Pro-settlements firm forged 14 of 15 West Bank land deals


Nearly all of the West Bank real estate acquisitions made by a company run by a pro-settlement activist were forged.

The details of the transactions by the Al-Watan company, owned by the Amana housing company and run by director-general Zeev Hever, were broadcast Monday on Israel’s Channel 1. A full report was to be broadcast Tuesday night on the Channel 10 news program “HaMakor with Raviv Drucker.”

According to the investigation, the documents used by illegal outposts to prove they had purchased land from their Palestinian owners were forged. Some 14 of 15 real estate transactions were found to be forged, according to the report.

The report was based on two Palestinians who acted as straw men for Al-Watan, purchasing property from landowners and then transferring it to Amana.

Among the settlements involved in the deals, which date back to at least 1990, were Migron, Amona and Givat Asaf.

Al-Watan rejected the allegations, according to the Times of Israel.

Israel launches crackdown on pro-settler vandals


Israel announced a crackdown on Monday against Jewish ultranationalists who vandalize Palestinian property, saying they were tantamount to terrorists and their attacks could fan sectarian violence.

The move followed the arrest of a 22-year Israeli from an Orthodox Jewish town near Tel Aviv for the vandalism of a Christian monastery in the West Bank last year. The attack was carried out in solidarity with hardline Jewish settlers.

Graffiti left on the 19th-century Latrun Monastery referred to Migron, an unauthorized settler outpost evacuated by the Israeli government. The words “Jesus is a monkey” were also daubed on the wall in Hebrew, and the monastery's doors torched.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said those suspected in so-called “Price Tag” incidents would now be subject to measures such as longer detentions and denial of access to lawyers while under interrogation – measures akin to those used by Israel's security services in tackling Palestinian militants.

“Price Tag perpetrators' conduct is identical to the conduct of modern terrorist groups, including ideological inspiration and covert action,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“Its main objective is to prevent the legitimate Israeli government from carrying out moves, whether of state or regarding law enforcement, and to sow fear among the nation's leaders of making decisions of one kind or another.”

The ultranationalists have desecrated mosques, torched cars and chopped down trees belonging to Palestinians, saying they sought to make the government “pay” for curbing unauthorized West Bank settlement

They have occasionally hit Israeli army facilities, churches or Arab sites inside the Jewish state. But Israeli authorities are most troubled by the possibility that Palestinian victims could lash out in reprisal, upending the West Bank's relative calm at a time of peacemaking stalemate.

“It is our duty to toughen up the penalties against these miscreants, because this activity has catastrophic potential,” the statement quoted Yaalon as saying. “We must fight an all-out war against them, with minimum tolerance and maximum means.”

IMPUNITY

Palestinians, who exercise limited autonomy in the West Bank under 1993 interim peace deals, have long complained settlers enjoy impunity under Israeli military control of the territory.

Israel's Shin Bet security service says dozens of suspects have been arrested. But convictions have been rare, a fact Israeli officials blame on suspects' secrecy and withstanding of pressure to confess under interrogation.

Settler leaders have disavowed the Price Tag perpetrators, many of whom are self-styled “Hilltop Youths,” zealots in their teens or 20s who spurn the authority of the secular state.

In one incident last August, six Palestinians were hurt when their taxi was firebombed. Several Israeli minors from a settlement were arrested but released for lack of evidence.

Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan

Migron evacuation: A look back and a look ahead


The evacuation of all 50 Jewish families in Israel’s Migron outpost was completed on Sunday evening without major incident. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the successful and peaceful evacuation—but vowed that his government would continue to strengthen Jewish communities in the West Bank.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the opening of the new Lod District Court, Netanyahu said, “We are committed to following the rule of law in this country. This is a clear line that I follow, even on sensitive days like these. We honor court orders and we also strengthen the settlements, there is no contradiction between the two. I welcome the fact that the Migron issue, like that of Ulpana before it, ended through dialogue and responsibility and without violence while honoring the court ruling. That is how it needs to be and that is how it will be.”

Israeli police said on Sunday that Jewish residents left Migron quietly for temporary housing in another neighborhood, Givat Hayekev, but eight youths who came to Migron to protest against the eviction were arrested for attacking police. Some 70 Jewish youths ensconced themselves into two buildings at the outpost on Saturday night ahead of the expected evacuation, despite opposition from other residents. Far Right MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) was among those who had to be forcibly removed from the site.

The area has now been declared a closed military zone, and Israeli Defense Ministry staff stayed on site Sunday to pack up the belongings of the residents. Almost all structures at the site—except for those on one lot where the ownership is still being investigated—will be demolished by Sept. 11.

Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now—the group that started the legal challenge against Jewish residents of Migron—welcomed the evacuation and said it “proves that when the police wants to, it can peacefully and quickly evacuate even the largest outpost.”

The next battle in the West Bank is expected to be over the outposts of Amona and Givat Asaf. Israel informed its High Court of Justice that both would be removed by the end of 2012, but the court has not yet presented its final ruling on the matter. The Yesha Council—an umbrella organization of municipal councils in West Bank Jewish communities—therefore believes that the government still has the opportunity to retroactively authorize these outposts, as it did recently with Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim.

The High Court’s ruling last week that Migron residents must leave by Sept. 4 ended a legal saga that dated back to 2006, when the Peace Now movement petitioned the court on behalf of alleged Palestinian landowners who claimed the Jewish community had illegally usurped their property. In August 2011, the court ruled in favor of the Palestinian plaintiffs and ordered the outpost removed by April 2012. Shortly before the deadline elapsed, the residents and government announced a deal to relocate the community, but the court struck it down, saying it would be inappropriate to overturn a final ruling in a case that had been thoroughly litigated. The agreement, which would have allowed the residents to stay for an additional three years, also failed to fully comply with the High Court's decision to remove the homes and left an opening for their future re-occupation by stipulating that the army will get to decide their fate.

In a last-ditch effort, the residents attempted to convince the court that the land had been properly purchased in a recent transaction. In its ruling last week, the court conceded that it could not ascertain the authenticity of the purchase documents, but even if the land had been lawfully obtained, this would not constitute sufficient grounds to overturn the original decision, because the homes were not properly licensed. The court said only one plot in Migron would be spared evacuation, as it may lie on state property.

Netanyahu, who at first wanted to have the Migron evacuation delayed by a few years to placate members of his coalition, said he would comply with the High Court’s ruling while at the same time bolstering the Jewish presence in the West Bank. In Ulpana, June’s orderly evacuation of the roughly 30 families in that community was made possible in large part because of the government’s promise to build hundreds of new housing units in Beit El and other communities in the West Bank.

Migron residents spent their last Shabbat at the outpost over the weekend, holding study sessions and engaging in prayer, alongside special Shabbat meals and related events. “This was a very uplifting Shabbat but also very heart-wrenching,” one resident said on Saturday. “The feeling is that this may be our last Shabbat; it has begun to sink in.”

On Saturday night, residents congregated outside the outpost’s synagogue to discuss what lies ahead.

Binyamin Regional Council head Avi Roeh paid a visit to the community, bringing along with him members of his social service apparatus.

Ahead of the impending evacuation, residents were split over whether to accept the alternative accommodation offered by the Israeli Defense Ministry. There were also diverging opinions on what their conduct should be when the time would come to evacuate, and whether or not they would engage in civil disobedience. However, there was an across-the-board consensus that the residents would not voluntarily leave en masse.

The Israeli Defense Ministry worked around the clock to complete the alternative housing units, consisting of prefabricated homes. All housing units are connected to an electricity grid and have running water and functioning kitchens with gas stoves. The homes were also equipped with air conditioning units. Palestinians who had been hired to prepare the site removed safety hazards, assembling handrails and completing the main road and infrastructure there.

Monastery torched in apparent price tag attack


A Christian monastery was vandalized and set alight in what appears to be a price tag attack.

The door of the Latrun Monastery was set on fire early Tuesday morning, and the names of West Bank outposts were spray-painted on the walls, as was the epithet “Jesus is a monkey.”

No one was injured in the attack, which occurred slightly after 3:30 a.m.

The Jerusalem District Police have opened an investigation into the attack.

Security forces had been on alert for potential price tag attacks in the wake of the evacuation of the Migron outpost on Sunday. Price tag refers to the strategy that extremists have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Last week, Palestinian cars were torched and vandalized in a village near Ramallah. The words “Price Tag,” “Migron” and “Revenge to Arabs” were spray painted on the cars.

Jewish families leave Migron outpost


All of the Jewish families living in the West Bank outpost of Migron reportedly have evacuated. 

Families began moving out Sunday morning, as border police went door to door in the outpost handing out eviction notices. Some of the 50 families living on the hilltop reportedly left Saturday night. At least 40 families had vacated by mid-afternoon.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled last week that the outpost must be evacuated by Sept. 4.

The ruling was in response to a petition filed by the families requesting a delay in the eviction until the modular homes being built for the evacuees are completed. They reportedly will not be habitable for several weeks. The families are expected to go to temporary housing in a nearby college dormitory until the modular homes are available.

The outpost's homes must be razed by Sept. 11, with the exception of the homes of  the 17 families who claimed in a petition to the court that they have purchased or repurchased the plots on which their homes are located. That apartment building reportedly will be allowed to stand, empty, until the claim is investigated.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The families reportedly decided that they will leave the outpost peacefully, though some will wait for police to remove them.

But on Sunday morning dozens of young demonstrators came to Migron and took over a building that had already been evacuated, in a show of protest. Police were removing them forcibly by mid-morning Sunday. Some 70 teens living in nearby settlements were forcibly removed from Migron on Sunday, at least four were detained by police.

Graffiti painted by the settlers on their homes included:  “Migron we shall return” and “the eternal people does not fear the long road,” and “Begin = Sinai, Sharon = Gush Katif, Bibi = Migron. Only the Likud can.”

Palestinian cars torched in price tag attack


Palestinian cars were torched and vandalized in a price tag attack near Ramallah in the West Bank.

Israeli troops reportedly discovered one car burnt and two others spray-painted with slogans that read “Price Tag,” “Migron” and “Revenge to Arabs” in the early Wednesday morning attack.

The troops entered the Palestinian village after reports of Israeli civilians in the area.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremists have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews. The Migron outpost had been scheduled to be evacuated on Tuesday but was not.

On Tuesday, two torched cars were discovered in a Palestinian village near Hebron.

Meanwhile, Palestinians threw six firebombs at Israeli army patrols in eastern Jerusalem early Wednesday morning. One man was arrested in connection with the attack.

Migron must be evacuated in a week, Israel’s high court rules


Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the West Bank outpost of Migron must be evacuated by Sept. 4.

All 50 families must leave the outpost, the court ruled Wednesday in response to a petition filed by the families requesting a delay in the eviction until the modular homes being built for the evacuees are completed. They reportedly will not be habitable for several weeks.

The outpost’s homes must be razed by Sept. 11, with the exception of the 17 families who claimed in a petition to the court that they have purchased or repurchased the plots on which their homes are located.

Those families also had asked the court to allow them to remain in their homes—a request that essentially was denied by Wednesday’s ruling.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill.

Migron not evacuated as scheduled


The Migron outpost in the West Bank was not evacuated as scheduled.

The eviction had been scheduled for Tuesday, the same day that the Israeli Supreme Court conducted a hearing on a petition filed by the residents requesting a delay in the eviction until the modular homes being built for the evacuees are completed. They reportedly will not be habitable for several weeks.

A decision is not expected for at least several days.

Some 17 families who claim they have purchased or repurchased the plots that their homes are located on also have petitioned the court to be allowed to stay in their homes.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill.

On the eve of evacuation, Migron projecting tranquility


Off a rough, paved road atop a mountain, on the thin stucco wall of a trailer home, black graffiti proclaims “Private Jewish land.” And underneath, in red, “Migron.”

The trailer home is among dozens in Israel’s largest settlement outpost, deep in the central West Bank and not far from the Palestinian metropolis of Ramallah. To reach Migron, cars must exit a main highway and ascend a twisting road that barely has room for two lanes.

Founded more than a decade ago, Migron remains unrecognized by Israel’s government. Security forces plan to evacuate most of its 50 families on Tuesday based on an Israeli Supreme Court decision that they are living on private Palestinian land.

But as bulldozers dig at the bottom of the mountain, installing new government-approved trailers for the soon-to-be evacuees, Migron persists in tranquility. Children crowd around a plastic airplane. A pregnant mother loads her car. Workers rest in front of a warehouse. 

A woman leaves the trailer emblazoned with graffiti and walks through a yard of gravel, dirt, litter and toys. About an hour later, the black and red writing is covered by a whitewashed square incongruous with the trailer’s off-white and brown exterior.

The sense of calm, and the whitewashing, are intentional. Even as they are locked in a fight with the government to maintain a settlement far from Israel’s recognized borders, Migron’s residents do not speak of ideology or biblical promises. Rather they portray themselves as nothing more than a coalition of citizens, loyal to the country, that is fighting to preserve its democratic rights through legal means. Graffiti is not part of that strategy.

“We try to work only with democratic tools in a good, just system,” said Elisheva Razvag, a 27-year-old mother of two and one of the only residents authorized to speak to the media. “The state broke the rules in acting like this.”

Razvag hopes that the Supreme Court will approve a petition on Tuesday allowing some of Migron’s families to stay, and that in fact the entire evacuation will be delayed. But should the residents have to leave, Razvag said “it’s possible that part of the settlement will move” to the newly built trailers.

Asked about possible violent settler opposition to an evacuation—as has happened elsewhere—she would say only that the community is waiting on the court’s decision.

“We are also the state,” she said. “I have no other place.”

Although only a fragment of an Israeli flag remains flying on a lamppost above the main road, Razvag said it was not torn down in protest. Rather, she said, Migron raised many flags for Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day in the spring, and some have since been damaged naturally. A full flag flies on a post down the road.

But beyond the end of Migron’s main road and across a rocky field, loyalty ends and open ideology begins. A shack built of thin wood panels and a corrugated tin roof stands in defiance not just of the state but also of Migron’s residents. On one of the walls, green and red grafitti quotes Rabbi Hillel of the Mishna: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?”

There will be no whitewashing here.

This cabin is the latest iteration of Ramat Migron, an outpost that the government has evacuated and demolished multiple times. Both Migron’s residents and a young man from Ramat Migron stress that despite being adjacent to each other, the two have no connection. Razvag and Itai Chemo, Migron’s spokesperson, say they haven’t been to Ramat Migron in at least a year, and do not communicate with its residents.

Nor do they share common cause. Unlike Migron, whose continued existence depends on government recognition, Ramat Migron is a project of the Hilltop Youth, a group of young, ideological settlers who build outposts in spite of Israeli law.

With thick payos hanging from his light brown hair and a black velvet kippah perched askew on his head, the man wore dark green pants, sandals and a gray t-shirt that said “Jews buy from Jews.”

“The most important thing is to build the Holy Temple,” he said. He added that he was not a Zionist.

“We’ll watch,” said the young man of how he would react to a government evacuation of Migron. And if the bulldozers come to his cabin? “War.” Ramat Migron’s lack of weapons did not seem to bother him.

“We’re two different places,” Razvag said, “definitely two different places.”

New date set for Migron settlement evacuation


Israel’s Supreme Court said that the evacuation of an illegal West Bank settlement must take place by Aug. 21.

The judges granted the government request Friday to postpone the eviction of the Migron, home to about 50 families, until Aug. 21, according to Haaretz. An earlier postponement had decided the date would be Aug. 1.

The state requested that the delay not take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid worries of “price tag” reprisal attacks by settlers that could have inflamed tensions with Palestinians, according to Haaretz.

Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel recently said that “the request for a delay today, is preparation for another request to delay next month.”

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill over the next three years.

Migron residents agree to relocation


Residents of Migron have signed an agreement with the Israeli government on relocating the illegal West Bank outpost.

The agreement signed Sunday will allow the outpost’s approximately 50 families to move to a nearby hill over the next three years, meaning that they will not be evicted as ordered by Israel’s Supreme Court. The current site will be turned over to the Civil Administration, which has agreed to consider public uses.

Migron, which is approximately 14 miles north of Jerusalem, had been slated under an Israeli Supreme Court order in 2011 to be razed by the end of this month. The state will ask the court to cancel its order.

In a statement, the residents said they signed the agreement “with a heavy heart, but out of responsibility to the nation in fulfillment of the High Court’s order to vacate the current site, and out of a desire to avoid confrontations and difficult scenes.”

“We do this even though we do not believe it is necessary, since Arab ownership of the current site has not been proven, and even though the residents of Migron were not given sufficient opportunity to prove their rights in civil court,” the statement said.

Minister Benny Begin brokered the negotiations between the government and residents.

Outpost homes razed, mosque attacked in alleged retribution


Several hundred police officers arrived early Monday morning at the Migron outpost to raze three permanent homes.

Hours later, a mosque in the West Bank near Nablus was vandalized in what is believed to be a “price tag” attack. “Price tag” refers to the strategy extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Unknown assailants broke windows on the first floor of the mosque and threw burning tires into the building on Monday morning before prayers, according to reports. The words “Alei Ayin and Migron – Social Justice” was spray painted in Hebrew outside the building.

Palestinian authorities claim settlers have attacked at least six mosques in the West Bank in the past two years.

Israeli forces arrived at the Migron outpost, located several miles north of Jerusalem, to begin razing the structures at 1 a.m. but were forced to halt the operation at 2:30 a.m. following an injunction by a Supreme Court justice. The injunction was canceled at 4:30 a.m.,  after the high court issued another order, sanctioning the demolition.

Six teens who threw stones at the police were arrested.

The three structures were home to several families, including one woman who had recently had a baby, according to the Jerusalem Post. They had been ordered razed by the Supreme Court following a lawsuit filed by the Yesh Din Israeli human rights group. The three homes were razed separately because they were built recently, following an agreement in 2008 between the Yesha settlers’ group and the state to relocate the entire outpost to a settlement nearby, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Last month, the Supreme Court issued a ruling ordering the state to dismantle the entire outpost, home to about 50 families, by April 2012, after determining that it was built on private Palestinian lands, following a petition by Peace Now.

Settlers Struggle to Hold Biblical Israel


A battered shipping container was Itai Harel’s first home on this steep, windswept hilltop.

Now he lives in a trailer with running water and electricity, and land has been leveled for more permanent housing in this illegal settlement outpost. He and his fellow young settlers are gearing up to fight for their new hilltop home.

Migron, the largest and most established of the 100 or so illegal Jewish outposts set up across the West Bank, is on the front lines of a looming showdown between the settler movement and the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently pledged to dismantle such settlements in accordance with the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan.

On Dec. 28, Israel ordered the removal of four of the outposts. The settlers can now petition against the action through the courts.

But settler rabbis called upon supporters to physically prevent the settlements’ dismantlement, and called upon army officers not to order their soldiers to dismantle the settlements.

Harel expressed similar sentiments.

“We are staying here. It’s our home,” said Harel, 29, vowing to return if the government somehow manages to remove them.

“It is our right to be here; this is our national home,” he said, sweeping his hand toward the view of Arab villages and Jewish settlements on nearby hillsides.

However, the settlers’ position may have been undercut by the National Religious Party (NRP), the main settler political body.

The NRP’s chairman, Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam, said Dec. 29 that the NRP would support the removal of four unauthorized outposts if no way could be found to authorize them.

The NRP “is part of the government, part of the rule of law in the State of Israel. If, in the end, after every avenue has been pursued, these outposts cannot be authorized, then we will not be able to support anything that is not legal,” Eitam told Israel’s Army Radio.

Over the past two years, 42 families have moved to Migron. They are young, defiant and fiercely ideological. Casting themselves as part of a continuum of ancient and modern Jewish history, they view their unauthorized building of an outpost about 20 minutes drive north of Jerusalem as key to strengthening the Jewish claim to biblical Israel. They also see it as similar to efforts by early Zionists to create “facts on the ground” in what became Israel proper.

Critics and the U.S. government see the outposts, built hastily and without government approval, as yet another obstacle to peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Harel and his friends at Migron, which is named after a biblical-era settlement in the region, are hesitant to say exactly how they would resist soldiers should they attempt an evacuation.

Pinchas Wallerstein, who heads the local settlement region of the West Bank, called Binyamin, said he hopes the Israeli courts will help prevent an evacuation order.

If that fails, he said he foresees thousands of supporters coming to Migron to help thwart police and army forces.

“If we have 7,000 to 10,000 people here it will not be possible to evacuate us,” Wallerstein said, addressing a wedding party from Houston that had come to see Migron as part of a tour of West Bank Jewish settlements. “Why is it legitimate to evacuate Jewish settlements but we cannot withdraw [Arab villages?]” he asked, calling any evacuation a reward for terrorism.

Before climbing back on their bus, the visiting Americans posed for pictures with Wallerstein, who has temporarily moved the Binyamina headquarters to Migron to head the campaign against its possible removal.

In a show of solidarity, Israel’s well-organized settler movement has helped facilitate visits by thousands of people to Migron in recent weeks.

Jerry Silverman, one of the wedding party members, said he hoped the issue would be resolved through negotiations.

“The American government is not in charge of Israel,” he said.

Sharon, long a patron of the settler movement, is under intense pressure from the U.S. administration to fulfill Israel’s obligations under the road map, beginning with the dismantling of illegal outposts that have cropped up over the last several years. Many were established in the immediate aftermath of Arab terrorist attacks on local settlers.

In a speech earlier this month, Sharon said some settlements would have to be evacuated if Israel disengages physically from the Palestinians.

The first Israeli presence on the hill where Migron stands today were cell phone towers built by local phone companies four years ago. Young settlers followed about two years later.

The Israeli government said it expects to begin evacuating settlement outposts in the next few weeks. Officials hope settlers will leave without a fight.

“If the outposts are illegal, then they will be dealt with — hopefully with persuasion, but otherwise with force,” said Zalman Shoval, a foreign policy adviser to Sharon.

“Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” he added quickly.

The four outposts slated for quick removal reportedly are Ginot Aryeh, near Ofra; Hazon David, near Kiryat Arba; Bat Ayin Ma’arav, in Gush Etzion; and Havat Shaked, near Yitzhar.

Only one of the outposts — Ginot Aryeh — is inhabited, with about 10 families living there as well as a few single people.

Unlike most other outposts, Migron is more than a small collection of tents and trailers. There is a paved circular road and two buildings with stone facades, one that serves as a synagogue, the other a nursery school.

Still, amenities are basic.

Next to the community’s row of portable toilets is a large white plastic tent for meetings and celebrations. Trailers are clustered in muddy patches of land. A private security guard in a fleece jacket and armed with an Uzi machine gun mans the entrance. A fence topped with rings of barbed wire surrounds the outpost.

“It’s clear it is worth the price. We are here to live a quality life, to live an ideal,” Harel said.

Peace activists say that ideal is misguided and dangerous. It also does not represent the views of most Israelis, who according to polls, are willing to withdraw from most West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements in the event of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.

As long as settlement building continues, “we will be doomed to more and more international condemnation, economic recession and violence,” said Dror Etkes, who coordinates Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project. “Another settlement is another rock in the occupation and oppression [of the Palestinians].”

Etkes said he saw Sharon’s recent policy speech as a potential turning point since the Israeli government has yet to dismantle any settlements of significant size.

“If the settlements are uprooted then the first inroads will be made,” he said. “Migron could be the first uprooted and this will be a historic event.”

Shlomo and Hagit Ha’Cohen, both 25, see Migron’s place in history differently.

They say they are living Jewish history in their decision to live and establish a family in Migron. Hagit, who teaches history and civics at a Jerusalem high school, is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

“We see this as our home forever, even if there are problems along the way,” said her husband, a yeshiva student who plans to study civil engineering. “With all due respect to the Americans, at the end of the day we are the ones who decide.”

Sitting in their bookshelf-lined three-room trailer, for which they pay $70 a month rent, Shlomo cites the story of Chanukah and the conflict between the ancient Greeks and the Israelites.

“Many imperial powers have told us what to do throughout history. They no longer exist. Israel is still here,” he said. “Our path is clear, we know where we want to go.”