'Can the Law of the Country Even Be Called a Law?'

The 130 families living in the settlement of Itamar and its six outposts owe former prime minister Ehud Barak a favor to this day. Barak did for Itamar's outposts what no prime minister before or since has done. The agreement between the Yesha Council of settlements - the first agreement about the outposts - propelled Itamar's master plan forward to its present 6,000 dunams. It awaits only the defense minister's signature, a final stamp of approval. Barak also approved five of Itamar's outposts and arranged for them to be declared government land.

The case of Itamar clearly illustrates the fact that the Talia Sasson report on the outposts changed the legal reality in the settlements. Sasson determined that construction that is not physically aligned with an existing and approved settlement could not be considered a neighborhood of that settlement, even if the defense establishment authorized its construction. According to Sasson, since almost all outposts are not physically aligned, they are "new settlements," established without benefit of a cabinet decision and therefore considered illegal. According to the outposts' residents, this was a fatal decision.

Itamar's outposts, like may others, were established to occupy as much land as possible to create Jewish contiguous areas along main arteries, linking settlements.

The goal of Itamar's outposts was to alleviate its relative isolation.

At first, the settlers created a dirt road linking the six outposts, which leads to the ostensibly consensual Gitit in the Jordan Valley. (The army has now closed this road.) The outposts were subsequently developed and legitimized through the Barak-Yesha agreement.

"Greater Itamar" as the settlers call the outposts, loom like a large agricultural village. Some residents specialize in cultivation of organic vegetables, others raise sheep and goats, horses or cattle. Others teach in Orthodox elementary schools or yeshivas. No small number of newly religious people from agricultural communities live in Itamar. Arad Dasa, for example, is from the veteran Moshava Kinneret. Others are members of the Bratslav Hassidic sect.

Yedidia, a fighter pilot in the reserves who lives on the outpost of Hill 782, (Alumot), is key to understanding the mindset of the area's residents and the development of Itamar's outposts. A rabbi's son, who grew up in a national religious home, Yedidia is married to Yifat, from Haifa, who is the sister Yossi Heiman, the chief of the Israel Defense Forces infantry and paratroops.

Yedidia and Yifat, who have six children, first established an outpost further to the north, Hill 851, which is marked by the domed roof of a tomb revered both by Jews and Muslims as that of Gideon. They have lived in Alumot for seven years. They chose the name, which means "sheaves of wheat" and was taken from the biblical story of the dream of Joseph - a dominant figure not only for them, but for many outpost residents in the Nablus area.

"Each week," Yedidia says, I sing with my children, 'how glad we are, how good and how pleasant is our lot.' I sing and dance for our right to fight for this place. There are moments of smiles and moments of tears. Here in Itamar we have had no small number of attacks and victims, but as I explain to myself and the children, the forces of evil, like the forces of good, originate with the Creator of the universe. Even Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the Temple, was the messenger of the Holy One, blessed be he, as the last government of Israel was his messenger in destroying Gush Katif."

Yedidia deplores "western American culture," which he says "despises every holy thing," and says a generation has arisen "that does not know Abraham, Isaac Jacob and Joseph."

With regard to the outlawing of the outposts, Yedidia says, "this place began from divine law, and that is after all the start for all of us. Can the law of the country even be called a law? The law in Sodom was better. But not everything has to be a conflict. Sometimes it's called a law, so sometimes you go around it."

Yifat and Yedidia know that very soon they may not be able to "go around it." Yifat says that they will fight with every means at their disposal for the home and the outpost they built. They will do so in coordination with their rabbinic leaders, Natan Hai, Eliezer Melamed, David Dudkevich and Elyakim Levanon. Yifat does not hide the hope that soldiers will behave differently in the outposts than in Gush Katif, and will help protect Alumot.

"We are not disengaging from the state," Yedidia hastens to explain, "but the cultural struggle can't be swept under the rug, as is always the case in the struggle of the few against the many."