In the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, men, women and children live daily with the touchstones of peace and war-synagogues and sandbags, flower fields and bomb shelters, songs at Passover and rifle patrols at midnight, libraries and half-hidden gun turrets.
They are more than Israeli farmers. They are the "eyes and scouts-a warning system" says one government official. "Every one of these settlements is situated according to the military security needs."
With her brown eyes and the kerchief around her long dark hair, Sarah Shaw could easily be taken for a native-born Israeli. She is a transplanted Canadian.
On a recent hot afternoon, she offers lemonade in her small neat home in the settlement of Mehola-the farthest northern Israeli outpost on the West Bank, but only on hour and a half drive from Jerusalem.
She talks of the three terrorists who jumped the fence last year, threw a grenade at one house but missed. Some children were the first to hear the explosion and gunshots from the settlement patrol. One terrorist was killed and two escaped.
It was a long time before some of the mothers could sleep through the night. But Shaw, 23, says, "There can only be a certain amount of running to shelters. After a while, you say 'to hell with it.'"
The West Bank is the ground on which the battle over autonomy and Palestinian self-rule will be waged in the uncertain future following the Israeli-Egyptian treaty.
Palestinian leaders, in their push for a homeland, are adamant. To them, these Israeli settlements, classified as illegal by the United States, are on stolen land and must go. (The United States' position is that their status is negotiable in autonomy discussions.)
The Israeli settlers are equally adamant-to the point that some Israeli leaders fear civil strife if they try to remove them. Mostly religious hard-line nationalists, they obdurately stake their claim on the Bible. This land belonged to Jews for thousands of years, they say.
While more moderate Israeli voices see some West Bank partitioning as just and inevitable, few West Bank Arabs or Jews seem able to accept the concept of living side-by-side in unoccupied territory.
Mehola, a settlement of 50 families-100 adults and 120 children-is called a "moshav" as opposed to the all-communal kibbutz where children live apart from the family. On a moshav, every family has separate living quarters. While some at Mehola farm communally, about half the group split last year from the collective and now are reimbursed separately for their crops.
The one absolute of these settlers is their almost mystical conviction that they are there, as they repeat over and over, to "settle and secure Israel." For that reason, they are among the few Israelis (4,500 on the West Bank, compared to 650,000 Palestinians) who embrace the hard frontier existence: long hours, conflicts about communal living, a barbed-wire world.
At night, from the dark, deserted road Mehola looms in isolation. From the rooftop of the synagogue, the eye follows the barbed wire, a dip in the desert down to the tricklle that is the Jordan River and up across to a village easily visible on the other side. That is Jordan.
It is this closeness that fires the xenophobia and fear on both sides.
In each of the one-story homes-two bedrooms, one bath, small kitchen and living room-is a door smaller than the rest. Down a flight of steps is a cinderblock room, six feet wide, two bunks.A bomb shelter. Ladder exits lead to concrete openings in the yards. Children often casually rest their bicylces on them.
Near the synagogue is a large communal shelter with doors that boit from the inside like a submarine and a "contamination room" in which to shower.
Above ground, Sarah Schneid is home, cutting onions and cooking for Passover. She is from Far Rockaway, N.Y., and followed her daughter, Rachel Wiseberg, to Israel.
Rachel, her head covered as is the custom of women in this religious settlement, is awash in children-twin babies in her arms, two more of her five clinging to her. Her husband, Hillel, comes in from his field of green peppers and takes off his tractor cap. Underneath it is his yarmulke. A revolver is in his back pocket. It is his night for guard patrol around the compound and he is tired already.
"My wife has a submachine gun," says Hillel, rubbing his eyes and settling down to a fast lunch before returning to the fields. Mehola has turned the surrounding desert green and exports everything from eggplants to the airy white flower known as baby's breath. "No one expected anything to grow here," says one settler. "God didn't expect anything to grow here."
In daily conversation, disenchantment with kibbutz living seems more of a common bond at Mehola than concern and unrest over West Bank politics.
"People don't work as hard if something is not their own," says Hillel Wiseberg. Nancy Barak, a mother of three, says that families were leaving and no one was replacing them at Mehola until they switched from cooperative farming: "Young Israelis of today just aren't interested in that anymore."
Mehola is not yet self-sufficient like some of the profitable larger settlements where a farmer can make $25,000 a year. At harvest time the work is draining, but in the winter they join other nearby settlements for theater and night classes in art, French English. "We get all the best plays from Tel Aviv," says Shaw. "In fact, I go more than I did when I lived in Jerusalem. You need it more here."
But many at Mehola relax as in any American suburb. Hillel Wiseberg says with a grin, "I just sit in front of the TV and fall asleep."
For Sarah Schneld and her CPA husband, both strong Zionists, settling in Israel was a "very symbolic move. The United States is good," she says. "But here, nobody will call you a dirty Jew."
For her daughter, 35, however, life in the states was "typical upper middle class and very easy." All her Jewish friends "wanted to come to Israel," says Rachel Wiseberg. Her visit became forever. Her husband, who came from England, also decided to stay and they met as university students in Jersualem. They are among the oldest in this settlement of young people.
Pulled by a sense of "belonging " when they visited Isael, the death of a close friend in the Yom Kippur War "gave us taht extra push to move to the moshav," says her husband.
Mehola settlers, as if by rote, dismiss talk of fear."It is not any worse than being afraid to go out at night in New York City for fear of being mugged," they say. Or, "I woudl be more afraid to live in Jerusalem right now. Terrorist bombs go off all the time."
Rachel Wiseberg says, "The children know if anything happens they should get down on the floor. They's not allowed out of the gates alone. They ask me questions. 'Are all Arabs bad?' I try to explain that there are good and bad Arabs just as there are good and bad Jews."
"I can understand how they feel," she says of the Palestinians' desire for the land. "But I don't agree with them."
"Everyone is worried now," Rachel's mother continues. "Jewish people living in Arab lands had property taken away. Who gave them compensation? It's a vicious circle. The Palestinian refugees in camps," she scoffs. "There's enough money in Kuwait and Persia. They could rehabilate their own. Instead they wanted to keep them in refugee camps as a symboi-so people would talk of the Jewish state which has 'grabbed their land."'
The Arabs view the settlers as aggressors who subjugate local Arabs. They tell of Israeli army border bombing raids that kill Arab women and children. The Issraeli settlers see a Palestinian state as a base from which to conquer Israel-and, in turn, tell of Arab terrorist raids that kill their women and children.
Arabs are equally apprehensive about the sophisticated military buildup on the borders near settlements like Mehola. Tanks are mummified-oiled, fueled, loaded with ammunition, and placed in gigantic zipper bags. The tank is then plugged into an air-conditioning unit which keeps it and contents at a constant temperature for months. Al a crew has to do in an emergency, notes the Jerusalem Post, is to "unzip the bag and drive off to battle."
Last week, for the first time since the peace signing, repeated duels broke out between Palestinians and Israelis. On Tuesday, a time bomb exploded in Tel Avis's central market, crowded with Passover shoppers, killing one woman and injuring 15 other persons. The PLO claimed responsiblility.
A few hours later, the Israelis launched air strikes against Palestinian guerrilla encampments in Lebanon. Palestinian sources said seven were killed, and Palestinian units retaliated by firing rockets on two Israeli settlements. The Israelis then shelled Palestinian targets across the frontier, and a Palestinian barrage followed.
The Arabs say terrorist attacks would cease if a Palestinian state were created, and add that the Israelis would have to dismantle their military might, with a U.N. peacekeeping force securing the West Bank. But in places like Mehola, where they have been shelled from the other side, there is little faith in that.
Yehuda Reines, born in 1946 near the old Jodaman border, was one of the earliest Mehola settlers. Rabbi Eitan Eizman, from Jerusslam, is one of the last.
Reines, sunburned from the fields, offers the usual cookies and a fruit drink. He sits on his couch. The menorah is as prominent as the TV set. His arm around his baby daughter, Reines struggles with keeping his glasses on as she snatches at them, and says he is worried about peace.
The rabbi enters his small school room filled with religious books, including a worn Talmud, and awaits his class of teen-agers from Mehola and other settlements. His rifle is still slung on his back. It is a Russian rifle, "which we took from the armies we fought against."
One of his six children, Orit, 13, pretty with black hair, talks briefly before racing to her friends who come in on the bus. "The terrorists? I am not afraid of them. Why? I don't know. On my bicycle I go alone, outside the fence." She likes Mehola but misses her friends in Jerusalem. Calling back over her shoulder she says, firmly, "This land must be ours."
One woman looks different from the rest. The others wear skirts, but she sits on the lawn in jeans, her hair uncovered, and smokes a cigarette.
Nancy Barak, 29, was Canadian and a Christian. "For 20 years of my life I didn't even know what Israel was." She met her husband, another Canadian, on a blind date. She converted "mainly to please his parents. It is especially important in Israel. The kids wouldn't be able to marry." (Children are not considered Jewish unless the mother is.)
The Baraks, who now have three young children, have lived at Mehola for nearly seven years. Her husband had just finished college (a business administration major) and she was a dental assistant when they decided to come to Israel. She has been back to London, Ontario twice. "It's very strange, especially trying to explain to people who keep asking, 'What are you doing over there?"' Moving there was "hard on my mother at first. She worries."
Barak says her conversion to feeling Israeli was gradual. "I just see a need for a state of Israel. I met people who lived through the holocaust. They and other Jews need a home. And there is no choice [but to settle there]. If there was, I'd be one of the happiest people in the world.
"I hope for peace, but it's hard to trust people you have been at war with for so long."
Her husband was not particularly religious and had been in the peace movement in Canada. "At first, the very fact that he was living in a military society here was very hard for him."
But now, as if it were all quite natural. Barak ends up intertwining religion and war-as do so many people here. "A lot of guys became religious in the Yom Kippur War. That happened to my busband." She pauses. "The only way to justify his fighting was if he was religious.
"The historical right to the land and the continuation of the Jewish religion: If someone doesn't believe in that, there is just no reason to be here."
She is silent for a moment.
"There is no answer otherwise." CAPTION: Picture 1, Sarah Shaw on a rooftop in Mehola with the hazy hills of Jordan in the background.; Pictures 2 and 3, Entrance to Mehola, and below, Rabbi Eitan Eizman teaching his students in religion class with a machinegun nearby.; Picture 4, Nancy Barak; photos by Carol Gootter for The Washington Post