Lots of work for settlement 'spy'

Israel announced a $11,400 grant this month to induce young settlers to move to the West Bank.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Dror Etkes slows to a near halt on a winding dirt road deep inside the West Bank, the battlefield of his nonshooting war against the Israeli government's settlement drive.

"I wrecked two cars [on rough roads] last week and I don't want to wreck another one," explains Israel's only settlement spy, who carries out his surveillance on behalf of Israel's dovish Peace Now movement.

Mr. Etkes parks outside the outpost known as Givat Ha Roeh. Outposts are settlements considered illegal not only by international law as all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are, but also by Israeli law since they never received cabinet authorization.

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According to an international peace blueprint, the road map, Givat Ha Roeh should have been dismantled, but it is getting bigger. Digging of foundations into the hill beneath existing trailers is under way, and pipes and metal sheeting are spread nearby. Etkes calculates that six new houses will be built on the spot, permanent housing for residents of the trailers.

Using a camera, a plane, and old fashioned sleuthing techniques, Etkes arguably knows more about the settlements than all but a few individuals in the government and the top settler leadership. He documents their daily expansion, which he says has intensified over the last few months. It is a job that makes him a traitor to some right- wingers but popular among US diplomats who report home on the settlements.

Dore Gold, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, takes issue with Peace Now's criticisms. "Israel has taken down a number [of outposts] and will take down more. In the meantime we are waiting for the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, which they have not even begun to do."

A road map challenge

According to the road map, Israel was required to remove dozens of outposts like Givat Ha Roeh as a first step toward freezing its settlement drive and enabling the emergence of a "viable" Palestinian state.

At Givat Ha Roeh, Etkes hands his guest a pair of binoculars through which two white trailers become visible on another hilltop. He says it was vacant only a few weeks ago. Peace Now has given it a name so that it can be put it on their maps, hill 805, since it is 805 meters (2,640 feet) above sea level.

"The government is misleading the Israeli people and the world. Instead of preparing for a historic compromise, things on the ground are going in the opposite direction," Etkes says. "There is a continuous effort to deepen and widen the grasp on land." Two weeks ago, the government announced new grants of $11,400 and soft loans of an equal amount to induce young couples to move to settlements.

For Etkes, each new trailer has symbolic significance that in some sense harks back to his army service as a paratrooper in the West Bank, 1987-89. His job involved suppressing the first intifada, which started in 1987 and raged until 1993.

"I participated in house demolitions, mass arrests, and forcing kids to climb telephone poles to take down Palestinian flags. I was present at beatings by my friends. I was never one of the most enthusiastic sadists, but I was definitely part of the mechanism of oppression," he says.

"My whole military experience was very traumatic and very unpleasant. I do not like to follow orders and I do not like not to think. I reflected for years on the massive violence of which I was a part, of how we were indoctrinated and expected to do things on behalf of the state. I was the tool for a stupid, immoral, and unconstructive policy." Etkes says such "indoctrination" has precluded the Israeli public from seeing the Palestinians as equal human beings with their own tie to the land. One of the expressions of this, he says, is the takeover and transformation of more and more of the West Bank.

Continuing construction

At another outpost, Migron, Etkes points to about four acres of once rocky hillside which, he says, in recent weeks have been cleared outside the perimeter fence. "They can put another 20 trailers or so there," Etkes says.

As he makes his rounds, Etkes's phone rings often, sometimes from settlers returning his calls. He saw an ad on a settler's car for a cafe where jazz is played - at one of the illegal outposts, Old Marvot Yitzhak. "I say I want to know about the performance, and I get some information in the process. How many families live there and that type of thing. I use classic methods that every intelligence agency uses. I read the settlers' media, their websites, I speak to them. Sometimes I tell them who I am and they proudly tell me what they are doing," he says.

Sometimes the job is dangerous. A year ago, at the Yizhar settlement in the northern West Bank, his car was surrounded by about 15 settlers, he recalls. "They took the film from my camera and said, 'Next time you come, we will kill you.' When I drove away I was ambushed and stoned."

'A state of war'

Yuri Stern, a far-right legislator, says of Etkes: "I feel sorry for people like that. They believe that the Jews cause the terrorism and that if we withdraw, there will be peace. Each time they are slapped in the face, but they do not learn."

"Those who spy are serving the interests of the Palestinians," he adds. "It may be that we will have to check how other countries in a state of war respond to such behavior."

Etkes considers his motives patriotic. "Patriotism is not being a person willing to kill others for your own people, but rather someone who understands that when the Palestinians live well, we will live well," he says.

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