Accessibility links

Israeli Settlers Pressure Leadership on West Bank Settlements

  • Luis Ramirez

The Beit Haggai settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron

The Beit Haggai settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are under pressure from extremists on both sides who want peace talks to fail. Hamas - the militant Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip and has publicly called for the elimination of Israel - claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of four Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank shortly before the start of the direct negotiations in what was seen as an attempt to derail the talks. West Bank settlers, meanwhile, responded by resuming construction inside settlements, despite a building freeze.

Neighbors gather to mourn at a tent near the homes of the four Israelis from this settlement who were killed on the eve of the talks.

Ilana Radami is helping to take care of the orphans left behind, reading to the younger ones at night. The tragedy has strengthened her resolve.

"This is our home," said Radami. "It doesn't break us and it will not break us. We believe that we have a divine right to be here. That our God has given the right to be on this land, and no terrorist - no coward terrorist - that will try to shoot civilians on their way home or their way to work is going to be able to stop us from living here."

Radami - originally from the U.S. - is among hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in the West Bank who do not want a peace deal that would force them to vacate the homes they built on land the Bible says God promised to them thousands of years ago.

"We will continue building. We will continue living here. This is our land and we have every right to it," she added.

In response to the shootings, settlers resumed construction, in spite of the temporary freeze Israel imposed months ago to build confidence among Palestinians.

"We decided that we cannot be double-victims: to be the victims of Arab terrorism, of the shootings, of the killings, of their brutality, and on the other hand simultaneously also to be the victims of the gestures, of the so-called confidence-building measures that are done to appease the same Palestinians," said Danny Dayan, who heads the Yesha Council, which represents West Bank settlers.

Some right-wing members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition have said they will not go along with any agreement that includes giving up West Bank land. Analysts say divisions on an agreement could cause the government to collapse.

Ilana Radami voted for Mr. Netanyahu, known to Israelis as "Bibi," hoping he would not give in to pressure from the Palestinians to make concessions on the land.

"Political leaders come and go," said Radami. "We've been here for 13 years and we've seen a lot of political changes and we're still here, and we plan on still being here even after Bibi's not the leader."

On this hillside overlooking Beit Haggai, young Jewish families are living in trailers, hoping to soon break ground on new homes. Their bets are on staying put.