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Thursday, May 27, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Israel contingency plan would use West Bank
as wartime refuge for up to 500,000

JERUSALEM — The Jewish community in the West Bank plans to host up to 500,000 Israelis in the event of a future regional war.


In the 1991 Gulf war, thousands of residents from the Tel Aviv area fled to the West Bank for safety from Iraqi Scud ballistic missile strikes. In the 2006 war with Lebanon, about 10,000 residents of northern Israel joined relatives and friends in the West Bank to escape Hizbullah rocket attacks.

"Judea and Samaria can be a place of refuge for the nation," Naftali Bennett, director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said.

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Bennett said the plan has been drafted in cooperation with Israel's military and government. In 2010, Israel held several major exercises that tested the nation's response to massive missile and rocket salvos from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, Middle East Newsline reported.

Under the plan, authorities would employ armored buses to bring Israelis to Jewish communities in the West Bank. Officials said the plan was being tested in several communities in the Samaria region.

Officials said the plan envisions several war scenarios. In one scenario, 100,000 Israelis would arrive in the West Bank, which would be ready to accommodate them in municipal buildings, schools and homes.

In the worst case, authorities envision 500,000 Israeli refugees flooding the West Bank. Officials said such an influx would strain the resources of the Jewish community.

"That's an extreme scenario," Bennett said. Jewish community leaders said the West Bank would serve as a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Israelis who intend to flee cities targeted by Iran, Syria and their proxies in any future war. They said the prospect of Israel's enemies firing missiles toward the West Bank, with a Palestinian population of nearly two million, was slight.

"Judea and Samaria is an excellent place to absorb people," Avi Ro'eh, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, said.

At a news conference on May 25, Ro'eh said the 310,000-member Jewish community in the West Bank was capable of rapidly absorbing Israelis. He said accommodations, ranging from modular housing to tents, could be quickly erected, and residents would be ready to host Israeli refugees until the end of the war.

"This is a population that gives," Ro'eh said. "So, it is clear to them that this is something that has to happen."

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