High in the Holy Land, a Biblical view of peace

Wed Nov 19, 2008 5:22am EST
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By Douglas Hamilton

ELI, West Bank (Reuters) - When God ordered Abraham to slaughter a son, the angel of the Lord stepped in at the last minute to stay his hand. Was it a test of faith, or had Abraham's imagination simply run away with him?

Scholars may differ, but to many Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, the story is as real as the airy heights and rocky slopes where Hebrew and Philistine armies clashed in biblical times, and where they live today.

This makes it hard to discuss rationally a resolution of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel over its occupation of West Bank land since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

"That's Highway 60. It's been there since Abraham," says Eliana Passentin, pointing to the road in the valley beneath her home in Eli on an 850 meter (2,700 foot) mountaintop, where "on a clear day you can see all the way to Tel Aviv."

Passentin, a 34-year-old former Californian with 6 children, did not build her spacious villa here for the stunning geography or the government subsidies. Every view from every window, she says, looks onto a piece of recorded biblical history.

"There's room here in Israel for everyone," she insists. But "I don't believe we're on the way to peace. There's a lot of hatred toward us." She teaches her children to "respect but suspect," she says. "If my children hear Arabic here on the hill, maybe they should be scared."

The 250,000-strong settler community is not monolithic and not all take the bible literally. But those who do believe they are following God's word, and have His blessing for recovering the holy land of Israel for its chosen people.

Settlers deny their towns are an illegal obstacle to peace. On a tour they organized this week to redress a negative image in foreign media, they cited scripture going back 3,500 years to explain why a land-for-peace swap was out of the question.   Continued...

<p>Houses are seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Psagot November 17, 2008. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte</p>