'No need for fence. It's all ours'

By Nathan Jeffay, December 22, 2011

Newlywed Yedidia Slonin, 20, says that his first marital home is in a "very central location". It is a wooden shack on a West Bank hilltop that has a population of two dozen.

But to him, his three-month-old outpost, Oz Zion, is "central" not only because it is close to the main road. It is because the location, near the settlement of Beit El, is in what he considers the heartland of biblical Israel. And despite repeated operations by Israeli police to destroy the shacks, which are unlicensed and illegal according to Israeli law, he is determined to rebuild and stay there.

Mr Slonin is a member of the so-called hilltop youth - young ideologues who are determined to fly the Israeli flag on the hilltops of the West Bank. To them, the settlers of towns like Efrat and Ariel are akin to armchair Zionists. Fired up with religious fervour, they believe that the hilltops are where the future of Zionism is being determined.

The "price tag" attacks against Israeli army and Palestinian targets are thought to come from their community, which numbers several thousand, but its members deny employing violence.

The differences between them and the settler establishment are sharp. Mainstream settlers lobby the government for building permits; the hilltop youth say that permits are irrelevant as the West Bank belongs to the Jews. And this clear-cut outlook also leads them to reject that fixture of almost every settlement, the perimeter fence.

"We feel that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel and so if you put a fence you close yourselves in a small section," says Mr Slonin. "If you put up a fence then what's inside the fence is yours and what's outside isn't."

Critics of the hilltop youth see them as extremists, driven by messianic zeal, who lack respect for the rule of law. But their leaders say that they are simply clinging to the original values of the settler movement. "The [settler] establishment is now pragmatic, and the young ones cling to the established ideology," said Daniella Weiss, a founder of the settler movement and now a spiritual leader of the hilltop youth.

Last updated: 10:41am, December 28 2011