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`Zionist Propellers' Twirl for Attention

Their land at stake, Israeli settlers set up a noisy tent city in the rose garden opposite parliament

ANY Israeli with a grievance knows that the rose garden opposite the Knesset (parliament) is the place to go. Disaffected poultry farmers hurling eggs and live chickens at officials, resentful Russian immigrants demanding better jobs, Arab activists urging the return of the Palestinian deportees: All of them have used the rose garden as their platform recently.

But rarely has the park been quite so comprehensively or noisily occupied as it was last week by several thousand Jewish settlers from the West Bank and the Golan Heights, plus most of their children, it seemed. Setting up scores of tents and sleeping out overnight, they staged a five-day protest against any territorial compromise for peace, creating a large-scale "happening."

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The protest started just a few days after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Golan settlers could "spin around in their demonstrations like propellers, it won't do them any good."

Propellers were much in evidence here. "I'm a Zionist propeller; watch me take off," read one of the slogans printed on bumper stickers, stencilled on posters, or chanted by activists.

That sort of upbeat humor permeated the gathering - rather strangely, since the settlers' backs are likely to be up against the wall if Middle East peace talks get anywhere. Land for peace is the basis on which Israel is negotiating, and the land at stake is the land the settlers live on.

"Rabin has no mandate, and that's a fact," was another slogan painted on banners around the park, recalling public-opinion polls that show large majorities opposed to giving up the Golan Heights to Syria, or the West Bank to the Palestinians.

The fear that public opinion might turn against them if a peace deal was in the offing - just as it did over the Camp David Accords with Egypt 15 years ago - has prompted the settlers' campaign.

All the biggest settlements erected their own tents in the rose garden, and some of them pretended to conduct their municipal business. Yeshivas moved in for the week, conducting Torah classes under canvas, and settler groups set up makeshift video salons showing documentaries about the Arab threat.

At one counter, Michal Ben Hurin, a rough-handed settler from the Golan Heights, was signing up volunteers to help defend the settlements should the government ever try to evacuate them.

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He didn't seem to have very many names and phone numbers, though, underscoring the scarcity of visitors to the protest camp who were not settlers themselves.

Impressive though the scene was, the demonstrators were almost all from the small core of religiously and ideologically motivated settlers. They live in occupied territory behind barbed wire fences, insulated from the hostility around them.

But in Jerusalem, too, they seemed isolated in a sea of indifference.

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