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Jerusalem Diary: Monday 21 January

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

LIVING ON BORROWED TIME?

Israeli settlers play tennis at an illegal outpost
Some illegal outposts in the West Bank have become well established
It is possible to miss the point entirely in the West Bank.

On a cold, clear morning when the sky arches over the tumbling, rocky hills, it is tempting to say to the settlers in outposts: "I can see why you would want to live here."

Just in time, as I gaze from an outlook across at the mountains of Jordan, I manage to rope the words back into my mouth, and - in the interests of impartiality - say to the two young settlers with me: "It's beautiful."

The beauty is incidental, a bonus. This is, in the words of the Jews who are willing to spend their lives and raise their families in dilapidated tin sheds, "the front line".

Outposts are small Israeli settlements on occupied territory that are illegal not just under international law, but under Israeli law as well: they do not even have the official permission of the Israeli authorities.

Ten days ago, George Bush came to Israel and said outposts have to go.

Last week, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, called them "a disgrace". It is not possible to say exactly how many there are. There are probably just over 100.

ISRAELI ARGUMENT

"Avi" (not his real name) does not fit the stereotype of the outpost settler. He is one of the founders of an outpost a short drive from Jerusalem. He is a native Israeli with a mousy blond beard, and no kipa (skullcap).

Police have evacuated Shavut Ami outpost about 10 times. They demolish some building work and then the settlers return
On most days, he commutes for an hour each way to his job as a computer programmer with a company based just outside cosmopolitan, secular, western Tel Aviv.

And yet, Avi calls himself an extremist. He believes that it's not just the West Bank that belongs to the Jewish people, but Jordan as well.

And he believes he's winning the argument. The people he works with in commuter-land, central Israel, have changed, he says.

He has always argued that the Arabs should get out of Eretz Israel. Now, Avi says, half his colleagues agree; the other half just say it's not "technically" possible.

Avi came to his outpost six years ago. In contrast, the outpost of Shavut Ami is only four months old.

In that time, the Israeli army and police have evacuated it approximately 10 times (people have lost count).

The religiously observant settlers - mainly teenagers, and men and women in their early 20s - are bussed to a nearby settlement. The police demolish some of the building work. And then the settlers return.

'GOD'S LAW'

After the latest evacuation, a few days ago, 50 of the settlers were back at Shavut Ami within a couple of hours. One leaned in to the face of an Israeli policeman to yell abuse at him.

Settler being forcibly evacuated from West Bank outpost
Some outposts are frequently targeted by Israeli security forces
"Don't I know you?" asks a policeman.

"Yes, you arrested me two months ago," says another.

"Go on, arrest me again," he taunts the officer. "I've got some friends in prison I want to see."

As for the question - how can you justify doing what you're doing when it is against Israeli law, let alone international law, the leader of the group gives the answer of the true believer: "This is God's law."

Shaul Goldstein prefers to invoke geo-politics. He is also a religious man, with the small knitted kipa and the large family that are the badges of the orthodox Jew.

Mr Goldstein is the mayor of Gush Etzion, one of the biggest settlement blocs in the West Bank. He declares himself a proud sponsor of some of the outposts close to Gush Etzion.

But do not be fooled, he says. Outposts are not about internal Israeli politics, or even Palestinian-Israeli relations. Outposts are about Europe, America.

"The real point is the collision between civilisations. Between radical Islam and the west. The biggest problem in the States, in Britain, in France, in Holland, in those places, in some of the mosques, you can hear, they want to make those countries Islamic.

"You have to remember we are the smallest problem. We are your outpost, in the Middle East. When we fall, God forbid, the next stage is you. We are your allies. Don't forget it."


You thoughts and comments on Tim Franks' diary:

I think it is important to remember that most Israelis (87%) support a two-state solution - one that would give the Palestinians a state of their own along side of Israel. Most Israelis would reject Avi's comments completely. However, most Israelis are also convinced that there is no one of the Palestinian side willing to make the necessary choices to allow the two-state solution to work - completely renouncing terrorism and recognizing Israel's right to exist as the nation for the Jewish people. If the Palestinians had chosen Ghandi's non-violent approach in 1948, they would have had their state by now.
LWS, Ra'anana, Israel

I live in Israeli town Ashkelon, which is 10km from Gaza. Like Sderot our town is also under consistent attack of kassam rocket from Gaza strip. But nobody is afraid and we are not going to move away. I'm immigrant from Russia and a lot of people like me came to Israel as to motherland, which we wouldn't leave under any circumstances.
Sukhareva Tanya, Israel, Ashkelon

I think he is using Islam as simply a weak rationalization of his hateful actions. He talks about the fears of "Radical Islam" yet seems to be mute on the topic of his own extremism. I find it hard to say that with a straight face while invoking "God's Law" for myself.
Ammar, Irvine, CA USA

It's God's law; and of course God is never wrong. Radical Islam vs Radical Judaism. Each of which has fashioned God in their own image.
Bill, Santa Cruz, California, USA

Outposts are not the real issue. The real issue is entrenched settlement blocks like Maale Adumim. I went there in 2005 and saw a monument to peace that is supposed to be a dove and looks in fact like a fighter plane. Enough said.
Luca Salice, London

If this is not racism, what is? What is the difference in principle between God's law that says that Israel and Jordan are for the exclusive use of Jews and Hitler's law that said that Germany (and the rest of Europe, if not the world!) was for the exclusive use of Aryans?
A.M. Wooster, Riva del Garda, (TN), Italy

I hope this article is eye-opening for the masses who have been fed pro-Islamist propaganda on the BBC. Take a look around you, at the world we live in. Think about which side you identify with and which side deserves your support, not for the sake of Israel, but for your own Western freedoms and the future of mankind.
Akiva Goldberg, Jerusalem, Israel

Shaul Goldstein is right on the money. But, you really need to be on the ground to see it. Others may know it too, but the remarkable wave of political correctness which has swept over the world in the last five years would not allow one to say so out loud. Well done Tim for giving voice to this view point. Let's hope it gets some wider coverage. It wont affect life on the ground, but the revelation of truth is always welcome.
Ray, Gush Etzion, Israel

Mr Goldstein is trying to draw the whole west into his self-serving colonial enterprise which is land grabbing under religious pretence. How can there be justice with such religious fanatics who despise the whole Arab world? I believe the racist motivation of Mr Goldstein is backward, dangerous and does not deserve the attention of the BBC.
Antoine Bustros, Montreal, Canada




TIM FRANKS' JERUSALEM DIARY

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