Young Israeli settlers go hippie? Far out, man!
Last week's annual 'End of Days' music festival highlights how a new – and militant – hilltop generation embraces the counterculture symbols of the 1960s American Left.
Bat Ayin, West Bank
Situated just outside this contoversial Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the hilltop stage was dominated Thursday by a Star of David, an olive tree, and musicians who mix blues licks, reggae rhythms, and messianic refrains from Jewish liturgy.Skip to next paragraph
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The annual "End of Days" festival – which bills itself as a "place of light and unity, inspiration and calm" – has become something of a mini-Woodstock in the settlements, with meditation groups, religious study sessions, and a crowd dressed in colorful flowing clothes.
Staged on a wooded slope amid the ruins of Mesuot Yitzhak, a Jewish settlement captured by Jordan in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the festival is evidence of how the young hilltop generation, despite a reputation for militancy and ideological fervency, has embraced many of the counterculture symbols of the 1960s American Left.
"When whole world turns on the television, what do they see? Fighting and politics," says Yehuda Leuchter, the festival founder who hops as he plays keyboard with his head wrapped in prayer shawl. "We're trying to bring rock 'n' roll and good vibes for the Land of Israel and for the whole world. That's what this is all about."
In addition to roots and folk music, the young settlers have pushed heavily into organic agriculture and eco-awareness, and dabbled in Asian accessories and philosophies. While they are more worldly than parents who had no Internet access when they established the settlements, they are less pragmatic and potentially more rebellious against the state.
"We're the new hippies. We are connected to the land. We are spiritual," says Yishai Fleisher, a radio host at the settler radio station Arutz 7 who attended the festival two years ago.
Rejecting 'Western' culture
Expounding as if he had just digested the ideas of Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Mr. Fleisher says that the new generation of settlers rejects the consumerism and promiscuity of "Western" culture. But for all the talk spirituality and universalism, it has not made them more sympathetic to the aspirations of their Palestinian neighbors for sovereignty.
"You can't have peace and love without understanding first the essential ethos of the Middle East, and that is that people only respect you when you stand your ground. That is not only a message to the Arabs, but to the US and foreign powers who want to impose things on us," he says. "The kind of hippie that I'm talking about is Abbie Hoffman. We stand up to aggression."
The young settlers came of age on the front lines of the largely nonviolent resistance to Israel's 2005 evacuation of settlements from Gaza. Disillusioned by older leaders for urging them to avoid confrontation, many predict clashes that if Israel's government ever makes good on a promise to the US to clear out unauthorized settlement outposts.
Recently, settlers at more ideologically fervent settlements like Bat Ayin have adopted a policy of vigilante retaliation for hilltop evacuations or Palestinian attacks. Some of Bat Ayin's residents clash with nearby Palestinian villagers, and several years ago a cell was convicted in an Israeli court for plotting to blow up a Palestinian school. That said, Bat Ayin is also one of the centers combining Jewish learning with eco awareness.