Young Jewish settlers on front line

The children of settlement founders say they're the new vanguard

Hilltop No. 804 is one of a dozen settlement outposts that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak says must come down. But that won't happen without a fight by people like Shivi and Shira Drori.

In their mid-20s and already the parents of three children, the Droris are at the forefront of Dor HaHemshech - Hebrew for "The Next Generation" - which touts itself as the new vanguard of right-wing activists set to oppose any plans to evacuate Jewish settlers or turn over land to Palestinians. Next Generation leaders say they plan to fight for the life of every settlement outpost, even those as minute as this one - little more than a tool shed and a few plants on a hill that settlers have named Shevut Rachel Bet.

Next Generation adherents are young and idealistic, and unlike their parents, they have never known a home outside of the settlements in which they were raised. Born after the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967 in which Israel seized control of the West Bank from Jordan, their houses aren't just the fulfillment of an ideological vision of settling the "Greater Land of Israel." They're the only reality they've ever known.

But the future of their presence on hills they've been brought up to view as their birthright is now precarious. Even some of their fellow settlers have made their mission difficult: The settlers' council and main lobbying group, Yesha, had reached an agreement with Mr. Barak in dismantling the dozen settlement outposts. The 12 are among 42 identified by the settlement watchdog group Peace Now, which says the new outposts are on far-flung hilltops, sometimes miles from their established "mother" settlements.

Palestinians say removing 12 is too few - especially given that Barak just gave authorization for another 2,600 homes in existing settlements - all of which are illegal according to United Nations Security Council resolutions. Yet settlers on the far right see Yesha's deal with Barak as a sell-out of their ideals.

What's more, six years of Israeli- Palestinian peacemaking have brought home the fact that much of the world - and a majority of Israelis, according to many polls - believes there will be a Palestinian state on what settlers view as the Jewish heartland.

"Thousands of things have changed since our parents' day. Mostly, the so-called peace process started," says Mrs. Drori, a slim woman who wears the long skirt and woven hat favored by many modern Orthodox Jewish women. "We used to act knowing that Judea and Samaria would always be ours," she says, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names. "Now we don't even know that much. We're giving away land to the Palestinians we only feared we could lose in war."

To stop that process, Next Generation says it will use tactics including civil disobedience and refusal to leave settlements marked for evacuation.

"We hope we will gather many people who will fight evacuation," said Mr. Drori, as he passed out bottles of water to young activists chanting slogans.

"We formed this group because we said, 'We can't let it happen without a fight.' We want to make sure that giving up parts of the land of Israel will not go without comment."

Though the Next Generation could prove nettlesome for Barak, analysts observing its emergence say that it would be difficult for it to gather anything like the momentum of the religious nationalists of the late 1960s and 1970s, when Israelis were still in something of a state of awe after gaining East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the Six Day War. "Their parents operated in what was in many ways a political and ideological vacuum," says political commentator Joseph Alpher, head of the Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee. "There was no peace process. Now, 80 percent of Israelis believe there will be a Palestinian state."

In a sense, the Next Generation might seem as if it's breathing new life into an aging story line. While only about 175,000 of some 6 million Israelis live in the settlements, their influence has been a force that Israeli governments have had to contend with for the past 30 years.

Indeed, in a car not far away from the hub of the protest sits Mrs. Drori's mother, Daniella Weiss. One of the founders of the Gush Emunim movement (Bloc of the Faithful) which inspired religious nationalists to found settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mrs. Weiss serves as mentor to the Next Generation.

Inside her car that acts as a kind of mobile war room, the phone rings with constant updates from her foot soldiers about plans to dismantle this and other settlements.

"The best producer in Hollywood could not have found a better set for this drama," says Weiss, surveying the West Bank mountains that surround this settlement, which lies between Ramallah and Nablus.

Twenty-five years ago, Weiss was herself a leading lady. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, she led a group of settlers on a crusade to put down roots in this region, despite opposition from the government. The settlers were removed from their makeshift encampments seven times, until, in 1975, Israeli leaders allowed them to stay and found the settlement of Kedumim, where Weiss now serves as mayor.

"There were always obstacles in our way," says Weiss, who speaks in slow, purposeful sentences. "We overcame them because we believed and we acted."

"The old generation is tired, and maybe they don't have the strength to protest anymore," adds her daughter. "Yesha was looking at the dilemma in a practical way, so they agreed. But Barak is testing us to see how the settlers react, so we had to do something."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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