The Zambish Factor

Few people have had a greater influence on the map of Israeli settlements in the territories than Ze'ev (`Zambish') Hever. A former member of the Jewish terrorist underground in the 1980s and a personal friend of Ariel Sharon, Zambish is the man every Israeli should learn to know better

A few days ago, Ze'ev Hever was sitting in a crowded restaurant in Jerusalem when his mobile phone rang. "That was Arik," he told an acquaintance when he got off the phone. Hever, the secretary-general of Amana, the hands-on settlement arm of Gush Emunim ("Bloc of the Faithful" movement), speaks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon several times a day. Once a week, sometimes more, he pays a nighttime visit to the Prime Minister's Office.

In the 1980s, Hever, known by his nickname, "Zambish," was imprisoned as a member of the Jewish underground terrorist organization, and he is still considered one of the extremists among the settlers' leadership. He is also one of the people closest to the prime minister. He has no official position in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and he loathes publicity - his forte is operating behind the scenes. His friends describe him as a "shadow man" and take pride in the huge influence he wields on developments in the territories and in the decisions made in the Prime Minister's Bureau. "When he speaks, everyone listens quietly," says Uri Elitzur, editor of Nekuda, the journal of the Yesha Council of settlements.

To get what he wants - the beefing up of existing settlements and the establishment of new ones - Hever is ready to involve himself in seeming contradictions: dealing with the "establishment" alongside unauthorized construction, and criticizing senior politicians while forming warm relations with them - especially with Prime Minister Sharon. Sharon, who calls Hever "my friend, Zambish," is very much affected by his buddy's influence and tries to accede to his requests.

Hever and Sharon became friends when Sharon was housing minister in the government of Yitzhak Shamir, from 1990 to 1992. Hever took part in meetings of Housing Ministry officials that dealt with settlements in the territories. During his term as housing minister, Sharon built 14,000 dwellings in the territories, accounting for about a quarter of all the new construction in Israel during that period. In 1992 there were 6,200 housing starts in the territories, while the following year, under Yitzhak Rabin's government, there were 980. Only Netanyahu came close to Sharon's record, with 4,210 housing starts in the territories in 1998.

When Sharon was criticized for massive building in the settlements, he proposed - according to an initiative formulated with Hever - that the registration of state regions be changed so that, in construction statistics, the housing starts in the territories would appear under the rubric of the "center of the country."

Sharon and Hever are on very friendly terms. Omri Sharon, the prime minister's son, attended the bar mitzvah of one of Hever's sons not long ago and the wedding of another son. "I have very good relations with him," Omri Sharon says. "You won't find anyone who has a bad word to say about him." A few months ago, when Hever's father died, the prime minister visited Hever in Tel Aviv during the shiva, the seven-day mourning period.

Hever and his wife, Rivka, were at Sharon's side when he mourned the death of his wife, Lily. Lily Sharon admired Hever and considered him a member of the family. Hever was often invited for breakfast at Sharon's ranch in the Negev on Fridays, and would occasionally take Sharon on tours of the territories on Fridays.

Sharon displays his affection for Hever at every opportunity. At a meeting of the Likud faction in the Knesset, not long before he was elected prime minister, Sharon said that of all the settlers, there was only one person whom he considered reliable: Zambish. At a ceremony at which the Begin Prize was awarded to the Amana movement, in December 2001, Sharon stated that "my friend, Zambish" was managing Amana "with consistency, with sensitivity and successfully and, I want to add emphatically, with friendship."

Hever attaches great importance to bypass roads in the territories. The PMO is helping him create a road in the area of Ma'aleh Adumim, the West Bank city just east of Jerusalem, that will bypass the Palestinian town of Yabed near the settlement of Mevo Dotan, and a road near Bethlehem.

Hever asked for Sharon's assistance in a project to expand a number of settlements. The PMO is helping him build at Givat Hazayit next to the town of Efrat, in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, and elsewhere. A few months ago, Hever suggested to Sharon that he move the headquarters of the Shai (acronym for Samaria and Judea) District of the police from its present location in the Ras al-Amud section of East Jerusalem, where a Jewish neighborhood is being built, to the territories. "Contacts are now being held to move the headquarters to the Ma'aleh Adumim area," says the spokesman of the Shai District.

In a chance meeting in the Knesset cafeteria, Hever urged Sharon to make use of young settlers to guard the antennaes of the cellular telephone companies in the Negev. The prime minister liked the idea and on the spot asked his aides to call the director of the Israel Lands Administration to see how it could be implemented. Hever met with Sharon ahead of the approval of the budget and asked him to ensure that the projected cuts would not affect the settlements. Sharon promised to consider the idea favorably.

Hever is adamantly opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and objects to Sharon's position on this issue, which he finds too compromising. In the past few weeks, Hever and Sharon have held a number of talks about the settlers' hilltop "outposts" in the West Bank. Hever believes that creating outposts is a legitimate method for expanding the settlements. The question of their legality bothers him less. First we will set up an outpost, he likes to say, then we will see about getting the authorizations.

Beefing up settlements and establishing outposts also have economic implications. The majority of the outposts belong to the Amana movement. The 6,000 families who reside in the 70 Amana settlements each pay NIS 43 a month as members of the movement, which adds up to more than NIS 3 million a year. Every new settler enlarges the movement's budget; every new building project means work for Amana's construction company.

Creative maneuvers

To the outside observer, the events in the territories look like something out of the Wild West, says a senior official in the Defense Ministry, but actually, it is all orderly and planned, with every detail taken into calculation. One of Hever's major tenets is to work quietly and clandestinely, without media exposure.

"Modesty is power. He wants the end result - reinforcing and deepening our hold in Yesha [acronym for Judea, Samaria, Gaza] - and not the publicity," says Aharon Domb, director-general of the Tourism Ministry and Hever's neighbor in Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron.

"We discovered that when you make material available, the press publishes it," Domb relates. "But there were others, like Zambish, who thought we should hide the scale of the building projects, for example. If the public in the Yitzhak Rabin period had known that there was construction going on in the territories in order to keep up with the birth rate, they would have stormed the government. People like Zambish believe that the press is hostile and that publicity can only hurt. During the first intifada, he was also afraid that if we presented the true security situation in all its aspects, people wouldn't want to move to Yesha."

Hever, who has never given an interview, also forbids Amana staff to speak to reporters. "If he knew I spoke to you, he would scold me," one staff member sa`id last week. All the employees learn to work according to Hever's mantra for the organization: "There is no blessing other than in what is hidden from the eye."

"He has softened up a bit of late," Domb notes. "He doesn't slam the receiv`er down or disconnect when journalists call, but informs them that he doesn't want to be interviewed." Why make public what we are doing, Hever says: It will only hurt the settlement movement.

Under the cloak of secrecy, Hever employs a great many creative maneuvers with the goal of expanding the settlements. For example, he was concerned that the public would object to the building of the Trans-Judea Highway. Opponents of the road argued that Jewish traffic on it would be meager and that millions of shekels would be wasted because of settlers' caprices. Hever is a firm believer in bypass roads that encircle Palestinian towns and villages, and make it possible for the settlers to move about freely. To silence the objectors, he instructed dozens of drivers to crisscross the area and create the impression of constant traffic.

Danny Yatom, former chief of the Mossad espionage agency and policy adviser to prime minister Ehud Barak, says that Hever doesn't wait for authorization. "If you don't pay attention, he builds new roads without the authorization of the head of Central Command, and if he doesn't get authorization, he tries to create facts on the ground."

There is no end to the techniques, says a former senior official of the Yesha Council: "You transfer temporary permits from one place to another. He can start building and then turn around and say that he will get the authorization within two weeks, in the knowledge that he will really do just that."

It was Hever who conceived the idea of the "dummy" outposts - taking a few mobile homes to a deserted hilltop, and eventually agreeing to remove them, thus giving the impression of complying with the government. Hever also came up with the idea of so-called farm settlements: It's easier to get authorization to establish a farm; it covers a large area, so more land can be seized.

MK Eli Cohen (Likud), who was director-general of the land settlement department in the World Zionist Organization (1993-1996) and assistant to the defense minister for settlement affairs (1997-1998), remembers with pleasure some of Hever's working methods.

"Zambish would tell me that he wanted to ... seize farming land so a settlement would have living space. The problem was that the area was hilly, so we would go out there, see what was involved. Then I would examine what could be done within the system to plant some groves. The question is how you transfer state land to a private individual in a settlement so he can work the land."

And how is that done?

Cohen: "Let's take the region around [the West Bank settlement of] Eli, for example. On the west side of the road to Eli, there was arable state land. Zambish asked us to make it possible for the settlement to work the land. The problem was how to get to the land: If it's impossible to get to a plot of land because it is in the heart of Arab lands, no authorization is given."

So what is the method?

"You have to look for a path that has existed since Ottoman times, called a matruka. Once there is a path to the land - even a narrow path that villagers created by walking back and forth - you can widen it to accommodate a tractor."

So you build a road on Palestinian farmland in order to create access to a plot of land for the settlers?

"It's good for the Palestinians, too. We bring in infrastructures and then we check whether the Agriculture Ministry is ready to allocate water for farming. There was a power struggle at the time between the defense minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, each of whom wanted to show that he was in favor of the settlements, so Zambish's idea, which began as a hilltop, turned into land for farming."

"Hever's big advantage is that he maintains good relations with both the country's leaders and the settlers on the hilltops," says MK Mussi Raz (Meretz), who monitors the settlers' activity, in general, and Hever's, in particular.

It was Hever, together with Ya'akov Katz from the settlement of Beit El, who established Channel Seven, the settlers' pirate radio station. More recently, they have been busy trying to establish a right-wing newspaper that will be distributed free to 100,000 households and compete with the weekly Makor Rishon. Hever also founded a construction company called Binyanei Bar Amana. According to the records of the Registrar of Companies, the company has building rights and property in dozens of settlements. Hever is on the board of directors.

As secretary-general of Amana, he controls some 70 settlements, or about half of all the settlements. Most of those considered to be extreme - Netzarim (in the Gaza Strip), Bat Ayin, Beit Haggai, Mikhmash and others - are part of the Amana network. The Amana secretariat has 13 members, but Hever is responsible for all the important decisions. In its last meeting, about a month ago, the secretariat discussed the future of the outposts. No one took issue with the position put forward by Hever. "He is a man of action," says one secretariat member.

Hever is also a dominant figure on the Yesha Council. In the past, he worked in close cooperation with Uri Ariel, who has since been elected to the Knesset (as a member of National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu) and has been less active on the council. Another former prominent activist, Pinchas Wallerstein, has also been less visible of late; indeed, Wallerstein is hesitating about whether to stand for election as head of the Binyamin District Regional Council in the West Bank this November. Of the trio, Hever is the only one left. "What he says, goes," notes Shlomo Filber, a former secretary-general of the Yesha Council who today works with Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Minister Yitzhak Levy of the National Religious Party: "If Zambish is against something, the chances that it will pass are very slim. His position is of critical importance, he is the driving force, the leader of the settlement project, the one who obtains budgets and authorizations, the settlement lobbyist in the relevant government ministries. He has a hand in every settlement."

There are seven members on the inner executive of the Yesha Council. Again, Hever is the dominant figure. His opinion is considered decisive. It's said that no mobile home is moved without his order. The council chairman, Benzi Lieberman, and the director-general, Adi Mintz, consult with Hever about everything.

"We are not his marionettes," Lieberman hastens to make clear. "We work in true friendship because all of us accept the goals. I'm not sure that Hever liked the demonstration we held during Operation Defensive Shield, but we held it nevertheless. I am the head of the Samaria Regional Council and if I am capable of building hundreds of homes, I am also capable of getting a mobile home moved."

To outflank objections from members of the Yesha Council, Hever does not place controversial issues on the council's agenda. Benny Kashriel, a member of the council's executive and mayor of Ma'aleh Adumim, says that the question of establishing outposts never came up for formal discussion by the council. Kashriel is against them: "They don't help the settlement project and the public sees us as lawbreakers. These days, we have to concentrate our efforts in developing the existing settlements. If we invest in outposts, we are remiss in strengthening the settlements."

Shimon Riklin, from the movement of the young generation of settlers, is one of those who oppose Hever's methods.

"The first outposts sprang up from the grass-roots," he says. "The Yesha Council didn't like that, because what is preferable for Zambish - to get authorization from the defense minister to build a hundred dwellings, or to set up an outpost with two families? It was only after the agreement that was reached about the outposts with Ehud Barak that Zambish got involved in the project intensively."

Today, Riklin says, it is impossible to establish an outpost without Zambish. "He manages things from above," Riklin explains. "A hill in a settlement is chosen and then people meet with him and explain why they want that specific hill. Sometimes there are arguments. He doesn't always agree. If he wants three outposts somewhere else, he won't give the go-ahead for the one that is being requested. The whole thing takes months, and then he suddenly says, `Tonight you can move in.'"

Riklin doesn't think outposts should be evacuated quietly. He would turn the evacuation into a show starring thousands of angry settlers, the army and the media. "The quiet method is destroying us. Hever treats the whole thing as though we were still under the rule of the British Mandate. The ruin of the settlement project will come from the quiet deals, which have created a situation in which we all sit in villas and watch television and remain silent while we are being killed, and in return we get money. Who needs those budgets? The deals are convenient for the authorities, but their end result will be the evacuation of the territories."

Other opponents of the deals system include two prominent veteran settler activists, Elyakim Ha'etzni and Daniella Weiss. "I don't like compromises with the government," Weiss says. "Our task is to build and not to remove outposts." To assuage the opponents, Hever took them on a tour of the outposts a few weeks ago. The deals with the establishment help us flourish, he told them.

Hever has encountered one fierce opponent in the PMO. Uzi Keren, from Kibbutz Ein Gev, who is the prime minister's adviser on settlement affairs - i.e., "settlement" in the broad sense of the term, referring to land settlement, in general, and not just in the territories - says in private conversations that he deplores random settlements that spring up like "savages" and are detrimental to Israeli foreign policy. They may fulfill the goals they set for themselves, he said recently, but they have a "Denver boot" effect on the government's formal activity.

In this dispute, Sharon is on Hever's side. Keren told an acquaintance that the prime minister is careful not to express public support for the illegal outposts, "but there is no exclamation mark here." Another disagreement between Keren and Hever involves the location of settlements. Keren thinks settlements should be close to one another, in blocs, whereas Hever is for dispersal. Here, too, the prime minister agrees with Hever.

Hever repays Sharon's support even if this entails a rift with friends. In April, at the height of the army's operation in the territories, Hever opposed (in vain) the decision by the Yesha Council to hold a "demonstration of support" for the operation in order to send a message to Sharon: If you put limitations on the army's action, we will come out against you. Hever did not like the implicit threat against the prime minister. In a meeting of the inner executive of the Yesha Council, he tried to persuade the others to drop the idea of the demonstration. It's a pity to spend money like that, he said. We should invest in settlements instead of demonstrations. But the demonstration went ahead despite Hever's unconcealed anger.

Hever, 48, a resident of the Givat Haharasina neighborhood of Kiryat Arba and the father of seven children, grew up in Ramat Gan and attended a religious school in Pardes Hannah and then a hesder yeshiva - combining army service with religious studies - in Kiryat Arba. After completing his army service, in the Armored Corps, he returned to Kiryat Arba. He began to stand out as a leader of the settlers at the end of the 1970s, when he joined Plia Albek, then the head of the Civil Department in the State Attorney's Office, who was responsible for demarcating the state lands in the territories. That became the most important area of activity for the settlers following a ruling by Aharon Barak, the attorney-general at the time (now the president of the Supreme Court), that barred the establishment of settlements on privately owned land.

Hever joined Albek on her visits to the territories. "He had a great deal of enthusiasm," she says. Very often he asked Albek to declare land that was being farmed by Palestinians state land. "That is because they didn't have a helicopter, and land that is being worked is not always apparent from aerial photographs," she says.

Hever (who then still went by the name of Friedman) was one of the most vigorous activists in Hebron. He was arrested several times for entering closed military areas and for trying to establish unauthorized settlements. In 1982, he was indicted for illegal possession of a weapon and maliciously destroying an explosive device. That event occurred in March 1982, when an explosive charge was found in the fuse box of the Kiryat Arba local council building. The electrician contacted Hever, who destroyed the bomb. The police suspected that the device was connected with the organizers of the series of attacks on West Bank mayors in 1980 by what later turned out to be a Jewish underground terrorist group. Hever argued in his defense that he had destroyed the bomb in order to prevent the good name of Kiryat Arba from being sullied. In February 1984, he was sentenced to a suspended sentence of nine months in prison.

Two months later, he was arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Jewish terrorist organization, and then the whole picture became clear. Hever, Uri Meir and another person, who became known as the "third man" - his identity was not made public - set out to plant a bomb under the car of a member of the Palestinian National Guidance Committee. The barking of a dog drove the bombers off. They went back to Kiryat Arba and put the device in the fuse box of the Kiryat Arba local council building. This time, Hever, in a plea bargain, was convicted of attempting to cause bodily harm and was given a sentence of only 11 months because he was in poor health.

Shortly after his release from prison, he recovered and launched intensive activity, "although he was careful not to break the law," recalls Amram Mitzna, the head of Central Command from 1987 to 1990 (and now mayor of Haifa). Mitzna remembers Hever as "being very motivated. He was a person with ideology. It is impossible not to admire the passion."

Hever is close to Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who was a driving force of West Bank settlement in the early years after 1967. Levinger praises Hever as being "a man of action, very vigorous, pushing building activity. We wanted to transfer land to our possession and he was very active in that." In Hebron, Hever is considered more extreme even than Levinger. In 1980, Hever and Elyakim Ha'etzni ran in the elections for the Kiryat Arba local council against the rabbi's list. Levinger's supporters emphasized their moderation in contrast to Hever and Ha'etzni, who promised to fight for land expropriation, the return of all the property that belonged to Jews, and the evacuation of Arab tenants from houses that once belonged to Jews.

Hever was elected secretary-general of Amana in 1989, after serving as deputy head of the Kiryat Arba council, and head of the association to develop the Jewish community in Hebron, and after being active in the movement against withdrawal from Yamit, in northern Sinai. The previous secretary-general, Mani Ben Ari, was removed after proposing a peace plan according to which the Palestinians would be concentrated around five cities - Gaza, Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus - with the settlers to reside in the rest of the territories. The Yesha Council didn't like the initiative and fired Ben Ari. (He is now an adviser to the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert.) Hever would never make the mistake of proposing any such plan.

Although he has never given an interview, his extremism comes through from a number of comments he has made. Hever condemned the massacre perpetrated by Dr. Baruch Goldstein against Muslim worshipers in the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, in February 1994, but showed understanding for the motives. Goldstein could no longer bear the Arab terrorism against Jews, he told Ha'aretz.

Hever maintained close relations with Ehud Barak. Their friendship dates from the period in which Barak was head of Central Command. Years later, when they met in the Knesset cafeteria, they embraced. Hever held arm-wrestling matches with Danny Yatom, Barak's adviser. "He always beat me," Yatom says of Hever. The friendship with Barak would prove its worth. From his first days as prime minister, Barak instructed his bureau to treat the settlers warmly. In the end, we will have to evacuate the settlements, Barak said, and I prefer that it be done with understanding and cooperation with the settlers.

Barak's staff acted accordingly. Yitzhak Herzog, the cabinet secretary, toured the territories and spoke frequently with Hever on the phone. "Quietly and with leadership he is trying to find many ways with which to strengthen the settlements in Yesha," Herzog says. When Gilead Sher, Barak's close adviser, returned from Camp David, he went on a lengthy tour of the territories with Hever. At Barak's request, these contacts were kept secret, and Sher's tour with Hever was never made public.

"During the negotiations [on the peace process], I met regularly with a large number of people from both sides of the [1967] Green Line in order to consult with them, to obtain data and to explain to them the directions that were being contemplated," Sher says.

When Barak asked the settlers to evacuate 15 illegal outposts, Hever, who headed the delegation of settlers at the meeting with the prime minister, bargained and fought for his position. Finally, in October 1999, an agreement was signed - in the presence of Danny Yatom - to evacuate the outposts. According to the compromise, they would remain empty until the proper authorization was received in each case.

The Barak group was certain it had won the day. "They all moved, we checked it out on the ground," Yatom says. In fact, it was Hever who emerged the true winner. Not long afterward, settlers returned to all the outposts but one (Ma'on). Nevertheless, Hever was perceived in Barak's bureau as responsible and credible: "When you conclude an agreement with Zambish, he honors the agreement," Yatom says.

Isn't it possible that they just set you up, because not one outpost was really evacuated?

Yatom: "It could be that they intended to set us up."

Hever's goal, says Uri Elitzur, "is to ensure that as much territory as possible remains in our hands. He wants every dunam and every goat and every well to remain in Jewish hands."

"He is one of the most dangerous individuals in the eyes of those who believe that the settlements are dangerous," says Prof. Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on far-right movements and a close friend of Ze'ev Hever. "The reason is that he works at settlement from morning to night. Not a day goes by on which he doesn't establish something new."n