I always bristle when I’m referred to as a ‘settler’. It happened recently in the national left-leaning daily paper Ha’aretz, all so innocently, in an article about my friend, author Matt Rees, who just released his first mystery novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, about a Palestinian private eye.
‘Rees lives with his wife in the Old Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. He has organized an office where he can sit in front of the keyboard and look out at the city’s landscapes through the window. There is a guitar in the room. He is also a musician and plays bass guitar in an ensemble formed by some of his friends who live in Jewish settlements in the territories.’
I just happen to be one of Matt’s band mates. And all right, I do live in Ma’aleh Adumim, a city situated three miles from Jerusalem, just over the ‘Green Line’ – that invisible boundary that separates Israel from the West Bank.
Yes, once upon a time, 35 years ago or so, Ma’aleh Adumim was an outpost of trailers amid sand and rocks. But today Ma’aleh Adumim is past the ‘fence and caravans’ stage – there’s almost 40,000 people there, the vast majority of whom moved to the community not for idealogical reasons, but for ‘quality of life’ reasons, more specifically for more affordable housing than the skyrocketing real estate of Jerusalem allows.
My place of residence is a fact of life in the region – no more likely to be evacuated and torn down than Sheinkin Street in the heart of Tel Aviv. Whether that reflects, as political blogger Micah Sifry who attended a blogging conference in Israel last summer called it, “the cancer of the settlement movement” or just Israelis fed up with living in tiny apartments depends on what you want to believe.
The whole issue of settlers, ‘regular’ Israelis, soldiers, civilians, all begins to blur at some point anyway, because so many of us are so many of those things.
Take the case of my 18-year-old daughter Adina – by definition she’s a ‘settler’ – at least by Ha’aretz and Sifry terms – because she lives in Ma’aleh Adumim. But she’s also a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces – actually she was loaned to the Israel Police for her army service, so she now wears blue instead of green.
One of her first tasks as a policewoman this past summer was to be part of the team that removed two Jewish families and hundreds of supporters who came to help them resist eviction from an unauthorized takeover of empty stalls in the Arab marketplace in Hebron. The scene got pretty volatile, and I saw TV footage of her and her colleagues – with full riot gear on – dragging the unwilling women protestors from the scene. There was name calling, screaming, hair pulling and spitting.
When I was able to talk to her that evening, I asked, “So, was it difficult to do that? To be called names and attacked like that?”
“No, it was all right,” she answered matter of factly. “If I was being forced out of my house, I’d probably do the same thing.”
Of course, the stalls weren’t the squatters’ homes – they were there for ideological reasons, but Adina’s 18-year-old perspective didn’t see much of a difference. She’s not a political creature, and I have no idea who she’d vote for in an election – or if she’d vote at all.
I do know how my cousins would vote – they live in Ofra. Now there’s a settlement, near Ramallah and near the top of the list of settlements which would be dismantled if there’s ever a peace agreement with the Palestinians (and someone on the Palestinian side to keep that agreement).
These cousins are the nicest, gentlest people I know – wouldn’t hurt a proverbial fly, even an Arab one. Sure, they live in Ofra to make a statement, but they’re the farthest I can imagine from the stereotypical gun-toting, long beard flying religious zeaout.
When I worked as a journalist for 13 years with The Jerusalem Post, I was often asked (usually by liberals) how I could edit or write objectively about events in the Mideast while living in the ‘West Bank’. It’s unlikely they would ask the same of a reporter living in predominately left-wing north Tel Aviv.
And if they had bothered to find out I had regularly voted for Labor, they probably would have felt a little bashful – or just confused.
You can call me lots of things – Zionist, Israeli, journalist, father, ageing musician, left-handed – but when you call me a ‘settler’, watch out.