Always Defiant, West Bank Settlers Feel Abandoned

West Bank mosque vandalism is on the rise, demands for a settlement freeze persist, and proximity talks are spurring chatter of settlement and outpost dismantling and evacuation.

In the interest of gathering a first-person take regarding the mood on the ground, I met with 30-year-old Elisha Medan in Beer Sheba -- the city closest to his illegal outpost home, Avigail. Driving a white Land Rover outfitted with two-way radios and reinforced glass, Medan briefed me during a half-hour drive on mostly deserted back roads bordering sparsely vegetated, craggy hillsides near Hebron, Kiryat Arba, and Bethlehem.

Soon after the second intifada erupted, Medan and three friends -- all in their mid-twenties -- founded Avigail. The four had all been raised on West Bank settlements and dreamed of one day starting their own community. But government approval for new settlement building was not forthcoming, so the only way to go in 2001 was illegal. Squat and stake a claim.

Medan met with the Judea and Samaria head of council, who took him to what now comprises a 70-member hilltop community overlooking the Yatta and Dawani Arab villages in the wadi below. Medan explains:

He said there were strategic and tactical reasons for building there. Israeli drivers were being targeted by Palestinians hiding on the roadside, pulling hits and disappearing back into their villages before anyone could catch them. ... So he wanted a vantage point above the road. In the bigger picture, we would be continuing the link in the Jewish settlement chain.

A map of the West Bank illustrates the chain and the parallel “village versus settlement race” Medan bemoaned during our journey. He explained that Arab villages routinely expand beyond demarcated areas, sparking a building race with Jewish settlers. Driving along the paved road, the divide was clear: Arab villages to the northwest, Jewish settlements to the east.

In practical terms, the rift is more complicated. Avigail settlers get along surprisingly well with their Arab neighbors, a fact Medan hastily noted as we sipped coffee in the open living room space of his self-built log cabin home, with picture windows overlooking Yatta Village. The blue-eyed father of two displayed gifts recently bestowed upon his newborn son by a well-wishing Arab neighbor.

His problem is with left-leaning Israelis and European protesters he says frequently visit the hillside, inciting Arab neighbors:

They tell them: "This is your land. Come with us." They come up to our area and instigate friction.

If not for them, things would be calm.