West Bank's changing face. New Jewish settlers less politicized, Arab youths more so than their West Bank predecessors
Givat Zeev, Israeli-occupied West Bank — Old foes with new faces are living out the Arab-Israeli dispute amid the rugged hills and stately olive groves on the West Bank of the Jordan River. ``I don't consider myself a settler,'' says Israeli Mordechai Stein, an affable retired diplomat who is clearly anxious to get back to the juicy steaks cooking in his West Bank backyard. ``I've always dreamed of having a small house with a garden . . . in Jerusalem, I could never have afforded it.''
In Givat Zeev, a newly established Jewish town 15 minutes north of Jerusalem near the Arab village of Betunya, Mr. Stein (who asked that his real name not be used) could afford his dream.
A neighbor who was there for the cookout -- a young American Jewish immigrant -- doesn't see herself as a settler either. ``We went to the suburbs,'' she says of the move from Jerusalem to the West Bank with her Israeli-born husband and newborn child. ``It's like moving [from New York] to New Jersey.''
But settlers they are. They are a new breed of West Bank settler -- doing more in their quiet way to determine the future of the disputed territory than the first, more ideologically motivated wave of Jews who moved to the area nearly two decades ago, after Israel occupied the West Bank in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
There is a new breed of West Bank Arab as well: a new generation in its late teens or twenties that has grown up almost entirely under Israel's 18-year rule.
In contrast to the new Jewish settlers, the new Arabs are more ideologically engaged than their predecessors. Some young Arabs are more extreme than others -- whether in what they want, or in what they're prepared to do to get it. But virtually all agree on one issue: that the Palestinians, though stateless throughout the period of the Arab-Israeli conflict, are a nation with a right to a state.
The new Jews and new Arabs on the West Bank are writing the latest chapter in the decades-old Middle East conflict.
By the rules of power politics, there should be little left to fight over.
The message of the ``new'' settler -- in outposts like Givat Zeev or similar new West Bank ``bedroom'' towns that are easy commutes from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv -- is that Israel's hold on the area has become permanent in all but name.
Bobby Brown, a New York-reared ``ideological'' settler of the old breed, explains the shift. From a living room lined with books on Jewish history and Mideast politics, the bearded, soft-spoken Mr. Brown gazes across rocky fields at the foot of Herodion -- the hilltop fortress built when Herod ruled the Holy Land before the birth of Jesus.
``There is a difference in attitudes'' between the initial, post-1967 Jewish settlers and many of the newer arrivals, Brown says. And that, he adds, is not such a bad thing.
``I don't believe you can fill Judaea and Samaria with [Jewish] ideologues, nor do I think it is a healthy thing.'' The wave of the future, he feels, is Givat Zeev -- or the similar, but much bigger suburb-settlement of Maaleh Adumim east of Jerusalem on the main road down to the Jordan River valley.
Maaleh Adumim is a commuter town like any other, except for the politics of its location.
``Maaleh Adumim has done more to obliterate the `Green Line' [the border between pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank] than any other settlement,'' Brown says.
On the other side of the West Bank's Arab-Israeli political divide, Ibrahim Matar agrees, though with considerably less satisfaction.
Israel's hold on the area is becoming tighter -- not so much due to the number of settlements as to their changing nature.
``It is no longer a question of more dots on the map, but of bringing more Israelis into the occupied territories,'' says Mr. Matar, a US-educated Palestinian-Arab agronomist. This is true, he says, particularly in settlements like Givat Zeev and Maaleh Adumim, where new settlers are still arriving.
Most worrisome to Matar and many other Palestinians is the steady expansion in such outposts of a build-your-own-home trend that was first encouraged by the Israelis with soft loans, to go with cheap West Bank labor, in the early 1980s.
To the Palestinians, all this has the scent of permanence.
For Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer in the town of Ramallah a few miles from Givat Zeev, Israeli settlement is in itself an ``act of violence, the stifling of an entire nation.''
What sets apart the new breed of West Bank Arab from his parents is a spirit of defiance -- or, among the many Palestinian youths who find defiance either too risky or naive -- a hot, churning anger.
Their parents are small farmers, laborers, or merchants. They were brought up to trust Allah to provide where mortals cannot, and they were taught by Arab-Israeli history that boats are not for rocking.
The older generation remembers how Jewish settlers won an earlier struggle for a land -- establishing the state of Israel on the western, coastal plain called Palestine despite Arab resistance during the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. The West Bank stayed Arab, but not Palestinian. Jordan ruled it with a stern hand and with no evident fondness for Palestinian political activism.
Then in 1967 the Israelis came. The Israelis not only ruled -- they settled.
Um Abed, a stolid Palestinian woman who has lived through the Arab-Israeli conflict for over half a century, speaks for the old breed of West Bank Arab.
Standing in an entryway where windows remain shattered from attacks by Jewish settlers after a recent shooting incident, Um Abed shrugs. ``Only Allah'' can know what Arab or Arabs fired at the Jews, she says. Allah, too, must be left to make the latest settler reprisal the last.
Either Allah, she says, pausing, ``or America. . . . Tell America to make the Israelis stop.''
Younger West Bank Arabs seem tired of trusting in outside forces, though they are at the same time pessimistic about their own ability to affect their future.
Some, notably of late, have turned to violence. Others have fled the fray: They have left for the Persian Gulf oil countries, Europe, or the US -- if or when they could come up with the visa, university acceptance, or job to pave their way.
Other youths, apparently the largest number, have taken a bitter, middle way.
They do not, or cannot, leave. They do not favor or dare to support the use of violence. They seethe, and their anger is often either directionless or turned in on themselves. Their defiance is a defiance of words.
The best index of the fury felt by many young West Bankers was the shutdown late last spring of Bir Zeit University north of Ramallah.
Opened after 1967, the university has become a center of Palestinian nationalist debate on the West Bank. Last May, students -- who more often run afoul of the Israeli authorities or nearby settlers -- clashed violently with each other. A group opposing Yasser Arafat's political line within the Palestine Liberation Organization battled with Mr. Arafat's sympathizers. The university was not closed, as it often has been, by the Israeli authorities but by the school's own administration. The school reopened
several weeks ago.
A Ramallah lawyer, Mr. Shehadeh, sees the fury of the young West Bank Arabs and Israel's moves to make its hold permanent as two sides of a single, long-range problem -- ``the need . . . in the future to find a formula for coexistence, whatever it will be.''
Shedadeh assumes that some form of Palestinian national expression must be allowed if any such formula is going to work.
Israeli settlers, by and large, assume precisely the opposite. But the reasons for feeling this way, like reasons for settling, differ from settler to settler.
At Kiryat Arba near Hebron, the Bible holds sway. God promised the Jews the Holy Land -- most definitely including Hebron, only two miles distant, where Abraham is buried, these settlers believe. The act of settlement has a special meaning for Jews at Kiryat Arba. Hebron, whose roughly 60,000 inhabitants make it the second largest Arab town on the West Bank, was the scene of a wholesale slaughter and expulsion of Jews in 1929.
A few especially militant settlers have moved to pre-1929 Jewish sites within the heavily-Arab town of Hebron itself, despite opposition from various Israeli government ministers. The settlers reject the criticism that the move has provoked Arab violence -- such as the recent stabbing of a soldier in the town's crowded market area.
The market is ``our next battle . . .,'' says Hebron settler Michael Leiter. ``There must be no place that is barred to Jews; no place that is [Arab] Palestine'' in Hebron.
As for Arab violence, virtually all settlers in Kiryat Arba and Hebron seem to agree: It must be met by quick, tough countermeasures from Israeli authorities, if they have the will. If the will is lacking, as many in Kiryat Arba suspect, then the settlers themselves must respond. Some settlers agree with Rabbi Meir Kahane that the only road to peace on the West Bank is for the Arabs living there to go somewhere else.
Bobby Brown, whose settlement of Tekoa is amid less cluttered hillsides and Bedouin villages near Bethlehem, considers Hebron a special case. Generally, he feels, most Arabs and most Jews on the West Bank want to live in peace.
``I feel strongly the [West Bank] Arabs must have personal rights -- due process, even voting and representation if this comes along with duties like some form of [nonmilitary] national service,'' Mr. Brown says.
But he draws the line at ``national rights. These, I don't believe in.'' The West Bank, he says, is part of the ``Land of Israel.'' The Palestinians here may be a majority in local terms, but within the entire post-1967 area of Israel they are part of a roughly 35 percent minority.
They must, suggests Brown, get used to that fact.
When a fellow settler was killed atop Herodion three years ago, Tekoa settlers voted for a ``Zionist response'' -- they promptly set up another wildcat settlement nearby that the Israeli government subsequently approved.
``There were three options discussed,'' says Brown. The first was to do nothing, to let Israeli justice take its course. It was rejected because the murder was clearly ``political,'' and a mere police response was not sufficiently political retribution. Also rejected was the idea of a violent reprisal raid to inflict ``the maximum amount of damage'' on the Bedouin village from which the alleged killers, who were quickly apprehended, hailed. The third option -- a new settlement -- was adopted.
``If the Arabs wanted less Jews,'' explains Brown, ``we would give them more.'' The Arabs have clearly gotten that in the past several years. There are now 40,000 to 50,000 settlers, and the number is growing -- especially in places like Maaleh Adumim and Givat Zeev.
Mordechai Stein at Givat Zeev, on the other hand, typifies the view of many ``non-ideological'' settlers. He does not cite the Bible as a title deed, and he is against politically demonstrative acts of settlement. He is careful to note that his particular home is on a roughly 50-acre segment of Givat Ze'ev owned by Jews before 1948. (Other parts of Givat Ze'ev, say Israel-based foreign diplomats, is on land previously belonging to Betunya and another nearby Arab village.)
Stein does, however, share with most settlers and with most other Israelis, opposition to a Palestinian state. He also feels that decades of Mideast violence provide ample evidence that Israel has good security reason to hold on to at least part of the disputed area.
Even in times of peace?
He is no ideologue, Stein explains. He is not a rightist or leftist. All in all, he would like to see some kind of formula for coexistence with the Arabs around him.
But he and hundreds of similar new-breed settlers have best answered the question by the mere act of moving to the West Bank -- investing in and building homes and gardens infinitely more ornate than the makeshift homes of earlier ``ideological'' settlers.
Yes, in theory, Stein feels almost any price should be paid for peace -- true, lasting peace -- with the Arabs.
But he explains that he is sure places like Givat Zeev would have to be retained by Israel even in an eventual peace. Israel needs such areas for its security, he says.
And besides, he adds: ``I don't see a so-called peaceful solution for the Middle East for the next `x' number of years.''
Second of three articles on the changing nature of the West Bank. Next: The future -- can doves fly?