Day Fourteen – A Visit to a Jewish Settlement in the West Bank

Day Fourteen – A Visit to a Jewish Settlement in the West Bank

As noted in a previous post, much of the current conflict between Jewish- and Palestinian–Israelis, in fact, much of the conflict between Jewish-Israelis and the world, focuses on the establishment and expansion of the Settlements in the West Bank.  At at the bottom of this post is a longer summary of the Settlements issue, taken from an NPR piece on the topic,  I’m including it at the end for anyone who’d like a more in-depth, but still succinct, explanation of the issue.

For our encounter with Settlements and Settlers, we traveled some 40 miles north of Jerusalem Halamish (If you were plunked down in the middle of the street below, you might think you were in Clovis).

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On 16 October 1977, two groups of settlers, one religious and one secular, with a total of 40 families moved into the abandoned former British  fort near the Palestinian village. Today, the Settlement has grown to approximately 1,200 members.  For more on the founding of Hamalish, see here.

Three bright and articulate women were our hosts for the day:  Our guide (below left) was Judy Aurebach; Sandra Barrett (below center), a community leader, gave us a history of the biblical and modern claims for the establishment of the Settlement; and Shu (below right), another community leader,  gave us a current description of the state of things in the Settlements.

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The Settlements cannot be understood from their religious and political foundations.  In brief, the claim for the right to establish this particular settlement can be found on the books of the Genesis, where God gave this land to Israel, and in the book of Deuteronomy, where God promises a return to Israel after a time of scattering (the Diaspora) due to Israel’s disobedience.  Without question, in the minds of these community leaders, and no doubt a majority of the Settlers, the return of the Jews to the land of Israel in early- to mid-portion of the 20th century (after 2000 years of being scattered across the earth), combined with the formation of Israel as a Jewish Democratic state in 1948, is nothing short of a miracle and validation of God’s promise.

In addition, our presenters gave the following was given as rationale for Jewish claims for the land:

  • Claim for the land depends on “when you draw the line.”  Palestinians, according to the Settlers, conveniently draw the line much too recently – it is the Jews who have the longest standing claim for the land, having been their longest standing, traceable descendants.
  • The Settlers didn’t settle on any land for which there was a legitimate Palestinian claim, having chosen land previously owned and managed by the Ottoman empire and lost at the end of WWI.
  • The Jews have “made something”out of the land and have a kind of industriousness that is not a prominent among the Palestinians.
  • Jews respond to “provocation” in the Judea/Samaria (West Bank, or Occupied Territories, to Palestinians) by expanding Settlements.

All this has led to a confidence in the Settlers self-understanding of their right to settle this site.

The presence of the Settlers in the West Bank has been viewed as a provocation by many Palestinians and the source of numerous conflicts (rocks thrown at their cars as they pass through highways in Palestinian controlled areas, shots fired into the community to name but a few).  The latest attack came in the form of a fire bombing of a number of homes (see photo taken from internet, below)

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Settlements are almost universally condemned, and a recent UN Resolution 2334 passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining (source).   U. S. Presidents going back to Clinton have advised to strongly advised against Settlement expansion as an impediment to peace.


A whole tour could be given to the Settlement issue and several lengthy post as well. Suffice to say, this issue will be at the heart of any Jewish-Palestinian peace negotiation. At our debriefing following the tour, our group made the following observations:

  • This was the strongest presentation to date on the religious rationale for not only the Settlements, but also for a Jewish nation of Israel.
  • Religious claims, on either side, make negotiations more difficult.
  • Also, this presentation provided the strongest rationale for the legal argument for the establishment of the a Jewish Democratic nation of Israel (e.g. the Jewish claim goes back further, Settlements are only built on un- or non-titled land)
  • We wondered if some of the comments stereotyping Palestinians work ethic were racist and gave a false sense of racial superiority.
  • The United States has opposed Settlements for several decades now as does the international community.
  • Many of the assertions made by our host were at odds with what we have heard others make.
    • Settlers respect property rights
    • Settlers are respectful of their neighbors
    • Palestinians are advantaged by Israeli rule in the land.

In sum, this excursion helps with another piece of a most complex  puzzle.  We, as a group, are beginning to both better see that complexity as well as understand the strengths/weaknesses of the various peace proposals.

Tomorrow, off to meet with a negotiator from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

From theNPR article

1. Settlements are growing rapidly

The term “settlements” may conjure up images of small encampments or temporary housing, and many have started that way. But they now include large subdivisions, even sizable cities, with manicured lawns and streets full of middle-class villas often set on arid hilltops. Israel is constantly building new homes and offers financial incentives for Israelis to live in the West Bank.

When the Israelis and Palestinians first began peace talks after a 1993 interim agreement, the West Bank settlers numbered a little over 100,000. Today they total around 400,000 and live in about 130 separate settlements (this doesn’t include East Jerusalem, which we’ll address in a moment).

They have grown under every Israeli government over the past half-century despite consistent international opposition. Hard-line leaders like Netanyahu have actively supported them. Moderates and liberals have also allowed settlements to expand, though usually at a slower rate. The settler movement is a powerful political force, and any prime minister who takes it on risks the collapse of his government.

You can click here to see data on the settlements and a detailed map from Peace Now, an Israeli group that is opposed to settlements and closely monitors them.

2. Settlements complicate efforts for a two-state solution

Critics of settlements say they’ve intentionally been established in every corner of the West Bank, giving the Israeli military a reason to be present throughout the territory and making it impossible to create a viable Palestinian state. The settlement locations and the roads that connect them make Palestinian movement difficult.

The settlements are just one of many obstacles to a peace deal. Drawing boundaries, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and myriad security questions — including terrorism — are equally challenging, if not more so.

And as the settlements grow, it will be increasingly difficult to remove a large number of them, a tactic known as “creating facts on the ground.”

3. The distinction between East Jerusalem and the West Bank

Shortly after the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank and had a population that was then entirely Palestinian. Israel declared the entire city to be Israel’s “eternal and indivisible” capital.

No other country recognizes Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, with the United States and others saying the city’s status must be determined in negotiations. This is why the U.S. and other countries have never moved their embassies to Jerusalem. Most are in Tel Aviv.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, claim the eastern part of the city as their future capital.

Around 200,000 Israelis now live in East Jerusalem. Combined with the roughly 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, about 600,000 Israelis now live beyond the country’s 1967 borders. That’s nearly 10 percent of Israel’s 6.3 million Jewish citizens.

While the Israelis tend to speak of East Jerusalem and the West Bank as two separate entities, the Palestinians regard them as a single body — the occupied West Bank.

4. What does Israel say about settlements?

The settlers and their supporters cite the Jewish Bible, thousands of years of Jewish history, and Israel’s need for “strategic depth” as reasons for living in the West Bank.

They also note that Israel took the territory from Jordan, which has since relinquished its claim to the West Bank. Therefore, the settlers argue, there is no legal sovereign in the territory.

However, no country, not even Israel, considers West Bank settlements to be sovereign Israeli territory. As we noted, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and administers it as part of Israel. But Israel has never annexed any other part of the West Bank.

The settlers want to be formally incorporated into Israel, but that would ignite a major controversy. For now, Israel regards the West Bank as “disputed” territory that has been under the Israeli military since the 1967 war.

5. How about the Palestinians?

From some Palestinian cities, there are clear views of Israeli settlements — and new construction — on nearby hillsides. And in most settlement neighborhoods, there are wide areas of empty hillside closed to Palestinians, which Israel says are necessary buffers for security.

Palestinians see them as visual proof that their sought-after independent state is being taken from them. Palestinian leaders have opposed peace talks in recent years while, as they see it, Israel is building on land that is part of those talks.

6. Has Israel ever dismantled settlements?

Yes, on a few occasions, most notably in 2005, when it removed all 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip. Israel decided these small, isolated settlements were too difficult to defend in a territory where the Jewish residents accounted for less than 1 percent of the population.

The evacuation of the settlements was deeply divisive within Israel, and Israel’s security forces had to drag some settlers from their homes kicking and screaming. The episode demonstrated that Israel could remove settlers, but it also showed how much friction it creates inside Israel.

7. What are the proposed solutions?

Kerry on Wednesday outlined the general approach: land swaps. Under this scenario, the largest Jewish settlements, which are near the boundary with Israel, would formally become Israeli territory. In exchange, Israel would turn over an equal amount of its current land that would become part of a Palestinian state.

In addition, settlements deep in the West Bank, far from Israel, would be disbanded. It would be a difficult political move for an Israeli prime minister, but it would also be difficult for a Palestinian leader to accept a peace deal without removing settlements.

Study Abroad
Gary Gramenz

Gary Gramenz

Palestine & Israel