Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Truth about the "Settlements"

We need to stop talking about settlements in a broad stroke. Sure, there are settlements in the classical sense. There are small communities on hilltops, and little outposts with caravans. But most of the population living in Yehudah and Shomron don't live in settlements. They live in cities and towns just like you, and the quicker we get that into peoples' consciousness, the better off we'll all be.
The world clearly likes the image that it has of "settlements." They're filled with a bunch of renegade Israeli crazies, hell-bent on holding onto any and every piece of land to fulfill God's promise to the Jewish people. Truth be told, I guess I'm one of those "nutjobs." Witness the picture associated with the article in the New York Times in this article. Who wouldn't be against crazy masked bare-chested settlers brandishing sticks. (Note to bored Israeli youth: please stop. You're not helping. Take off the masks, put on a shirt, and go back to school. Thank you.)
But in the real world, the vast majority of "settlers" want nothing more than a normal life. Writing about Kfar Tapuach, the article itself (far less inflammatory than the headline) states,
Revitalized from within, the community also attracted young couples from other settlements and from cities in Israel who were seeking a lifestyle that combined relatively cheap suburban comfort with the national-religious ideal of settling the land.
It's about Eretz Yisrael, sure. But it's also about affording a house and living in a place where your kids have parks and can run around freely. And it's not as simple as most Americans, including our President, think. How entwined is my life in the "settlements"?
  • I work in a settlement, in a college just over the Green Line, in Elkana. It sits on a hilltop from which you can literally see Tel Aviv on a clear day. The notion of giving that land to the Arabs, from which they wouldn't need missles - they could just shoot mortars - is an absurd and untenable proposition. But I digress.
  • My brother lives in a settlement - called Modiin Illit - but we call it Kiryat Sefer, together with 40,000 other Chareidi "settlers." That's the biggest badly-kept "secret" of all: most "settlers" live there not because of political views, but cheap housing. What does Barack Obama suggest we do with an entire city of 50,000 people. (Yes, I know I said 40,000, but with the birthrates in Kiryat Sefer, it probably grew significantly in the time it took you to read this article.)
  • Our cousins - another Chareidi couple - are "settlers" - living in Beitar Illit, another huge city that has very little to do with settlements.
  • Good friends of ours have "settled" across the land - in Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion, Givat Ze'ev, Talmon and other places.
It's difficult to express just how entrenched Israeli life is in all of these places. They're places people live and work. Calling them "settlements" and demonizing the people that live and work there won't change that fact.