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Settlers Defy Troops On West Bank Hilltop

August 1, 1995

DAGAN HILL, West Bank (AP) _ Defiant Jewish settlers evaded military roadblocks Tuesday and planted an Israeli flag atop a West Bank hill they were evicted from a day earlier.

About 200 people, more than half of them teen-agers, gathered atop Dagan Hill as dusk fell and recited evening prayers. When police surrounded the hill south of Jerusalem, which has been designated a closed military area, the settlers agreed to leave but said they would be back Wednesday.

``This is going to continue every day, probably in more than one place,″ said David Waldman of the Kiryat Arba settlement.

Settler spokesman Aharon Domb said 150 more settlers were gathered on nearby Tamar Hill.

About 600 settlers, who oppose Israel’s plans to turn over parts of the occupied West Bank to Palestinian control, were dragged off the hill on Monday by Israeli police and soldiers. Many then moved to another hill north of Jerusalem, and were forced off again Tuesday morning.

The army ``doesn’t have enough strength to clear this place constantly on a day-to-day basis,″ said Pesach Avraham of Kiryat Arba. ``We are here and here to stay.″

The escalating settler protests come as Israel negotiates with the PLO to withdraw troops and turn over towns in the West Bank to the Palestinians.

While the protests are winning the settlers media attention and provoking debate over the use of Israeli soldiers in confrontations with Jews, they seem unlikely to sway the government _ which few if any of the settlers support.

Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin called the settlers’ actions ``ridiculous provocations″ and said they would be ``dealt with in accordance with the law.″

Earlier Tuesday, hundreds of police and soldiers tore down tents and flimsy huts atop Artis Hill, north of Jerusalem, and dragged away struggling adults and children.

``We’ll return _ if not today, then tomorrow,″ said settler Meir Gross. ``This isn’t a land dispute, but a struggle for our roots and our existence as a nation.″

By midday, troops had cleared the site and surrounded it to block settlers from returning.

Police briefly detained about 100 people, including settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein. The settlers cheered each time one of their ranks was carried off by police and piled stones, pipes and plywood in the road to block the buses carrying the detainees.

``Not only will we see scenes like this every day, but they will escalate,″ said Benny Eilon, a settler leader, before troops removed him from the hill.

``We are not looking for sympathy. We need for the country to understand how grave the situation is. The country, the people, are being divided into two.″

Settlers insist that plans to turn parts of the West Bank over to Palestinian control endangers their security and violates their biblical claim to the land. They said they will continue their protests until negotiations with the PLO are stopped.

An editorial in the Haaretz newspaper Tuesday said the prevailing opinion in Israel is that the noisy protests are in vain.

``The settlers don’t have the strength to force the government to change its political line, and the placing of a few huts on another hill will not achieve this aim,″ the editorial said.

The Maariv newspaper sympathized with the security concerns of the West Bank’s 140,000 settlers. But it said that if forced to choose, the Israeli public would side with the army and government.

``If it has to decide between obeying the law and anarchy it will prefer obeying the law,″ it said.

Turning over control of West Bank towns to the Palestinians is more complex than the initial deal establishing autonomy in the Gaza Strip and Jericho because so many more Jewish settlers live in the West Bank. There are only 5,000 settlers in the Gaza Strip.

Negotiations with the PLO are going on this week in the Red Sea resort Eilat, after a five-day suspension following last week’s deadly bus bombing in Tel Aviv.

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