Settlers in Hermesh, Home of Attack Victim, Make No Ideological Claims

Eighty-five houses have been built in the northern West Bank settlement of Hermesh since the end of the 1980s. Families and singles live in 35 of them, and some of the residents live there only over the weekend. It's easy to distinguish between the lived-in houses and the abandoned ones: While pretty gardens surround the homes in which people reside, the others are covered in wild plants, their windows are broken and the local children play in their yards.

On Monday, Hermesh resident Yevgeny Reider, 28, was killed and his 16-year-old stepson, Andrei Zaidan, was lightly wounded in a Palestinian shooting attack at Baka al-Sharkiyeh, about five kilometers away from Hermesh. The road on which the attack took place, as Reider and Zaidan were on their way to work in the Elon Moreh area, is the only one Hermesh residents can use to travel west, toward Hadera and Netanya.

Technically, they can also travel northward, passing the Shaked and Reichan settlements, and reach their destination via the Wadi Ara road, but this lengthens their journey by 45 minutes each way. Only the children travel this way to school in Shaked, because the army and local council insist that they travel on the north route in bulletproof buses.

There is also a road that goes east, toward the settlements of Sa-Nur and Homesh, which are slated for evacuation under the disengagement plan. But the residents of Hermesh don't have reason to look eastward. Most of the people living there are completely secular or are not Jewish at all, in contrast to the religious population of most West Bank settlements, and many couples are not what is known as "ideological settlers." At least half the Hermesh residents are immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union. They came to the West Bank to enjoy a higher quality of life, and are not embarrassed to say it.

After Monday's attack, Reider's common-law wife of the last five years, Tatiana Zaidan, was quoted as asking Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to evacuate her from Hermesh. Community residents say they see the comment as a response to bereavement rather than as an expression of her true opinions, but at the same time, they distance themselves from other settlers.

"We don't share the same ideology as the other communities," said Irena Balinov, who immigrated from St. Petersburg and moved to Hermesh seven years ago. "They're actually a little embarrassed of us, that's my feeling. I like living here, but if they tell me to leave I'll go. The question is where. If they give me money to buy a three-room apartment on the fifth floor in Afula or Hadera, instead of the nice house I built here and the pretty garden, I prefer to return to Russia."

Ludmilla Sheveshvitz works in a paper-towel factory in Caesarea. There is no public transportation, so her husband Zachar picks her up and drops her off in their Subaru station wagon, which is battered on all sides as a result of attacks in Baka al-Sharkiyeh. It is not protected against bullets or stones.

"I work in shifts, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes evening shifts, sometimes night," said Ludmilla. She was supposed to travel past Baka al-Sharkiyeh around 6:30 A.M. Monday to get to work, but was later told not to come in that day. "That's how I was saved from death, because I was supposed to be where the attack took place, at the same time," she said. "Tonight I'm going in for the night shift. I'm trembling from fear, and each time I cover up in a flak jacket and pray."

Zachar said he lives in Hermesh because he believes that's where he should live, but says he doesn't have a particular ideology. Ludmilla, who is not Jewish, stays there because her husband does.

In October 2002 a Palestinian terrorist armed with a Kalashnikov rifle infiltrated the settlement and opened fire, killing two 14-year-old girls and a 53-year-old woman.

Hagai and Galia Turjeman, whose daughter Hadas was one of the victims of the attack, still live in Hermesh because their daughter liked it so much. Nonetheless, Hagai doesn't expect to stay.

"I'm realistic. One day they'll evacuate us from here," he said. "I'm not fanatic and I won't fight. All I want is that they'll let me build a house in a similar community, with a view and mountains. I want them to call it Hadas Point."