The personal toll of making peace in the West Bank

Both Palestinians and Jewish settlers are upset about encroachments on their homesteads.

Boris Sitrine, his thick black hair tied back in a long ponytail, and Mohammed Ahmed Sheiwah, his head draped with a white scarf and black ring to hold it in place, wouldn't seem to have much in common. But the two have more to commiserate about than they realize.

Mr. Sitrine, an Israeli building engineer in his late 30s, resides in the far north of the West Bank. Mr. Sheiwah, an elderly Palestinian farmer, lives in the extreme south of the same contested piece of real estate. Both are middle-of-the-road men, and neither of them outright opposes the Wye accord now being implemented after almost two years of deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. But each of them is distraught about the personal toll the process is exacting on their lives.

Sitrine now finds his family stuck in a Jewish settlement that has just become an isolated enclave surrounded by autonomous Palestinian territory - a fact, he fears, that may force them to fight for their lives or move. Sheiwah has just seen the field he's toiled in all his life sliced in half by an Israeli bulldozer making way for new bypass roads designed to ensure better access for settlers.

No warning

As the Israeli handover of West Bank land to Palestinian control was completed last weekend - along with the paving of a new bypass for Jewish settlers - Sitrine and Sheiwah both voiced the same lament: Not one official showed up to explain a thing to them before the deed was done.

All things considered, peace is winning points. The Israeli redeployment, the first of three planned over the next 12 weeks, involved a rather smooth transition of power to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's forces. Mr. Arafat has also proceeded on several fronts, discouraging anti-Israel incitement, making efforts to change parts of the Palestinian charter calling for Israel's destruction, and providing evidence that 10 of 30 most-wanted Palestinian militants were in jail.

Adding to the air of celebration that swept through villages surrounding the city of Jenin - the region in which land under full Palestinian Authority control was expanded this weekend - Palestinians held long-awaited inauguration ceremonies Tuesday at Yasser Arafat International Airport in the Gaza Strip.

From where many workaday Palestinians and Israelis sit, however, they're losing - be it peace of mind or a piece of land. Israelis like Sitrine are frightened of what will happen to their homes if they are attacked by armed Palestinians - and the Israeli army isn't on hand. Palestinians like Sheiwah are incensed, asking why - if peace is at hand and Arafat is building their independent state as promised - they should have to give up even one more olive tree.

Luring real estate

As Palestinian police rode triumphantly through the outlying areas of Jenin, Sitrine was unpacking his weekly grocery shopping from the back of his station wagon. Eight years ago, he and his wife, Olga, moved here from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Housing was cheap here in Kadim, promoted to newcomers as a nonreligious settlement with "a high quality of life and stunning views."

"Before I moved here," says Sitrine, "I asked about the future of the settlement and they said, 'Don't worry, it will be fine.' " Government-backed promotional literature distributed at temporary housing centers for immigrants made them think they had no reason to doubt coming here.

Now, he says, he has to worry about how they will defend themselves. He fears he'll have to dress his children in bulletproof vests. Officials say not to worry: Settlers will be given beefed-up reinforcements in case of attack.

But perhaps more realistic was the assessment by Lt. Shlomo Dror, of the Israeli office of Coordinator of Activities in the Territories: "The quality of life for people there is going to change in a very severe way."

Financial stakes

Since it was primarily financial incentives that brought many settlers out here in the first place - coupled with leafy, suburban neighborhoods - there is already talk here about whether and when residents will be offered government compensation in exchange for leaving their homes.

One Israeli lawmaker, Knesset member Yossi Katz from the left-wing Labor Party, introduced a bill last week requiring the government to make plans for compensating settlers who must leave homes in isolated enclaves like this one.

According to a poll of West Bank settlers conducted by Israeli and Palestinian academics last year, close to a fourth of respondents said they were ready to evacuate their settlements in return for fair compensation.

"Compensation is not the issue," says Mrs. Sitrine. "The kids grew up here. You can't just give them money and send them away."

Her husband sighs. "I understand that there's a price for peace," he says. "But as a regular human being, I don't want to be the one to pay it."

Neither does Sheiwah. Out in Ramadin, a village of unfinished cement-block homes, people mind their own business.

But Sheiwah heard the land confiscation coming. A few times in the past year, he heard planes flying overhead - a rare sort of rumble that he now figures came from army flights taking aerial photographs of the area in preparation for the new roads. Now one hears a high-pitched jingle from a plow that works in the shadow of three Israeli army soldiers and a flock of goats tended by area Bedouin children.

"That's my land over there that they're taking, and I can't do anything about it," says Sheiwah, standing on a mustard-yellow hilltop above the tilled fields that await the planting of winter crops in the next two weeks. "I take my food from this land. It has been my family's since the Turkish times."

"We were all glad that they signed this agreement. But when they see them taking our lands, our trees, I get angry."

Sheiwah isn't sure if Palestinian negotiators agreed to the land confiscations totaling 1,800 dunams - or about 450 acres - to pave as many as 13 new roads. If so, he says, he would be doubly incensed. Perhaps sensing growing ire among Palestinians who will have their land confiscated for the roads - partially financed by American aid - Palestinian officials now say they never agreed to the building of such roads.

No chance to oppose

Like the settlers in Kadim, people in Ramadin wonder why no one came to tell them. "Before they agreed to this, they should have presented the plan to the citizens of the village and given us a chance to oppose it," says Ratib Al-Sabar, the mayor of Dahariyeh, where some land will be confiscated.

Mr. Dror, from the Israeli coordinator's office, says that the bypass roads will ultimately be used by both Palestinians and Israelis. Some bypass roads that Israel has recently paved, he says, will eventually come under full Palestinian control. Moreover, all the people whose land is confiscated will be offered financial compensation, or land elsewhere.

Palestinians, however, have traditionally refused such offers. To accept them, goes the logic, would be to recognize confiscations as legitimate.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.