The problem.

I have family in a West Bank settlement.

Every left-wing Israeli family has its right-wing wing, and the rightists have their lefties. Thus, when I married my husband, I got not just his left-wing-through-and-through nuclear family of origin, but also the folks who parked their Uzis under the table at our wedding (next, it should be noted, to the table at which my Palestinian co-worker sat. Oh, that was a moment!). I also got the aunt and uncle who lived in a Jerusalem “neighborhood” which I, in the fullness of time, finally realized was actually a settlement in its own right, but they’ve since moved into really-Israeli-Jerusalem (their daily needs changed, not their ideology).

Everyone on that side of the family — all modern Orthodox, all parents of many children — has never been anything but kind and welcoming to me. They’ve reached out, they ask after me, after us, they want to see pictures of the children, they’re sorry we’ve moved away. One cousin in particular has the warmest, most gentle smile. She makes you feel like you’ve made her day just by walking into the room.

But the truth is that it matters not in the least that they are kind, or warm, or gentle. Because they are the problem.

They — in the broadest sense: they, and their friends, and their beautiful houses, and their armed guards, and their by-pass roads — are what stands in the way of peace and security for 7.3 million Israelis and 4 million Palestinians. I would venture that a good few Palestinians might even find them to not be particularly kind, warm, or gentle.

I know some people can compartmentalize their lives so completely that this sort of cellular-level disagreement regarding the ethics of one’s daily behavior can be overlooked for the sake of the relationship, but I am not such a person. Beyond what I’ve just said, I can’t really tell you much more about this side of the family, because I’ve worked pretty hard not to know them.

When I was once forced (it felt like I was forced) to spend the night in one of their homes, I couldn’t sleep; when celebrating family milestones together, I frequently have to leave the room, just to breathe. Whenever I see any of them, talk to any of them, hear about any of them, I want to — I don’t know, what? I guess I want to take away their homes and their land and move them bodily into Israel proper, and then shut the door and walk away, so as not to hear the stream of lies-that-they-believe that would inevitably pour from their mouths about Greater Israel and the knife I had just plunged into the nation’s back.

When the neighbors of the woman with the gentle smile were killed in a terrorist shooting, I did call. I asked how the family was doing, how the children were doing. I did it through gritted teeth, and I did it because it was the right thing to do, and, I will admit, I did it to make a point that the left often fails to make: No matter where you may live, you do not deserve to be shot to death on your way home. Terrorism — perhaps it bears repeating — is evil.

But it took terrorism for me to make any kind of effort, and that was years ago. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about their lives now.

Other than, of course, the earlier stated fact that they are the problem.

Their homes are the problem. Their decision, and the decisions made by half a million other Jewish Israelis to live on Palestinian land and slowly but surely turn the entire Jewish State into the Settlers’ Auxiliary and Bugle Corps, their decision to build and keep building and keep building and keep building — this is why, when history looks back on the Jewish State, it will see a sea of blood followed by the ultimate dismantling of the state.

When our blood is in the ground, when the Palestinians and Israelis have reached the point that the killing has utterly destroyed both societies and The State of Israel is but one more disaster on the long, long list of Jewish disasters, when, finally, this long, horrific tale is done — our blood will mingle, and no one will know which drop belonged to whom.

And the anemones will cover our graves, grow up and down the hills, heedless of battlelines or borders. Because that’s what anemones do.



For information, background, and statistics on the settlements: The Foundation for Middle East Peace

For historical documents on the occupation and settlement project: South Jerusalem (note, in particular, this legal opinion finding that settlements were contrary to international law, issued two months after the 1967 Six Day War).

For the impact of settlements on the Palestinian population of the West Bank: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

For the history of the settler movement, read: Gershom Gorenberg’s excellent The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Gorenberg is also one of the left-wing Orthodox bloggers at South Jerusalem)

For a close look at Palestinian life under occupation, read: Saree Makdisi’s heartbreaking Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation

Note: If anyone knows of a good source on Israeli perceptions of/responses to the settlements — a sociological or psychological study, something beyond polls such as these — please let me know.


Update: Coincidentally, Bradley Burston at HaAretz wrote a very similarly-themed piece in today’s paper: “Confessions of an Israeli anti-settler bigot”:

They say the first step in dealing with rage is acknowledging it. So here it is: I have become a bigot where it comes to the settlement movement.

I believe that the officials, the activists, and the Diaspora bankrollers and rooting section of this movement have ruined my life. They ruin it a little more every single day.

The extent to which they have embittered the lives of millions of Palestinians is incalculable. I won’t pretend to know what they go through or how it feels. For the moment, I just want to talk about what the settlement movement does to its fellow Israelis, and why so many of us are so fed up.

Bradley Burston is one of my favorite Israeli commenters. Please click through and read it all.



  1. Steve

     /  September 29, 2010

    “Here is a picture of my settlement behind you, Nokdim, in the Judean Desert. I even agree to vacate my settlement if there really will be a two-state solution.” –Avigdor Lieberman

    It’s weird enough that Israel is governed by a political party that was too right-wing for Ariel Sharon. But anyone who isn’t willing to give up their settlement for peace is to the right of Avigdor Lieberman!

  2. ee, this is painful, poignant, powerful, and personal. Only through honest dialogue can we move anything forward.

  3. Chuck Butcher

     /  September 29, 2010

    Thanks for this

  4. Thank you so much for this post.

  5. amichel

     /  September 29, 2010

    Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish State, the same Jewish State that to this day goes unrecognized by the PLO. The problem is not people like your extended family members in “settlements” in Jerusalem. The problem is the Palestinian government and Palestinian people who will not even recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish State, and use terrorism as an instrument of policy. The problem is people who believe that Israel would actually agree to move hundreds of thousands of its citizens from homes they’ve lived in for decades in Jerusalem. The problem is people who want to sacrifice Israeli lives and Israeli security for the dubious promise of peace from terrorists like Hamas.

  6. debbie

     /  September 29, 2010

    This same kind of insurmountable division is going on in my Ohio Jewish family. As the only “left-winger” in the bunch, I’ve no doubt the word “apartheid” will pop out of my mouth at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, just like “anti-Semitic Jew” will pop out of theirs. And while our lives may not be at stake, we’ll be at no less of an impasse. I can only hope that the strongly held ill-feelings won’t leech into other areas of our relationships.

    Your post points out that even misguided people can be kind-hearted. I’ll need to keep that in mind at Thanksgiving and remember that no one’s pure monster or pure angel. It’s just such a real shame that we can’t see that when we’re in the midst of the struggle. Maybe that in itself would be the first step to a solution.

  7. dmf

     /  September 29, 2010

    are you seeking such understanding to try and cure/convert these folks, to try and re-engineer the socialization of the next generation, to calculate the odds of political efforts, something else?

  8. Susan

     /  September 29, 2010

    When I was a kid (age 19) I spent a year in Germany. This was in 1965, and I was in southern Germany, a former stronghold of support for the National Socialist Party. When I got to know them I met many people who had been personally supporters of that party and of the government during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

    Many of them, most of them, were very generous, friendly, intelligent people, and many of them were very good to me, a foreign student in their country who only spoke their language in a kind of broken way. They took me into their homes, they welcomed me to their families.

    And then there were their political views, and the horrors which they had supported. Which we did not for the most part discuss.

    This is an extreme example, but I think that people who are in most ways very good people can be part of doing something that is not good at all, that is evil and in the end self-destructive. (Germany was devastated in WWII.)

    Evil doesn’t always come packaged in black with horns. That’s the mystery of it. I too believe the West Bank settlers are morally wrong and may bring about the ultimate destruction of Israel, just as my Nazi friends brought about, ultimately, the devastation of Germany. What’s baffling is how such things can co-exist with everything that is good and generous, all in one human being.

    Let us beware lest we imitate them.

  9. zic

     /  September 29, 2010

    Emily, I needed to read this; if only to verify my own thoughts with the experience of someone I trust, someone with first-hand experience. It’s the constant reminder; good people are capable of horrid things; people are complicated.

    My only correction is that you’ve limited the impact of the crisis; it threatens peace everywhere, I fear. It looms over us, the great challenge of being human together.

    Thank you so much.

  10. Hillbilly

     /  September 29, 2010

    I can’t put my finger on it but something about the tone of this post seriously made me uncomfortable.
    Part of it is that you seem so certain that there would be peace if all the settlements were abandoned which
    is not at all clear to me or most people.
    I’m against people living in the settlements and the occupation more generally, but I know as well as you do that people live there for different reasons, it’s not always idealogical….
    are you sure that avoiding these relatives is the way to convince them of the errors of their ways?

  11. Jon Marcus

     /  September 29, 2010

    Something about this really bugs me too, but it may just be my personal cognitive dissonance. The West Bank settlers in my family aren’t my in-laws. It’s the aunt and uncle and cousins (and cousins once, twice, and three times removed). They lived across the street from us until they moved to Kiryat Arba. They cared for me when I was an infant, played with me…were family.

    I can’t avoid them. I can’t not love them. Whatever I think of their actions and positions, I wouldn’t want to.

  12. dmf

     /  September 30, 2010

  13. This is very sad to read. I agree with previous commenters who write that, if it is by political motivation that they live there, then it is wrong. But what if they live there for financial reasons (the Israeli government subsidizng settlements is another story) or because their families lived there in past generations? As careful and nuanced your analysis is, I’d really love to talk to your relatives and find out what they think. But most importantly, your post, like many other of your posts, made me dream and now I have Kalaniyot stuck in my head.