Mahmoud’s family lives one Palestinian hill over from a newly-forming illegal Jewish settlement. Six Jewish settlers arrived about a year ago with tents and made a primitive campsite. All year they prayed on the hill in religious pilgrimage.
All settlements start this way.
The original owner has a claim on this land and papers originating from the Ottoman empire. For 100 years the owner transferred documents through successive reigning states: Turks, Brits, Jordanians, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Eventually the settlers brought a generator so they had heating and electricity. Then they built a special temporary shelter with aluminum siding. Then, on the pretense of a threat from surrounding Palestinian soldiers, they brought the Israeli army bulldozers, which rammed down any remaining obstructions on the hill and broadened the roads for the settlers to drive on. The locals set up a civil administration building with help from the Palestinian Authority as a work station to assert their legal land claims.
It was bulldozed too.
When the settlers moved in, the local Palestinian families and land owners gathered to protest but the settlers threatened them with assault weapons. It became too dangerous to try and stop them. Later, when the settlers tried to hire Palestinians to help them enhance their structures, the families refused. It would be a great shame to assist such aggressive, illegal neighbors.
When Palestinians locals walk too close to the settler property the settlers brandish guns. The locals now stay indoors if the settlers are visible outside their shelter. The locals feel they are effectively under curfew.
Mahmoud says that the settlers speed excessively down the roads the bulldozers cleared for them. One day a local Palestinian approached a settler and deferentially spoke. “Please, can you drive slower here? You might kill a child or my chickens and farm animals.” The settler leered, “You asked me this today. If you stop me and talk to me again I’ll kill you.” The neighbor courageously reported the incident to the leading settler, who dismissed it breezily. “That guy is crazy. Don’t listen to him.” There are only six settlers.
This year in May, when school was finishing its spring semester, a schoolchild threw a single stone at a settler car. The Israeli army returned and pulled ten Palestinian children from their end-of-year exams and booked them for 10 years in a disciplinary youth detention. Families came to argue for their children. One man said to a soldier, “Please stop this! It was just one child who threw one stone!” He is still in jail.
Now the local families leave the settlers alone because they don’t need any more problems.
The settler vision is not just particular to small groups of land grabbers. It is a vision of the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu. The government has the power to stop these illegal settlers. But instead it sends them water, electricity, civil services, and endorses army services under the guise of protection.
I ask Mahmoud, who lives on the hill adjacent from the settlers, what it might take to live peacefully with them. He exhales a long rueful laugh. “They can’t live peacefully. They don’t believe in peace. They aim their guns at everything that moves. They don’t love Israel either—they are rejecting it. They left it and they have a very hard life here.”
Intrigued by his seeming compassion I ask why he thinks they have a hard life. After all, they’re living on principles, and their government equips them with resources. Isn’t that an okay life? “They have a bad life,” the man replied. “They are hungry. Not just for food. They are not relaxed. They are troubled. They have been fighting such a wrong fight with so much energy that they’ve forgotten what is right.”
I ask if he has ever met any non-settler Israelis. “In the past we had Israeli friends. They always offered help. They are good people—they are human, human, they are sons of Adam!” His Israeli friends still visit sometimes but he cannot visit them. But they have something in common. “We can’t bear the settlers. When we talk about the settlers, the Israelis have the same reaction. The settlers are always the problem—they are everyone’s biggest problem.”
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.