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Saturday, 28 October, 2000, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Living on the front line
Psagot town, Jewish settlement near Ramallah
Psagot town (on the right) overlooks Ramallah
Barbara Plett visits the beleaguered Jewish settlement of Psagot

There are many front lines in the latest Arab-Israeli clashes. One of them has been on the border between the Jewish settlement of Psagot and the Arab town of Ramallah.

For the past couple of weeks, Palestinian militants have been shooting at Psagot from there. Israeli soldiers brought in to protect the settlers sometimes respond with tank fire while taking refuge behind bunkers.

Map showing Psagot
David is a reservist on security patrol. He drives to the edge of the hill on which Psagot is perched and throws an arm out to the landscape.

"You can see Jordan to the east and Jerusalem to the south," he says, tramping through red clay soil. "This is a quiet part of the patrol - reservists aren't put on the front line."

Geographically, the two communities could almost be part of the same city. At the front line, Ranmallah begins less than 100 metres from the settlement on the downward slope into a valley.

Defending home

David was called up for duty after the Palestinian uprising started a month ago.

"I prefer to do my service here," he says. "The defence is in our hands, and not in the hands of somebody coming from another place, so we are giving the maximum of ourselves to do the job."

An Israeli soldier watching Ramallah, Jewish settlement near Ramallah
An Israeli soldier in Psagot watches Ramallah
Defending home is the theme here. Big families are important to these settlers and there are lots of children in the community.

That is complicated by the fact that the local nursery happens to be on the front line.

Nursery hit

Recently a bullet came whizzing through one of the windows.

Avigail, 29, left work and came running as soon as she heard the news to collect her daughter Sofia. "I took my daughter and went straight home," she says, "and after that I heard the bullets on my own house.

"It was very dangerous and we were very scared."

Palestinian fleeing violence in Ramallah
Dozens have been killed in Ramallah
Avigail lives right next to the nursery and her house has been hit several times.

She points out six bullet holes in the door and outside walls, but says she would never consider leaving for a safer place.

"We don't have any choice," she says, "even if my children are afraid and it's hard for them, we've got to learn to live in our country and our house.

"We can't just leave everything and run away."

Occupied land

The settlements were built on land captured by Israel in 1967 and the Palestinians attack them as part of what they consider their resistance against Israeli occupation.

UN resolutions call on Israel to return the land, but attempts at a military withdrawal have faltered over seven years of peace talks. Settlements have been a key obstacle, and the Palestinians are tired of waiting.

Kindergarten in Psagot Town, Jewish settlement near Ramallah
A concrete wall was built in the kindergarten to shield from bullets
Some settlers move out to the West Bank because life is cheaper here, but the people in Psagot consider this land to be their Jewish birthright.

"The people who are living here are living in this place because they want to," says David.

"They feel it's their place and they don't have another one to go to. For us it's not an Arab part of Israel, for us it's Israel, and it's the heart of the Jewish settlements."

The Israeli Government of Ehud Barak promised to freeze settlement building to help the peace process, but peace groups say that hasn't happened.

Political pressure

There is a lot of political pressure from settlers.

On Friday, the director-general of Mr Barak's office, Yossi Kutchik, visited some of those under attack to see how the authorities could help.

Ehud Barak promised to freeze settlement building
"We have to give to these settlers the possibility of running a regular life," he said.

"It means that school buses will go out, that food will come in, that security will be OK. Basically any extra money will be spent on security, but if extra money is needed to cover other weak points we shall come through with it."

Paradoxically, the future of settlements is more secure as the peace process unravels, because there is less chance of dismantling them in some deal.

Either way, a peaceful solution will be difficult as both sides dig in to fight for the land.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Psagot
"The people consider this to be their Jewish birthright"

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