Click Here to PrintClick Here to Print

Feeling Abandoned In Kadim
Joshua Mitnick - Israel Correspondent
Ariyeh Citronovich: “The quality of life for children has really been hurt.” Joshua Mitnick

Kadim, West Bank — Nestled amid the verdant hilltop pastures of the northern West Bank, this settlement once attracted dozens of secular young Israeli couples seeking a bargain on a house and an idyllic lifestyle.

But what began as the Israeli version of the American dream has turned into a frightening fortress during the three-year Palestinian uprising.

With a bird’s-eye view of the Palestinian militant stronghold of Jenin, Kadim became a base for hundreds of soldiers guarding the settlement poised to chase terrorists in the nearby city. A gradual exodus of more than half the 200 residents has left the streets here lined with shuttered houses and overgrown yards.

Though Israeli government statistics indicate that the total number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has grown by 16 percent in the last three years, a handful of isolated settlements in the northern West Bank like Kadim have suffered heavy population attrition in the last few years.

Places like Kadim account for only a small minority of Israeli settlers, but the significance of their location overshadows their size. As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon moves ahead on a plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza — even this week discussing the possibility of reconstituting his coalition to do so — Israeli enclaves surrounded by Palestinian population centers in the northern West Bank are at the top of the evacuation list.

Many of those remaining badly want to leave but cannot afford the burden of the mortgage on their house here and rental on an apartment in Israel.

While settler leaders heaped criticism on Sharon this week for discussing dismantling Jewish settlements in Gaza, the evacuation can’t come soon enough for the trapped settlers at Kadim because expected government financial compensation is their only ticket out.

“I don’t have any alternative,” said David Montenegro, the spokesman of Kadim. “It’s clear to everyone that at some stage, this settlement won’t exist. We know we don’t have a future.

“We don’t have a core of people who are willing to fight and stay at any price. People invested their lives here. But the writing is on the wall and the faster it comes the less we’ll suffer.”

Talk of an evacuation isn’t new for residents of Kadim. During seven years of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that ended early in 2001, Israeli media reports periodically suggested that the hilltop community along with the neighboring settlement of Ganim would be dismantled as part of a peace agreement.

Other isolated secular settlements in the region that have emptied in the past three years include Sa-Nur, Homesh, Hermesh and Mevo Dotan. A decision to leave such settlements would create territorial continuity between Palestinian cities in the northern West Bank, allowing Sharon to create a more “efficient” security border with the Palestinians.

Though many of the residents aren’t looking forward to an evacuation, Montenegro is one of the few leaders of these settlements who has backed a withdrawal.

“I’m identified with the right wing, but our message isn’t in line with the more ideological settlers,” he said. “The government for a long time has given up on us.”

In the last year, signs of Israel’s intentions have become clearer than ever. Kadim has been left on the Palestinian side of the security barrier, which runs almost exactly on the northern border of the West Bank. Then in December, Sharon first spoke of leaving settlements under his plan to unilaterally “disengage” from the Palestinians in case the U.S.-sponsored “road map” initiative fails.

Sharon defended the Gaza withdrawal Tuesday, saying it was “painful” but necessary for Israel’s future. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, an opponent of the idea of unilateral withdrawal, predicted that a decision to go ahead with the pullback would cause Sharon’s coalition to disintegrate and could force new elections.

In Gaza, settler leaders said talk of a pullback was unnerving, but many doubted Sharon would follow through on his plan.

“I believe that he’s planning it; I don’t think he can do it,” Yitzhak Vazana, a 10-year resident of Netzarim who is a teacher and owns organic vegetable greenhouses, told The Jewish Week. “I don’t understand him. It’s very worrisome. For dozens of years he came around with maps and explained to the world why the settlements are important. He forgot where he came from. Those listening to it in Jenin see how the war is impacting our leadership.”

Back in Kadim, the settlers also are wondering whether Sharon means business. Hopes of getting a chance to start over will be checked by the nagging fear that the residents here will be used as a bargaining chip.

“We’re being held hostage here,” said Martine Ashgari, a 10-year resident who moved to Kadim for a small house and a yard rather than ideological reasons. “We’ve already heard a lot of talk. We’re waiting for something to happen.”

Since losing her job as a house-cleaning service manager for a hotel three years ago, Ashgari has been living off government unemployment checks. Her husband, also out of work, lives in Tel Aviv during the week and only comes home on the weekends.

During her early years in Kadim, the quality of life was good. The notion of evacuation never occurred to Ashgari even as successive governments negotiated with the Palestinians.

In the last three years, however, Kadim has been turned into a fortress. The public playground has been nicknamed “soldiers park” for the troops gathered there. Military jeeps escort residents on the 10-minute drive to and from Israel around the eastern outskirts of Jenin.

Standing outside of her two-bedroom cottage, Ashgari points across to the abandoned house across the street recently rented to a couple of foreign workers. Beyond the house rises a hilltop outside the settlements’ fence where sheep are grazing. The grassy slope also serves snipers to aim at windows of Kadim residents, Ashgari said.

After Sharon’s December disengagement speech, most of the soldiers were moved out of the settlement, stoking worries of new attacks.

“I would be the last one to be sorry to leave here,” Ashgari said. “There’s no life here. Do you see children running in the street?

“There’s no security. No one wants to come here. There’s no employment here. There’s nothing.”

The population flight has left the emaciated settlements with fewer funds to pay for the basic public services like street lighting and water. Technicians from service companies like Israel’s state-run electric utility refuse to visit some of the settlements.

“In the last three years the quality of life for the children has been really hurt,” said Ariyeh Citronovich, a council member at Mevo Dotan who opposes evacuation. “And even for grownups. You leave work and you want to go home, but you reach a roadblock and have to wait an hour because you missed the escort.”

A spokeswoman for a settler council in the northern West Bank acknowledged that Kadim residents have suffered during the last three years, but said she doesn’t consider the shrinking numbers at northern West Bank settlements particularly noteworthy.

“We’re investing all of our efforts in northern Samaria,” said Ahuva Sheelo, using the biblical name for the northern West Bank. “Our claims are not on the Arabs, they’re on the government of Israel. As long as the people pay taxes, they deserve a normal life, and there hasn’t been normal life there. People can’t live up to the burden.” n

    Here is a list of other articles in this section
  • Sick At Heart
  • Will They Cry This Time?

© 2000 - 2002 The Jewish Week, Inc. All rights reserved. Please refer to the legal notice for other important information.