- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

KADIM, West Bank — Weeds surround shuttered houses in this decaying Jewish settlement where dozens of secular Israeli families planted roots in the 1980s and 1990s.

With the militant Palestinian stronghold of Jenin just a few miles away, more than half of the settlement’s 40 families have moved elsewhere during 3 1/2 years of fighting.

Kadim today is a heavily guarded fortress.

Now that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is preparing for a unilateral withdrawal in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, costly-to-defend enclaves like Kadim are likely to top the list.

But unlike the ideologically fervent settlers who denounced Mr. Sharon this week, the remaining residents of Kadim, who were initially drawn here by affordable housing and the idyllic surroundings, await an order to evacuate.

“I would be the last one to be sorry to leave here. There’s no life here. Do you see children running in the street?” asked Martine Ashgari, a 10-year resident. “There’s no security. There’s no employment. There’s nothing.”

It’s not hard to explain the exodus from Kadim. Its suburban-style houses are exposed to sniper fire from the grassy slopes nearby. The 10-minute trip to the Israeli border requires a military escort because it goes around the outskirts of Jenin. Family and friends refuse to visit.

Mrs. Ashgari says she’s trapped here. Both she and her husband are unemployed and can’t afford to rent an apartment inside Israel while keeping up with mortgage payments on their two-bedroom house in the settlement.

Only a government-ordered evacuation would give the Ashgaris the financial compensation enabling them to move.

“They’re prisoners,” said Eitan Cabel, an opposition parliament member who believes the number of settlers willing to leave for financial compensation runs in the tens of thousands. “The quality of life became life threatening.”

To be sure, emaciated settlements like Kadim remain an exception. Israeli government statistics indicate that the total number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip grew by 16 percent in the last three years to about 230,000.

Mr. Sharon recently said more than 7,000 Jewish settlers would have to leave the Gaza Strip and a government official said yesterday that one option was to put them in the West Bank.

The importance of the location of many West Bank settlements overshadows their diminutive size. Because they’re embedded between Palestinian cities and villages, they are burdensome to the Israeli army and will eventually provide important territorial continuity for a Palestinian state.

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

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