- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BRUCHIN, West Bank — With its play- grounds, ident-ical houses and manicured flow- er beds, Bruch- in looks like any other placid Israeli suburb, except that Bruchin is not supposed to exist.

Bruchin is among the more than 100 West Bank outposts never officially authorized by the Israeli government. Israel’s repeated commitments to freeze settlement construction haven’t hampered Bruchin’s transformation from a cluster of trailers less than eight years ago into a thriving community of 380 people, girded by government-supplied roads, electricity and water.

“Normally, when you think of an outpost, you think of a water tower. This is a real town,” said Amishai Shav-Tal, one of Bruchin’s founders.

Unlike the full-blown settlements built in the face of international criticism, the outposts never went through the public process of gaining official government approval.

The outposts infuriate Palestinians, who see them as part of a plan to strengthen the Jewish grip on land that they want for an independent state.

With foreign countries focusing their disapproval on traditional settlements, Israel has managed to quietly plant many such outposts across the West Bank, say Palestinians, critics of Israel and even the settlers themselves.

“This is the game that the government always played with the settlers: ‘You will do it, we will turn a blind eye, and then one day when we are politically able to, we will legalize it,’ ” said Dror Etkes, who monitors settlements for the Israel’s Peace Now movement.

Tacit cooperation

Israel has not built an official settlement in more than a decade. When it started to approve a new one in late December, it quickly backed down under international condemnation.

Bruchin is a different story. Settler leaders and a former Cabinet minister say the government cooperated with every phase of its creation in the northern West Bank. In recent talks with the Defense Ministry, which must approve new settlement construction, the settlers demanded that Bruchin be the first in a string of developed outposts to be recognized as full settlements, which would ease fears that they could be forcibly removed.

As prime minister, Ehud Olmert started out with what looked like a campaign to tear down the unauthorized settlements and was elected on a platform calling for the country to abandon much of the West Bank and all but the largest settlement blocs.

Political troubles after last summer’s war in Lebanon have forced Mr. Olmert to put his plan on hold, and the settlers of Bruchin say they felt the change.

The army office in charge of the West Bank has issued orders to stop construction at the outpost and to demolish what has been built, spokesman Capt. Zidki Maman said without providing details. It also has prevented Bruchin from upgrading its electricity hookup, which the settlers complain is too small for the outpost’s growing population.

Meanwhile, Bruchin continues to thrive, with the government’s help.

On a sunny winter morning, soldiers sent by the government stand guard at Bruchin’s gates, while the squeals of children at play ring out from the outposts’ nine preschools, many of them funded by the Education Ministry.

Down a tidy road lined with tall streetlights and brick sidewalks, past the marble-walled synagogue and the community center, stand 40 two-story yellow stucco houses in two rows. A large sign says they were built with Housing Ministry help.

Nearby, a cluster of trailers houses 40 more families, who arrived in recent years.

Residents describe Bruchin as a quiet, close-knit, religious suburb. They have neighborhood barbecues, cooking classes for the wives and after-school judo, ceramics, basketball and Torah classes for the children.

“It’s a good place,” said Avi Galimidi, a 30-year-old student who moved here 2½ years ago with his wife and four children. ‘It has wonderful and good people. And I want to settle the land.”

Promises broken

Israel has promised repeatedly to freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank, where nearly 270,000 settlers — a 6 percent increase from a year ago, according to government figures — live among 2.4 million Palestinians.

Several thousand Israelis are thought to be living in outposts.

Under the 2003 “road map” peace plan, Israel agreed to remove dozens of outposts built since March 2001, but that agreement that does not include Bruchin, which was started two years earlier. Israel also agreed to freeze settlement growth, which should have ended all expansion at Bruchin. Israel did not follow through on either of those commitments.

The Palestinians also have failed to live up to their road map commitment to disband militant groups, who effectively rule the streets of the West Bank and fire missiles at Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip.

The United States sees the settlements and the continued construction as obstacles to peace.

“The Israeli government should live up to its commitments, and that includes on the settlements, that includes on outposts. These are commitments, by the way, to the United States; they’re not commitments to the Palestinians,” said U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones.

The Israelis “should not create facts on the ground,” he said.

More than 100 outposts have been built since 1995, and most now have at least some form of basic infrastructure, said Mr. Etkes of Peace Now.

Taking a stand

Like many outposts, Bruchin was a response to violence: the fatal shooting of an Israeli woman, Yael Mevar, as she drove near an Arab town on Dec. 31, 1997.

Angry settler leaders dusted off old plans for a settlement about 12 miles east of Tel Aviv, between Israel and the large settlement of Ariel, deep in the West Bank. In the spring of 1999, Jewish seminary students moved into trailers on a hilltop.

“You can’t come and just shoot Jews, and we’ll do nothing,” said Mr. Shav-Tal, 31. “We’ll show them that we live in this country, and we are the people that own this country.”

In October, Mr. Shav-Tal and five other families answered the students’ call to settle in Bruchin. They moved into trailers powered by electricity generators, with water tanks filled every three days, Mr. Shav-Tal said.

More trailers rolled in. The government-owned electricity company hooked up Bruchin to the grid. The water company installed a pump and pipes. The local council paved 1.5 miles of roads. Public bus service began.

The army may call Bruchin illegal, but in her government-commissioned report on the outposts two years ago, Housing Ministry attorney Talia Sasson said $785,000 was spent on Bruchin’s infrastructure and public buildings.

The government was deeply complicit in the creation of many of the outposts, Miss Sasson wrote.

“Most of the outposts were financed by some ministry in Israel,” she told AP.

A few hundred yards down the hill lies a town of 4,000 Palestinians. Its name is Brukhin — the Arabic form of Bruchin. Mayor Akrima Samara says the outpost blocks Palestinians from their olive groves and grazing land, and has dimmed their hopes for a state of their own.

“With every passing day, we see the outpost grow,” he said. “This land is lost.”

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