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.
began as the Israeli version of the American dream has turned
into a frightening fortress during the three-year Palestinian
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
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.
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.
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”
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.
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
“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
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,
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.”
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
“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.
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