Magazine article New Internationalist

I Choose Not to Settle

Magazine article New Internationalist

I Choose Not to Settle

Article excerpt

David Fingrut discovers that life in Israel's West Bank settlements is not for him.

I ARRIVED in Jerusalem in September of 2000 when prospects for peace in the Middle East still appeared good. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were photographed smiling amicably at Camp David. Arafat even stated publicly that he'd soon declare Palestinian independence. But my timing left much to be desired: I arrived in Jerusalem on the same fateful day that Ariel Sharon went to pray at the Temple Mount, the day the `Al-Aqsa Intifada' officially started. The cycle of violence escalated dramatically after that with increased housing demolitions, village closures, work and travel restrictions and political assassinations in a futile attempt to combat the increasing number of suicide bombings.

On my way to sign the lease for my first apartment, I considered stopping in for a slice of pizza at a popular franchise located at the main intersection of downtown Jerusalem. I decided to continue directly to the landlord's office rather than risk being late. Moments later the restaurant exploded and scores were killed or injured victims of a suicide bomber.

I discovered that the apartment I'd been renting had once belonged to Christian Arabs who had fled in 1948. I started thinking: I was already living in a Palestinian house, there was little to no sense of security living in Jerusalem, and the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution looked pretty dismal. Besides, I had always favoured the notion of the unified secular-democratic Israeli-Palestinian state espoused by Edward Said.

Out of curiosity I decided to investigate the possibility of moving into one of the communities on the West Bank. At the office of the Association for Americans and Canadians living in Israel I found a glossy pamphlet advertising the Gush Etzion settlement block. I decided to go on the bus tour of the settlement, leaving the following week.

The bus was only half-full and an hour late in departing. There had been a number of Israelis killed on the highway to Gush Etzion in recent months. Despite the bulletproof reinforced plating there was not a high demand for making the dangerous bus trip. The tour participants were a motley crew of Jewish-Americans, including a former hippie turned religious from California, a nervous businessman with his wife and kids from New York, a husband-and-wife team of doctors from Ohio. All had come on a special tour to Israel for the purpose of investigating immigration to the country, specifically with the desire to live in the West Bank settlements.

During the 15-minute drive from Jerusalem we each received glossy maps of the settlement blocks in the West Bank (called by its biblical name `Judea and Samaria'), shown in relation to the 20 surrounding Arab states to accentuate the contrast in the extent of landmass. We also received CD-ROMs featuring a 20-minute multimedia presentation on the high quality of life enjoyed by the 10,000 settlers of Gush Etzion. With clear mountain air and breathtaking, panoramic views of the Judean Hills and Jerusalem, the region features an extensive educational network, good public transportation providing easy access to healthcare facilities, cultural activities, shopping and the Gush Etzion community centre and sports complex. Government grants and low-interest loans are given to new settlers, along with furnished flats at special low rates.

The schools are modern and spacious and include high-quality institutions offering special education, both religious and secular programmes, and parents receive a 90-per-cent discount off their children's pre-school tuition. …

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