Beneath clouds of dust, platoons of bulldozers push their way up the hills of Galilee like tank formations moving up to meet the enemy. The urgency of the operation is, indeed, little different from that of war for the Israeli government, which has mustered the country's most intensive settlement effort in decades.
This time, however, the effort is being made in the heart of Israel, not in territories occupied during the 1967 war with the Arabs.
Within one year, infrastructure has been laid for 29 settlements in central Galilee -- the area between Nazareth and the Lebanese border. The object is to reinforce the Jewish population in a region that is 72 percent Arab, albeit Israeli Arab.
Arab nationalism within Israel is increasing, and negotiations have been held for Palestinian autonomy on the nearby West Bank, as near as 10 miles away. Thus, Israeli leaders believe it will be only a matter of time before the 150, 000 Arabs in Galilee demand their inclusion in any autonomous entity created for their brethren across the pre-1967 border.
"This is a subject more fateful than any of us know," says Prof. Raanan Weitz , head of the Jewish Agency settlement department that is responsible for the settlement program.
Although the demographic situation in Galilee long has been in the back of the government's mind, other areas had higher priority. Since 1967, virtually all settlement resources were channeled across the former border -- into Sinai, the Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It was the violent reaction of Galilee Arabs to the expropriation of 2,200 acres of their land four years ago that sounded te alarm. The land, virtually all of it rocky hillsides unsuited for farming, was wanted by the government for the expansion of two of the handful of Jewish towns in the area.
But the move touched off smoldering resentment among the local Arab population, which feared that such expropriations would eventually strangle their own growth plans. Riots broke out and five Arabs were killed by Israeli security forces. The riots demonstrated the Arabs' growing alienation and the extent to which Galilee had become an Arab political enclave.
With almost all of Galilee's agricultural area in Arab hands, the Israeli settlement authorities decided to infuse Jewish population into the area in "industrial villages." These are a new form communal settlement which, unlike the traditional kibbutz, would be based on industry -- mostly high technology industry -- rather than farming. These hilltop villages would require relatively little land and no expropriation of Arab land.
It soon became apparent that the villages, concentrated in three blocs, would not be enough to make a significant dent in the Arab character of the Galilee. It was Professor Weitz who conceived an even more unconventional response in the fall of 1977 after a tour of Galilee in which he saw how Bedouin and other Arabs were setting up their own settlements illegally on government land.
"As soon as I got back to Jerusalem," recalls Professor Weitz, "I prepared a detailed memo calling for the creation of 30 mitspim."m Literally observation posts, the mitspim Mr. Weitz proposed would be minisettlements that could be thrown up on public land all across the Galilee with little expense.
The idea was to establish a Jewish presence as swiftly as possible on strategic hilltops dominating the Galilee. One of their primary purposes would be to report attempts at illegal Arab settlement on public lands in their areas, thus effectively extending government control over 40,000 acres of public land. In the end, however, the outposts would become full-fledged settlements themselves.
After years of dormancy, Jewish Galilee, without waiting even to stretch itself into wakefulness, has broken into a dead run -- a carefully calculated run aimed at capturing the ridgelines of the hills. Fifty miles of road were cut through the hills in one year to reach the new settlements sites.
In their initial stage, only about a dozen families will live in each of the mitspim. The settlers will live in prefabricated huts. They will have a small generator for electricity, a single radio-telephone per settlement, and no local employment. Since the beginning of the year, half the mitspim have been settled. The remainder will be by October.
The first to receive settlers was Tal El on a beautiful hilltop site not far from the Mediterranean. Most of the family heads are Russian immigrants with degrees in metallurgy, electronics, or similar professions. Mordecai Schweitzer , an electrical engineer and one of the few native-born Israelis at Tal El, commutes each day along with the other men to plants on the coastal plain half an hour away.
"We will eventually develop our own industry here," he says. "We have the know-how. We need capital and markets."