- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

ATERET, Israel — He is the public face of Peace Now, the Israeli group at the forefront of the battle to evacuate Jewish settlements from the West Bank, so when Yariv Oppenheimer was posted to this hilltop settlement for his annual military reserve duty, trouble was in the offing.

After the first day of his four-week tour, he found pro-settler bumper stickers on his car. That was followed by a petition calling on the army to transfer the activist.

This week, Mr. Oppenheimer found a poster calling him “a PLO spy” — referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization — and urging residents to remove him “by any means.” Ateret residents say the poster and petition don’t represent the views of the majority in the settlement. But they accuse him of blowing the incident out of proportion. Some say he fabricated the poster as a publicity stunt.

“The person making the mess is Yariv,” said Tslila Fireisen, director of Ateret. “He’s trying every way to cause an uproar. We’re not looking for trouble.”

The incident is a reminder of the tense relationship between the army and the settlers one year after the military evacuated Israelis from the Gaza Strip.

At the time, many settlers encouraged soldiers to refuse orders to dismantle the communities, stirring a conflict about whether the army should be dragged into the political debate over the future of the settlements.

The current friction may have been unavoidable. Days before Mr. Oppenheimer was posted to Ateret, Peace Now issued a report documenting the recent expansion of settlements, including Ateret.

Toting an M-16 and wearing a rumpled, baggy uniform that is a hallmark of a reservist, Mr. Oppenheimer pointed out construction of a new fence around the settlement. The purpose of the fence, he said, was to enlarge the settlement. Despite filing a police complaint, Mr. Oppenheimer hasn’t requested a transfer. He thinks it his duty to serve wherever the army sends him, regardless of his political beliefs.

“It’s hard to come here. It’s a classic ideological settlement that is isolated in the heart of the West Bank,” he said. “But to give the dirty work only to people from the right wing wouldn’t help our cause.”

Settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein accused Mr. Oppenheimer of exploiting his reservist duty to create a stir. “This is not news,” Mr. Wallerstein said. “Yariv Oppenheimer wants to win points because of the discrimination against him. He is using the uniform to publicize his opinions in the press.”

Mr. Fireisen accused the peace activist of photographing mobile homes on the settlement as part of Peace Now’s political work of monitoring settlement expansion.

An army spokesman said the regional commander came to the settlement to see the “spy” poster before it was taken down from bulletin boards on public buildings. “We submitted a protest to the settlement that this isn’t right, and these things shouldn’t happen,” said Ozel Vatik, the army spokesman.

“The soldiers are there to protect them. The soldiers don’t choose their missions,” he said.

But one settlement resident said the poster was legitimate free speech because Mr. Oppenheimer was a political figure.

“I have no problem with it. I think it has spurred a public discourse within the settlement,” said Eli, an ambulance driver who refused to give his last name. “I don’t regard him as a soldier. I look at him as a politician on a settlement. The army should have known it would cause a provocation.”


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