

He also discussed it with the founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

"I talked with Yassin in Gaza," said Rabbi Fruman. "He said to me: 'I and you can make peace in five minutes'."

Rabbi Fruman believes a democratic Palestine with a Jewish population is conceivable, but it would be tested by its treatment of the Jews.

"Until then," he said, "we show faith in God and we wait for his word and we will obey what he decides to do."

Israel and the Palestinians



Palestinian women sit on a roof top of the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on 20 November 2006. Human shields
Palestinians adopt a new tactic to deter Israeli attacks, but this is a high-risk strategy




The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific