Sunday, January 30, 2005

Day 4 - The Settlers

The past few days have seen me visit a number of Jewish communties varying in size from approximately 10 - 600 families. They are made up of religious and secular alike and, situated between 5 and 25 minutes from Jerusalem, they offer affordable housing and a quality of life that the capital cannot. The process of suburbanisation, people moving from the city to the suburbs is an accepted norm in the Western World and wouldn't be worthy of a mention were it not for the fact that in this particular case, the people are branded as "settlers".

Large swathes of Jerusalem are built on land of which Israel took control after the Six-Day War. French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Pisgat Ze'ev, Neve Yaakov, Ramot, Gilo, East Talpiot and Har Homa are all new neighbourhoods, added in the North-West, North East, South East and South of Jerusalem and are thus on territory which the International community refers to as "Disputed" or "Occupied". These areas fall within a national consensus and possibly only the most ardent leftist woud argue that French Hill should be the subject of negotiation.

It is patently clear why people would want to live in one of these areas; they are parts of Jerusalem which offer cheaper housing and are less congested than Rechavia, Old Katamon and Talbieh. The quality of life decision is also relevant to the places that I have been patrolling in my Humvee; although there is undoubtedly an element of ideology in the decision of some of the settlers to move to some of the yishuvim, it seems to me, having spoken with some of the people, that issues such as affordability, fresh air, incredible views and tranquility are higher on the list of importance than living in the West Bank because of a belief in the Greater Land of Israel. I'm not saying that the people here are not ideological, but their decision to live where they do rather than one of the "hard core" settlements in the north of the West Bank, reflects a more pragmatic approach.

Although I'd never consider living in the Gaza Strip, I'm fairly ideologically neutral on whether or not I'd live in the West Bank; I don't have any objection to doing so but neither do I feel under any obligation. Certainly I would never wish to place my family in a position where they could find themselves in the line of fire and certain of these settlements are a little too close to the Arab population for comfort. The majority however, slightly further from Jerusalem, have no Arab settlements other than isolated Beduin encampments in their vicinity. As such, I seem them as being about as safe as one can get in this country - their fences and security patrols, together with visits from the army mean that I'd classify them as relatively low risk.

For the cost of a small flat in Jerusalem, I could have a decent sized house in one of these Yishuvim. The peace and quiet which I so love, is part of the package and the views are absolutely out of this world. I'll be taking that into consideration when it comes to moving on to a larger property.


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