Hebron settlers rage at `anti-Semitic' evictions

TSIPI SCHLISSEL was in tears as she sat on a stone, wrapped in a purple coat and hat, and watched her country's army at work. She was witnessing a "terrible, terrible thing", she said, an insult to the dead young man whose portrait she clutched in her hand.

Two hours earlier, before dawn broke over the misty Hebron hills, hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers had swept in, brushing aside the feeble barricades - a burning car, a smouldering tyre - to begin evicting the occupants of the tiny hilltop outpost in which she now sat.

Some had gone quietly, praying and weeping, sullen faces staring out of the grubby windows of coaches rattling down the hillside. Others threw red paint and eggs, and soldiers carried them away spitting and bellowing. Some had yet to leave.

Wrapped in prayer shawls and clutching copies of the Torah, they were praying loudly beside the hut that passed for the synagogue, its door freshly stoved in by the troops who milled around. A few were even trying to sneak back up the hill through the rock-strewn canyons, undeterred by the certainty that their plaits and skull-caps, and strange peasant clothes, would mark them out at once, even if the Israeli army helicopters circling overhead failed to spot them.

Within an hour - as well Mrs Schlissel knew - the centrepiece of the place, a simple stone house built on the hill's crest by Dov Dribben, the man in her portrait, would be razed by bulldozers, driven by Ghanaians hired to do a job that few in these parts would want.

Eighteen months ago Dov was, like her father, killed by a Palestinian, thus becoming martyr of the hardline settlers' movement. "This is anti- Semitic," said Mrs Schlissel, her spectacles clouding with more tears. "It is what the Nazis did."

Like scores of other fanatical Zionists, Mrs Schlissel, 35, a mother of seven, travelled specially to witness, and protest against yesterday's events at Maon Farm, an outpost on Arab land which was captured by Israel in the Six Day War but which they believe was always Jewish by divine right.

Only a handful of people lived there, but over the last few days several hundred supporters had gathered, bringing dozens of their small children and babies. The result was the most serious and highly charged confrontation between the Israeli military and radical Jewish settlers for years.

For Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, the operation had much to do with a public relations exercise, intended to convince the world that he is serious about containing "illegal" Jewish settlements on the West Bank in the approach to the final stage of peace negotiations.

Scenes such as these, beamed round the world, help draw attention away from the fact that his government has recognised 30 new outposts erected on the West Bank's hilltops in the last year, and that the far larger "legal" Israeli settlements are expanding apace.

The carefully executed eviction - against one of only a handful of outposts which Mr Barak has ordered to be shut down - had "shown the red light to anarchy", his office declared triumphantly yesterday. The Palestinian Authority said the move was a "step forward" but called for the removal of all West Bank and Gaza settlements, home to 170,000 Israelis.

But for the actors in this drama, it was real and traumatic, a piece of nasty family business played out painfully in the public eye. The 1,000 Israeli soldiers and police who took part - paratroopers, military police, Swat teams, men and women - had psychological counselling to prepare them for a potentially perilous operation against fellow Israelis who are among their own, wildly extreme though they are.

The soldiers were never allowed to forget the nature of their work. As they dragged settlers away, Nadia Matar, leader of Israel's ultra-nationalist Women in Green group, shouted: "This is ethnic cleansing of Jews by Jews. Shame on Barak. But we will be back tonight, tomorrow, the day after." The soldiers made painstaking efforts to avoid violence. "We are trained to fight our enemies, not Jews," said Major-General Moshe Ayalon, operation commander. Some soldiers had gathered in an olive grove to pray.

One young policewoman flung herself weeping into a comrade's arms after it was over. "It was hard for them," said Ya'el, one of the womenthey evicted. "Those soldiers are our brothers."

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