The Eugene Neumans, Orthodox Jews from New Jersey, two years ago put down $1,500 to build a house 12 miles outside Jerusalem in a town called Efrat on the West Bank.
The cheerful literature about the town passed out to interested Americans says, "The sight of a ben-Torah scholar in a knitted Kippah skullcap , carrying a Talmudic reference work under one arm and an Uzi rifle under the other, is not uncommon . . . . "
But Rose Neuman dismisses the possibility of danger. Within her lifetime she has survived three concentration camps. En route to Treblinka, she jumped off a train. Captured and taken to a work camp, she hid in a large cooking pot when other inmates were taken to the gas chamber. Again she escaped, to survive Auschwitz.
"Are you safe in New York? Riding the subway?" her husband asks.
Despite President Reagan's call for a freeze on West Bank settlements, and the United Nations' position that such settlements are illegal, hundreds of Americans -- with the aid of the Israeli government -- will leave homes and businesses and travel to Israel this year to settle in the disputed land.
Reagan's peace proposal has had little impact on many of the settlers. "I don't think he had any right to say it," Eugene Neuman said. "There is somebody above him. This is part of Israel, part of our holy land. This lot is mine. I want to build there. Nobody will stop me."
Across this country, affinity groups or Garins organize like-minded Americans to settle together in Israel. According to a spokesman for the Israeli Aliyah, the official immigration agency, roughly 3,000 Americans in the past year have moved to Israel, and the rise in immigration--at a rate of approximately 20 percent a year--began after the 1976 war.
Of these emigrants, according to immigration counselor Ehud Gannot, "most people are willing to try and take as one of the options" life in a new settlement in the West Bank or Golan Heights.
The population there, since Prime Minister Menachem Begin took office in May, 1977, has increased four times, to more than 24,000, Gannot said, and there are now 100 settlements, where before there were about 20.
The government, which has always helped immigrants, has increased benefits, with low mortgage rates and loans that translate into grants. But the Americans who go to the West Bank, according to Gannot, don't usually go for the perks.
"They think it's important," he said. "Very few say they don't want to live in occupied territories . . . . The last war in Lebanon made quite a few decide to speed up their Aliyah immigration . . . . There is a feeling that people are needed in Israel in a war . . . . "
The president's proposal for peace in the Mideast calls for an immediate freeze on West Bank settlements, but it has had the opposite effect on some Zionists.
"It made people much more determined," Gannot said. "There was a feeling of, 'We'll show you' . . . . People who were going to put off their Aliyah because of a personal situation, because perhaps they had not sold their house, said, 'Okay, it doesn't matter, we'll sell the house later, we'll go now.' "
Nor does the argument dissuade the new settlers that one day some of the houses the Americans buy will be leveled, as was the town of Yamit when the Israelis returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.
"There is some argument in Israel, between the Labor Party and the Begin government , about whether to keep all of the West Bank . . . . Labor talks about giving back maybe 20 settlements; nobody, maybe only the communists, would say, let's give everything back . . . ," Gannot said.
"But what happened in Yamit will not happen again. The difference is, it was never part of Israel, not part of what Begin used to call, 'our ancient homeland.' It was settled for security reasons, and they decided, 'Okay, we'll give it up for peace.'
"There were only 2,000 settlers there. We have 10 times as many already on the West Bank, which historically has been Israel, has been what we studied in school, and the plan of Begin is to get 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000 for the next few years in order to make sure that it will not be given back. The more people there, the less chance it will go back.
"Of course," he said, "one can never be 100 percent certain with a government. Perhaps one day this country will have a border dispute with Canada and you will give up Buffalo. It could happen. Who knows?"
Americans going to settle the West Bank defend their actions, when challenged, with two arguments: the political and the religious-historic. The political reason, as expressed by Eugene Neuman's son, Dr. Alexander Neuman, a Manhattan psychologist, has to do with national defense.
"Before the '67 war, there was a nine-mile belt across part of the country," he said in a telephone interview from Israel, where he, like his father, has purchased a parcel of land in the town of Efrat. "We can't go back to that . . . .
"I think it's hypocritical for the president to call for Israel to stop building. America got a lot of land through conquest. I don't see an American movement to give Missouri back to the Indians."
Rabbi Schlomo Riskin, 42, head of Manhattan's Lincoln Square Synogogue, helped to create Efrat. He stresses the historic and religious argument.
Like many Zionists and Orthodox Jews, he considers "West Bank" an offensive and incorrect word, making it appear that the disputed land is part of Jordan. He refers to it by its biblical name, which goes back before the days of the Romans, when the area was last under Jewish rule.
He explains to outsiders that the very word Aliyah, now taken to mean return to Israel, literally means "to go up," for when one returns to Israel it is seen as a spiritual ascension.
He said he planned Efrat because for 20 years "it has been increasingly clear to me that the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people is in Israel and not in the Diaspora--in exile."
And before he talks about the city, he insists on telling the history of the land -- a story that helps to explain not only why West Bank settlements are such an emotional issue, but also why he has been able to convince 200 American families to uproot and move there.
"The town is 10 miles south of Jerusalem, in the Judean Hebron hills, in an area called the Etzion Bloc," he said. "There is, in the hills, a beautiful oak tree. In biblical times Abraham walked back and forth from Hebron up to Jerusalem. It's the area Ruth came from. King David was born there . . . .
"It's a place deeply rooted in Jewish history . . . . I think I have neglected to tell you how beautiful it is, as well . . . . Our settlements were built there, and the day before Ben Gurion declared independence, there was a massacre . . . . After the land was taken, when the Arabs controlled the area, the survivors would gather and hold a service from an area where they felt they could see the oak tree . . . ."
According to an Israeli consulate spokesman in New York, 250 people died in the battle of Gush Etzion, on May 13, 1948. The deaths occurred after settlements had been cut off from Israeli forces. The settlement radioed for and received permission to surrender, the spokesman said, but no one was found alive. Because of that, he said, Israelis consider it a massacre.
"When the area was liberated, the settlements were rebuilt, with many of the settlers children of those who had been killed . . . ."
Nor does the spokesman feel that his city -- where Israelis, Americans and South Africans will begin moving this year--is under any threat. It is too close to Jerusalem ever to be part of a giveback, he says. The leveling of Yamit was "a national trauma . . . . It almost brought civil war . . . . It will never happen again."
This is, of course, a militant view. A few settlers admit there is a possibility that some areas might be given back, and Rabbi Riskin and Aliyah's Ehud Gannot concede there is debate in Israel on returning some territory.
One such community, in the northern part of the region, is Karnei Shomron (The Horns of Sumaria), a settlement east of Tel Aviv where two Zionists, Danny and Hallie Kon, are settling down.
They would be an asset to any country, the Kons: he an MIT-trained engineer, earning $30,000 a year at age 23, she with a degree in social work.
Gannot said they are "ideal" settlers: idealistic, bright, committed to the country. They are young and look young. She has long red hair and practical sandals. He wears the skullcap of the Orthodox Jew.
Americans, born to parents and grandparents who fled the Nazis, they are Zionists, but that perhaps does not explain enough. It may be more significant to take just a few facts from Danny Kon's father's life.
The family fled Germany and went to what was then Palestine but then became fearful that the Nazis would come there as well. They traveled through Asia and came into the United States through Seattle. "Talk about wandering Jews," he laughs. He said that in a Manhattan coffee shop on the day he and his wife are scheduled to leave America and begin their new life.
The Kons, in traveling to Israel, will have a great deal of help. They will pay $125 of their $400 fare, the rest being a grant from Israel if they stay in the country five years. Similarly, they will be able to obtain a low-rate government mortgage for their three-bedroom, $50,000 home. If they remain in the country for five years, the housing loan will become a grant of about $10,000.
But talking about Israel, financial aid, and low-cost housing are not the things the Kons bring up first.
"To be in Sumaria is sort of pioneering, like settling the West, going out and building up the country," said Danny Kon. "The area needs to be populated . . . . "
"It's both idealistic and practical," Hallie Kon said. "One of the early Zionists said, 'I go to Israel to build and be built,' not only to help the country, but to build myself . . . . "
They expect no problems, they say. But they will have to learn how to use a gun to take their turn at guard duty. That, they say, is not of any consequence. "You could learn civil defense anywhere."
Nor do they believe that the growing presence of Israeli towns in formerly Arab land will stand in the way of peace.
"There will be peace when the Arabs are ready to make peace," said Danny Kon. "There's nothing wrong with Arabs and Jews living side by side as long as they realize it's a Jewish state and are willing to recognize and swear allegience to us, and have their full rights as citizens . . . ."