On June 4, 2013, the EAPPI teams traveled to an Israeli Settlement to learn more about how Israeli settlers view the occupation in Palestine.
We met Mr. Bob Lang who lives in the Israeli settlement of Efrat in the Judean mountains. He immigrated to Israel 38 years ago from the United States and has been active in establishing several new settlements. He was previously an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.
It is important to remember two facts at this point:
1. There are 500,000 Israeli settlers who live in 150 settlements and 100 outposts in the West Bank of Palestine (http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_humaitarian_atlas_dec_2011_full_resolution.pdf).
2. Under international law the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967 are illegal. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war states: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1682640.stm). Israel disputes this.
Mr. Lang accompanied us on a bus tour of Efrat, providing us with the following information. Efrat was established in 1983 and has a population of 9,500 who are mainly religious Zionist (40 %), ultra-orthodox (30 %) and non-observant (30 %) residents. It is located 12 miles south of Jerusalem between Bethlehem and Hebron. It is 6.5 km east of the Green Line and lies within the Separation Barrier.
Mr. Lang informed us that the master plan for Efrat was approved 35 years ago by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, including construction of the settlement on seven adjacent mountains. The settlement council plans to build homes on the seventh and final mountain soon to allow for an increase in population.
During the tour of this “suburb” of Jerusalem, Mr. Lang pointed out with pride the neighbourhoods, the schools and day care centres, shopping area, emergency medical centre, municipal building, and the road network. He stated that many people commute to Jerusalem for work. There are over 20 synagogues. Here is one:
He then invited us into his home for a discussion and welcomed questions. As we walked into this neighbourhood, this is what we saw:
Here is a photo of Mr. Lang in his home. He is married and has four children – one son who has completed his compulsory military service, a daughter who is between high school and military service, and two sons who are in the 11th and 10th grades.
He then provided information from his point of view:
– While we might call the area in which he lives the West Bank, he refers to it as Samaria and Judea. These he termed political statements.
– While we might refer to where he lives as an Israeli settlement, he refers to it as a Jewish community.
– He says that there are 150 Jewish communities with 380,000 residents, while the UN says there are 150 illegal Israeli settlements with a population of 500,000.
– He posited that the key challenges for Jewish people and Palestinians is to find ways to live together and share resources. He noted that 80 % of Palestinians get their water from the Israeli government.
– He stated that “we are not leaving; that they are here to stay.” He said that the terrorist activities must stop. It is true that rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel, causing loss of life and property, and the political party Hamas has taken credit. However, he did not distinguish between Gaza and the West Bank, where no suicide bombings have been carried out since 2007.
– He noted that Palestinian extremists on Palestinian TV say that they will drive Israel into the sea.
– Mr. Lang stated that the best thing Israel can do is to Annex Areas A, B, and C into Israel. He continued that to find peace it is important to dialogue.
– He pointed out that Efrat is adjacent to two Palestinian villages, that they live in relative calm and that the villages get their water from Efrat. He did not answer the question “Why is there a fence between Efrat and these villages?”
When asked if Palestinian refugees who were expelled in 1948 should be compensated and allowed to return, he agreed that they should receive restitution for what they lost. He did not answer whether they should be allowed back. He went on to say that Jewish refugees from the Arab states should also get compensation.
When asked if Israel should reduce its heavy-handed iron first treatment of Palestinians, to move toward a more equitable treatment, he stated that Israel would not give Palestinians living in the West Bank Israeli citizenship. He did not answer my question.
Another colleague from Ireland mentioned the difficulties that had been overcome there, and asked whether he thought Israel’s use of force was proportionate to the Palestinian threat, he said that Israel needs to control the situation. Again, he did not answer the question.
He noted that if there was an agreement, that there would be land grabs in both directions.
When asked what human rights violations have been experienced by Israelis during the occupation, he changed the topic, and elaborated on Gaza rocket attacks.
He stated that modern Zionism has increased prosperity. He did not acknowledge that the lands that he lives on were taken from Palestinians who occupied the land before Efrat was established in 1983. He did not say that the almost unlimited supply of water that keeps his settlement green in the Judeah desert is not available to Palestinian villages at a similar cost. He did not say that the restrictions on Palestinian development, access or work permit system negatively affects Palestinians. These all contribute to Zionist prosperity.
He pointed out that Arabs living in nearby villages are now able to work for industries and farms in the Jewish communities. Without this, they would have no employment. He noted specifically the Rami Levi supermarkets where Israelis and Palestinians are employed side-by-side. He did not say if they receive equal salaries for the same work.
His final three points were :
– Annex the Judeah and Samaria,
– Increase education, and
– increase economic and social cooperation.
These, he said, are the bridges to peace.
We thanked him for his time and hospitality.
We left with a much clearer understanding of the views of a Jewish Zionist living inside Palestine with support from the Israeli government for the expansion of Jewish communities/settlements. And we noted his superb communication skills, how he stayed with his messages, and how he adroitly side-stepped our questions.
Observations from a lush oasis in the Judean desert, adjacent to dry and withered Palestinian villages.