Bob Lang lives in Efrat, a settlement within the occupied Palestinian West Bank near Bethlehem. He got on to our bus at the edge of town to give us a guided tour. It is certainly impressive. It looks like a smart leafy well-designed suburb. The streets are clean and the houses well-kept. They have three primary schools, a clinic and a shopping centre. Bob has worked hard to make this happen for many years and is the spokesperson for the council. It is his passion. He is proud to tell us that this neighbourhood is a real melting pot. ‘There are Jews here from all over the world. ‘I haven’t found anyone born in Greece yet. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one; just that I haven’t found him.’
Bob invited us into his home which is modern and spacious with lovely pictures on the walls and beautiful furniture. We sat in rows to listen to what he had to say. He held up an atlas to illustrate his talk. ‘First of all, this is not a settlement, this is a neighbourhood of Jerusalem….Settlements are where you see caravans on the hilltop… 65% of the people who live here work in Jerusalem….They can be there in half an hour…. Jews have a right to live here…Jews lived here before 1948 (he did not say how many) and were driven out ….This is our history…This is Judea & Samaria…Most of the biblical references to the land of Israel are located in Judea and Samaria.’ He was equally assertive in denying that this was an occupation. One of our colleagues challenged the accuracy of this statement quoting international law. ‘There was never a state here, the area was ruled by Jordan. So therefore this is disputed territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention therefore does not apply.’ The Fourth Geneva Convention is the one which deals with the rights of people who are occupied and the responsibilities of the occupier. One of the key relevant parts of this convention forbids the transfer of the occupier’s population into the territory occupied.
I asked for clarification. ‘Does this mean that you are against a two state solution.’ He was quite clear: he pointed to the map. ‘I see all this area between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean as one country, called Israel.’ I went back to the question of democracy. What if the people in what he termed Judea and Samaria did not want Israeli rule. He replied that then they had the option of leaving. ‘If I moved to Ireland and became an Irish citizen, if I did not like the government, I could leave.’ He went on to say that he knew lots of Arabs who would really like to live in Israel but who did not yet dare say so in their own community. Once they had peace, everyone could have citizenship and live together with equality. He said that there was only one issue in which Jews would be favoured. The Law of Return. Anyone who could prove he was Jewish from anywhere in the world would be given automatic citizenship.
He is adamantly against settler violence and believes that perpetrators should be caught and punished; just as Arab perpetrators should be caught and punished. He is unsurprisingly against the separation wall and says what we have all long suspected that the reduction in suicide bombers has very little to do with the wall and more to do with more accurate intelligence. We might have added other reasons. He pointed out that theirs was not a community behind a wall, though there is a lesser fence. They have good relationships with their neighbours and gave presents on each other’s feast days. They supply the neighbouring village with electricity and water.
He pointed out that Israel is a thin sliver of land in the context of the entire Middle East. It was necessary for Israel to retain Judea and Samaria for their security. The plans are for Efrat to become a city on seven hills. So far they have built on five, with plans for the other two. It is government land which has been granted to the settlement. He does not explain the ways in which land in Palestinian West Bank has become Israeli government land. They hope to raise their population from 9,000 to 25,000. Bob spoke of their frustration when there was a freeze on building but now thankfully they have planning permission for 2,500 more houses and the bulldozers would shortly begin to flatten the land to prepare for the work to begin. Bob’s dream was for a row of towns or cities, starting with Ariel, along the ridge of mountains with the Mediterranean on one side and the Jordan valley on the other. He used the biblical names. He is an eloquent speaker. I was struggling to relate Bob’s world view to my experience of the lives of Palestinians amongst whom I have been living. It was beginning to feel like a parallel universe. Nevertheless, I could see how compelling it was for a disparate people to have a home which chimed so well with their shared Jewish identity.
Two of my fellow Ecumenical Accompaniers had visited the next door Palestinian village of Wadi Rahhil the day before we met Bob. Villagers told them that the settlement did indeed supply them with electricity and also a minimal amount of water which was turned off and on intermittently. However they added that before the establishment of Efrat, 60% of the people in the village were farmers. These people have now lost their livelihoods along with the land which was taken for the settlement. Those who work in Bethlehem can no longer use the road which is now exclusively for the settlers of Efrat. Instead they use an alternative road which is essentially a tarmacked animal track which takes them round the settlement extending their journey time from 10 to 45 minutes.
Bob used the word ‘dream’ several times in his talk about his hopes for the future. I was reminded of when I attended a debate on Israel-Palestine where the Palestinian diplomat, Afif Safieh, said to his Israeli co-panellist: ‘It’s OK for you to have a dream, as long as your dream is not my nightmare.’
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt firstname.lastname@example.org for permission. Thank you.