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To moderate settlers, massacre foretells an end to coexistence

For Ofer and Iris Fadida, it is the beginning of the end.

More than a decade of farming the scenic Jordan Valley is over. It ended with the massacre by a militant Jewish settler of at least 39 Arabs in a mosque last Friday.

For the first time since the Israeli couple moved to their moshav _ or farming community _ in 1983, the Fadidas were forced to drive around the usually quiet Arab town of Jericho on Wednesday and take the military border road into Tomer.

"We went back years to the first days of the intifada (Palestinian rebellion)," said Fadida, 32, describing protests in Jericho in which an Arab was fatally shot by Israeli soldiers. "Stones, bottles, burning tires. Our moshav is closed. We cannot leave. All the openness that we had with the Arabs the past few months is gone. It's over.

"It's a catastrophe," he continued, condemning Baruch Goldstein, who killed the Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron. "This shouldn't have happened. It was a horrible thing. Nobody here justifies that. Nobody.

"For us, the end is clear," Fadida said. "The question is when will it come and how?"

In one fell swoop, Goldstein derailed the tenuous peace process begun by Israeli leaders and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat last September, and dashed support for any of the 120,000 Israelis living among some 1.8-million Arabs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Fadidas and some 3,000 other Jordan Valley farmers distinguish themselves from the vociferous and ideological "settlers on the hills" _ militants such as Goldstein _ who chose to populate the captured territory to prevent eventual Arab control. Most Jordan Valley settlers are moderates who voted for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's Labor Party and its platform of trading land with Arabs for peace.

But since the massacre, Fadida said, residents of Tomer _ 12 miles north of Jericho _ are waiting for an Arab revenge attack.

Alarms constantly scream, warning of possible car bombs, he said. They fear for their two older children on school buses. An Arab worker at a nearby settlement recently fired at a Jewish farmer; the Israeli barely escaped.

The Israeli-Palestinian accord called for handing Arabs limited control of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, and set a five-year period to reach final agreements. Before the massacre, negotiators were still working out details.

Fadida no longer believes there will be an interim period. The Palestinians want the settlers out, he said, and the Israeli public is not far behind. His moshav lives in fear and isolation.

"There is a bad feeling toward us now. After the massacre, people don't look nicely on the settlements in general," he said. "Before (the intifada), I was a "moshavnik.' After I was a settler. Now, I became a crazy settler."

Tomer was erected in the mid-1970s as part of a plan to retain the Jordan Valley settlements as a security border, even if the rest of the West Bank _ captured in 1967 Middle East War _ was returned to Arabs.

Ofer Fadida said there were no land disputes with Arabs in this area _ a no man's territory largely uninhabited and used by Arab shepherds until the Israelis planted crops. Unlike other West Bank areas, the Jews here outnumber the Palestinians _ many of whom work for Jews growing flowers, vegetables, grapes, citrus and cotton.

While none of these settlements were to be handed over in the Israeli-PLO deal, the Fadidas now see the writing on the wall.

"We will have to move. If we stay, it will be under Palestinian control," Ofer Fadida said. "You cannot imagine something like that."

As tears began clouding her eyes, Iris Fadida described their first years in Tomer:

"At the beginning, we felt like we were in a cage here. It was so hot. We would go home every weekend," she said. "Now it's our home."

Before the massacre, the Fadidas were talking about having to move in five years. Now, Ofer Fadida said, settlers are forming groups to ask the government for money to leave.

"I don't think it will be more than two years," he said. "How many blows can you take? Either there will be a final settlement or nothing. People want to leave."