Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Jewish Settlers, to Yield Golan Is to Give Away Jerusalem

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Jewish Settlers, to Yield Golan Is to Give Away Jerusalem

Article excerpt

THE sweep of Oded Ambar's weathered hand takes in the deep green canyon, rolling hills and, far below, the shimmering tip of the Sea of Galilee. A blue-rock thrush suns itself on a boulder, while a short-toed eagle cuts a silent path through the ravine.

"On that day, all the people of Gamla were killed," he says with reverence. "Gamla was destroyed, left, and never built again."

It was in AD 67 that Vespasian's Roman legions attacked and destroyed the ancient Jewish city of Gamla, killing 9,000 people. Six years later, Masada, a more famous Jewish rebel stronghold fell. To this day, Gamla is known as the Masada of the north.

To Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Gamla is redolent with historical significance.

"I just want to remind you that when Gamla was destroyed, Jerusalem was destroyed," Mr. Ambar notes, his eyes still playing over the ancient city.

"There are many people who believe that this land has to do with the protection of Jerusalem and the protection of many other parts of this country," he says.

In the nearby settlement of Kazrin, home to 3,500 of the Golan's 11,500 Jewish residents, Dedi Gofer puts it more plainly.

"If you give away the Golan, you give away Jerusalem," says Mr. Gofer, who looks after the settlement's new arrivals, many of whom are recent immigrants from the Soviet Union.

Settler concerns have been raised by United States Secretary of State James Baker III's shuttle diplomacy, which is aimed at reaching a Middle East peace settlement based on the exchange of land for peace. Israel captured the Golan Heights, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, during the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1982, the Heights were effectively annexed.

Today, settlers display a mixture of vulnerability and defiance, and look to Israel's hard-line prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, to quash all talk of returning the Golan Heights to Syria.

"We believe him," says Meir Monitz, Kazrin's deputy mayor, referring to Mr. Shamir's assurances that Israel will not agree to withdraw from the Golan. "But we're afraid. We don't know how strong he can be if the United States puts pressure on Israel."

The settlers are taking their own precautions, establishing an action committee to lobby the government against negotiating over the Heights, and working hard to attract new residents.

"If someone talks about the Golan and we have 10,000 or 11,000 people, it's a reason" not to leave, says Mr. Monitz. "But if we have here 50,000 or 100,000, it's another reason, a stronger reason."

The latest drive has filled 200 apartments that were sitting empty a year ago. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon, Israel's hard-line housing minister, has vowed to build enough housing in the Golan for another 20,000 settlers.

Monitz says he's convinced that the Golan's 15,000 Druze - the remnants of a community that numbered more than 100,000 people before most were driven out in 1967 - are happy to remain under Israeli sovereignty. …

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