Visit to Efrat, a settlement in Gush Etzion

Words from a local resident in a Jewish Settlement

Pastor Nabors (his comments in regular type): After lunch (which was excellent) we travel to a Jewish settlement that is relatively new.  Immediately we sense the incredible discrepancy between the refugee camp in Bethlehem, and the one in which we have arrived.  There are obvious signs of wealth in the housing, landscape, roads and cleanliness.  We were to have been received by the Mayor of the settlement but he was not available.  He asked a community member to speak to us and the synagogue was opened for us to go in and listen.  This was another very painful experience for me.  Perhaps the most painful on the entire trip.  He does not appear orthodox (he is wearing modern clothing) but he is deeply pro-Zionist and attributes all the fault for Israel’s problems to the Arabs.  He refuses to call them Palestinian and does not recognize Palestine as an entity, let alone a state.  He is the former Director of the Ark in Chicago, graduate of Northwestern and a newspaper columnist.  He read an article he recently penned titled “Sukkat Shalom” and it was printed in the Jerusalem Post. It offered a bit of hope, but was very pragmatic and suggested the present quagmire would not allow anyone to move in the right direction.  In the conclusion he writes, Authentic, long-term peace and co-existence between Israeli-Jews and Palestinians is the shared goal of all but the extremists on both sides.  And to quote the late George Harrison “It don’t come easy.”  So, here we once again were Israeli “settlers” who are not going anywhere, sitting together in a sukkah with Palestinians who are not going anywhere, for both recognize that neither is going anywhere. 

The lecture is painful to listen to and I think about walking out on more than one occasion.  His diatribe against the Palestinians is relentless.  So angry and negative are his remarks towards Palestinians until I felt personally offended and to my knowledge, I am not Palestinian.  I ask myself, “God, why did you make me to possess such sensitivity that I would rage and moan and hurt at offenses being flung in the direction of others?”  And of course the answer is, “I made you a preacher.”  The lecturer is  vindictive, disrespectful and a mean brute.   When someone from our group attempts to offer a counterpoint, he attacks them, claiming they know nothing of the land or its history.  He fully claims that Jews were the rightful occupants of the land because they arrived there two thousand years ago.  He contends that those who call themselves Palestinians did not arrive to the area until recently.  He asks “Who among you thinks this is Palestinian land?”  We all know it was a trick question and do not respond at all.  Of course, nearly all of us realize the land was dotted with humans long before 2,000 years ago, those who were called Canaanites and Hittites, to whom the Palestinians trace their own lineage.  They were on the land over 5,000 years ago.  Obviously, he would have taken exception to such a claim and will argue present day Muslims cannot trace their lineage back that far.  He calls Palestinians “Arabians” and argues they come from the Saudi Arabia region and not Israel.  His hostility was more than we could bear and as soon as the lecture ends, we quickly leave that place, that synagogue and that settlement.

Rabbi London: His approach to us is hostile and defensive from the very beginning of his talk. When I ask him what kinds of assumptions he’s made about us, he says that he’s tired of left-wingers who are anti-Israel. When I indicate that’s not who we are, with hostility in his voice, he asks me what other people will be speaking to our group. When I tell him that we have a Palestinian and a Jewish guide and that we are looking at a range of views, he continues to push me about how many people like him will be speaking to our group. Inside, I think, I hope just you since this has been an unpleasant and not terribly productive experience.

The following week, I return to a settlement, this time to Ofra, with a J Street congressional delegation. The representatives that we meet there are more polished and empathetic even if I don’t agree with their perspectives. They express a desire to live peacefully with the Arabs in the region. What this means for them, however, is giving the Palestinians living in the West Bank the ability to earn a living and live their lives more freely, but not to be given equal political rights. This, of course, is not true equality. This “economic peace” is Occupation dressed up in nicer garments.

Pastor Ruen: We continue to process the visit on the bus with Alaa and Amit, our guides. We discuss the concept of “normalization.” Some Palestinians don’t want to meet with Jews because this normalizes the Occupation–it makes Israelis feel good, but it does nothing to help end the Occupation. Israelis still have the power. In the 90s during the period of the Oslo Accords, Israelis and Palestinians met more freely, but when the peace process fell apart in 2000 and the Second Intifida erupted, these meetings ceased. Alaa says that the younger generation of Palestinians don’t know Israelis except as police and soldiers.

We also discuss how the settlements were built. Under the Geneva Convention, settling in land that was seized in war is illegal. What Israel did was to claim it was building military bases. Then mobile homes and civilians would move in. Then these settlements would get electricity and water.

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